Violence and Worship in the Islamic State’s Online Campaign – ECPR Prague

My contribution to the 10th European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR) General Conference on September 2016, Prague, Czech Republic

Regularly, the Weltanschauung of Daesh,[1] or the so-called “Islamic State,” is described by one of two conceptual notions which on first glance are mutually exclusive: “religion” and “ideology.”[2] However, this separate conceptualization has proven to be an analytical blanket too small for the empirical bed it is supposed to cover. The solution offered is a processual understanding of social belief-systems[3] which can be located on a spectrum between the ideal types of “religion” and (secular) “ideology.” To emphasize the role of the religious not as an auxiliary, but an equal to ideology within Daesh’s belief-system and to stress the religious legitimization of its totalitarian claim, Daesh’s system of belief is addresses as a “transcendent totalitarianism.”[4]

Based on this presumption, the paper addresses Daesh’s online and social media campaign to understand the mobilizing role of the “sacralization of violence” with regard to the emergence of a specific collective identity of Daesh to build a constituency of active supporters and sympathizers. The “sacralization of violence” in Daesh’s propaganda is considered to serve the following (political) objectives: Firstly, to appeal to possible recruits as future mujahiddīn fighters for a sacred cause, to secondly serve as a ritual of initiation for these this “virtual elite,” and thirdly, to glorify and justify extreme current and future violence as divinely ordered, but also rewarded worship which includes the guarantee of salvation with both, a the “terrestrial”[5] and a “transcendent beyond.”


Abū Muhammad al-‘Adnānī al-Shāmī, Say to Those Who Disbelieve ‘You will be Overcome’, October 12 2015, Translation by the „Islamic State’s“ Al-Hayat Media Center, in: (latest access: December 10th 2015)

Blackburn, Simon, Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1994.

Bunzel, Cole, From Paper State to Caliphate: The Ideology of the Islamic State, The Brookings Project on U.S. relations with the Islamic World, March 2015, in:

Claval, Paul, Religions and Ideologies, in: Brunn, Stanley (ed.), The Changing World Religion Map. Sacred Places, Identities, Practices and Politics, Springer, Dortrecht, 2015, 349-362.

Schmeitzner, Mike (ed.), Löwenthal, Richard. Faschismus – Bolschewismus – Totalitarismus. Schriften zur Weltanschauungsliteratur im 20.Jahrhundert, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen, 2009.

Durkheim, Emile, Die elementaren Formen des religiösen Lebens, Suhrkamp, Frankfurt am Main, 1994 (1968).


[1] Daesh is an abbreviation of “The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.”(الدولة الإسلامية في العراق والشام) The term has been used by the so-called “Islamic State” in the past but is no frowned upon by the leaders of the group as vernacular.

[2] On Daesh’s self-perception as religious and political, see: Abū Muhammad al-‘Adnānī al-Shāmī, Say to Those Who Disbelieve ‘You will be Overcome’, October 12th 2015; Abū Muhammad al-‘Adnānī, May 21st 2012, in: Bunzel, 2015, 4.

[3] “Religion” as a “system of belief” in: Durkheim, 1994 (1968), 75; “ideology” as a “system of belief”, in: Blackburn, 1994, 185 and Sargent, 2009, 2.

[4] On my understanding of the relationship between “totalitarianism” and the “transcendent” see: Löwenthal, Die totalitäre Diktatur, in: Schmeitzner (Ed.), 2009.

[5] Claval, 1999, in: Claval, in: Brunn, 2015, 353.

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