Jihad and Death

The Global Appeal of Islamic State

Part of the CERI/Sciences Po. series
April 2017 9781849046985 136pp


How has ISIS been able to muster support far beyond its initial constituency in the Arab world and attract tens of thousands of foreign volunteers, including converts to Islam, and seemingly countless supporters online? In this compelling intervention into the debate about ISIS’ origins and future prospects, the renowned French sociologist, Olivier Roy, argues that while terrorism and jihadism are familiar phenomena, the deliberate pursuit of death has produced a new kind of radical violence. In other words, we’re facing not a radicalization of Islam, but the Islamization of radicalism.

Jihad and Death is a concise dissection of the highly sophisticated narrative mobilised by ISIS: the myth of the Caliphate recast into a modern story of heroism and nihilism. According to Roy, this very contemporary aesthetic of violence is less rooted in the history of Islamic thought than it is entrenched in a youth culture that has turned global and violent.


‘A bravura outing, pithy, prosecutorial, and informed … Roy writes with verve … magisterial.’ — The Guardian

‘Roy’s brisk work is full of imaginative leaps, and that is what gives it value. There has been too much circular writing about the “mind of the terrorist”, too many assumptions about their supposed brainwashing. By examining the significance of death for these jihadists, he can dismantle their manifold confusions.’ — The Times

‘Olivier Roy is one of the most interestingly provocative thinkers on modern jihadism. In this excellent short book, the French academic reiterates his argument that we are seeing not “the radicalisation of Islam but the Islamisation of radicalism.”’ — Prospect

‘Mr Roy, a French authority on Islamism, regards IS as the monstrously inflated product of its own propaganda; it is, he says, first and foremost a death cult …. He believes IS’s strongest weapon is people’s fear of it … All this is a stimulating counterblast to much conventional thinking.’ — The Economist

‘Provocative … even brilliant.’ — The National

‘Olivier Roy… gives interesting, if not controversial, insights into the factors motivating terrorists…For those concerned about the increase in terrorist acts (and, quite frankly, who isn’t?), then, this book is essential reading… [Roy] makes us think, and encourages us to challenge and reassess received opinions.’ — Church Times

‘Impressive.’ — CHOICE

Olivier Roy’s work has always been both provocative and informative. This book is no exception; Roy provides readers with new scholarly insights into violence, its modern jihadi aesthetic, and “radicalisation” and its relationship to Islam. Whatever your opinion, this book will make you think, and think again. Without question, an essential contribution.‘ — Tariq Ramadan

For three decades, Oliver Roy has pioneered innovative and insightful research on religion and politics in Islam and beyond. Equipped with analytical depth, historical sensitivity and a comparative lens, this book brings the analysis of jihad and death in the current radicalism to a new level. This is a must read for anyone who wants to understand the Islamization of radicalism.’ — Asef Bayat, Catherine and Bruce Bastian Professor of Global and Transnational Studies and Professor of Sociology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

‘This is another extraordinary work from a master scholar of Muslim politics. Taking conventional wisdom head-on, Olivier Roy clinically unpacks the supposed relationship between religion and radicalisation. He tellingly warns us that all the attention on the caliphal pretensions of ISIS obscures the core challenges of nihilism, generational revolt, and a radical repudiation of social norms.’ — James Piscatori, Professor at the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies, Australian National University, and co-author of Muslim Politics

Olivier Roy is widely respected for his decades-long research into radical Islam. More interested in actual processes than in opportunistic concepts, he describes in Jihad and Death how the self-proclaimed Islamic State plays more on its enemies’ fears than on its own strength. A very welcome and eye-opening intervention.’ — Jean-Pierre Filiu, Professor at the Paris School of International Affairs (PSIA) and author of From Deep State to Islamic State

With Jihad and Death, Olivier Roy offers his contribution to the ongoing debate on jihadism and its causes, and advocates for a comparative sociological approach focused on the motivations of individual actors rather than grand theological debates. The result is deeply insightful, thought-provoking and deserves to be widely read.’ — Stéphane Lacroix, Associate Professor of Political Science, Sciences-Po, and author of Awakening Islam


Olivier Roy is Professor at the European University Institute in Florence. Six of his highly acclaimed books on religion and politics are published by Hurst, including Globalised Islam; Jihad and Death; Holy Ignorance; and Is Europe Christian?

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