The gendered coloniality of the religious terrorism thesis : a critical discourse analysis of religious labels and their selective use in terrorism studies

  • Rabea M. Khan

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


The category ‘religious terrorism’ within the discipline of Terrorism Studies (and beyond) is widely believed to constitute a uniquely brutal, non-negotiable, nihilistic, lethal and fanatic phenomenon justifying extreme measures. This popular belief, summarised as the Religious Terrorism Thesis, however, does not correspond to empirical evidence. The question this poses is what enables, upholds and perpetuates the Religious Terrorism Thesis and makes it so resistant to scholarly challenges to it? I argue in this thesis that the Religious Terrorism Thesis has colonial origins and continues to function as a colonial tool. I argue more specifically that the Religious Terrorism Thesis is an element of a gendered coloniality, constitutive of Western modernity. It guarantees the continuation of colonial logics and ultimately policies, in the form of violent and racist counterterrorism measures, disproportionately targeting non-white people. I make this argument by providing a decolonial analysis of the modern category ‘religion’, which I argue is best understood as a colonial invention. I further analyse the racialised and colonial imagination of ‘terrorism’ as a concept. A Critical Discourse Analysis across 296 articles of four of the most prominent terrorism journals then demonstrates how the category ‘religious terrorism’ is applied selectively and in line with the colonial function it has been constructed for. Christian violence is regularly codified as marginal or fringe and therefore does not fit into the colonial template of the category ‘religious terrorism’. Islam on the other hand is constructed as a religion naturally prone to terrorism, and inherently incompatible with modernity. The use of colonial vocabulary throughout the sample further reveals a scholarly investment in Western modernity, an investment for which the Religious Terrorism Thesis seems to function as a tool. Thus, a decolonial analysis and deconstruction of the category ‘religious terrorism’ provides an answer for the continued perpetuation and popularity of the Religious Terrorism Thesis despite its lack of scholarly grounding and evidence.
Date of Award1 Dec 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorKarin Marie Fierke (Supervisor) & Caron Eileen Gentry (Supervisor)


  • Terrorism
  • Religion
  • Gender
  • Coloniality
  • Critical discourse analysis
  • Religious terrorism
  • Critical terrorism studies
  • Critical religion
  • Decolonial theory
  • Discourse
  • Islam
  • Christianity
  • Race
  • Religious terrorism thesis

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  • Full text embargoed until
  • 30th June 2023

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