Skip to main content
Browse by:

Effective March 10, 2020, all Duke-sponsored events over 50 people have been cancelled, rescheduled, postponed or virtualized.
Please check with the event contact regarding event status. For more information, please see

Western Women of Daesh: Quests for Paradise, Empowerment and Adventure

Hay on Wye Literary Festival
Icon calendar
Wednesday, October 24, 2018
Icon time
4:30 pm - 6:00 pm
Icon speaker
Dr. Katherine Brown
Icon series
Global Muslims

Discussions about western women's involvement with the violent terrorist group Daesh (also known as 'Islamic State') tend to focus on their exceptionality.

This paper after demonstrating the limitations of existing theories, then unpacks some themes that emerged from analysing the propaganda and interviews with Western women who are linked to Daesh: paradise, empowerment, and adventure. These are powerful themes, I argue, because they offer (false) grand solutions to ordinary problems. So how then should we understand these ordinary women's radicalisation in a way that doesn't end up in the same quest for exceptionality that I have critiqued the mainstream for embarking upon? To do this I engage with two great thinkers - Thomas Moore and Talal Asad. The result is a realisation that the women of Daesh express a utopian politics that is more than a question of belief or of material socio-economic grievances; rather radicalisation is the alignment of extreme belief, extreme belonging, and extreme behaviour. Overall, two larger points emerge. First, the western women of Daesh help us understand the gendered power of 'religious extremism'. Second, from this understanding we can begin to unpick its appeal beyond the 'shock and awe' counter-narrative approach.

Contact: Julie Maxwell