"The Devoted Actor as Parochial Altruist: Sectarian Morality, Identity Fusion, and Support for Costly Sacrifices" Hammad Sheikh, Scott Atran, Jeremy Ginges, Lydia Wilson, Nadine Obeid, and Richard Davis (2014), Cliodynamics 5(1)
We explore how Darwinian notions of moral virtue and parochial altruism may relate to the emerging cognitive framework of the devoted actor who undertakes extreme actions in defense of group values. After a brief discussion of the theoretical framework, we present exploratorydata resulting from interviews of 62 Lebanese individuals of varying religious backgrounds (Sunni,Shia and Christian) in Beirut and Byblos (Jbeil) in a time of heightened tension owing to spillover from the Syrian civil war. Analytic measures focused on willingness to make costly sacrifices for confessional (religious) groups and sectarian values, as a function of the degree to which people perceived universal and parochial values to be morally important, and considered their personal selves “fused”with their group. Sectarian moralists who fused with their religion expressed strong willingness to support costly sacrifices for the group, whereas people who fused with their religion but moralized universal values over sectarian ones were least likely to support costly sacrifices.In addition, when people believed that they had control over their future, fusion increased support for costly sacrifice and desired social distance to out groups. These results have implications for notions of religion as both a booster and buffer to costly sacrifices, and the impact of identity fusion for and against extreme actions
"For Cause and Comrade: Devoted Actors and Willingness to Fight" Scott Atran, Hammad Sheikh, and Angel Gomez (2014), Cliodynamics 5(1).
This report provides initial evidence that “devoted actors” who are unconditionally committed to a sacred cause, as well as to their comrades,willingly make costly sacrifices, including fighting and dying. Although American military analysts since WWII tend to attribute fighting spirit to leadership and the bond of comradeship in combat as a manifestation of rational self-interest,evidence also suggests that sacrifice for a cause in ways independent, or all out of proportion, from the reasonable likelihood of success may be critical. Here, we show the first empirical evidencethat sacred values (as when land or law becomes holy or hallowed) and identity fusion (whenpersonal and group identities collapse into a unique identity to generate a collective sense of invincibility and special destiny) can interact to produce willingness to make costly sacrifices for aprimary reference group: by looking at the relative strength of the sacred values of Sharia versusDemocracy among potential foreign fighter volunteers from Morocco. Devotion to a sacred cause,in conjunction with unconditional commitment to comrades, may be what allows low-power groupsto endure and often prevail against materially stronger foes.
Center on Terrorism colleagues Dr. Scott Atran, Lydia Wilson, Richard Davis, and Hammad Sheikh, with the asssitance of ARTIS Research, University of Oxford, and Minerva researchers, published some of their early results from interviews performed on the ground in Iraq. This appeared as part of a larger compilation of varied approaches to understadnign the threat of ISIL, Multi-Method Assessment of ISIL.