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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Tackling terror in the classroom

Despite its title, the Sociology of Terrorism isn’t a snapshot of a tragic day 10 years ago, it’s a social science class that objectively looks at how preconditions of the brain drive some to commit murder in the name of social change.

Sociology Department Head Albert Bergesen developed the syllabus for the class while on sabbatical in the mid-2000s as a way to tackle how people view terrorism.

“I think we saw terrorism as something that we saw that happened in other countries and other places. I think, given 9/11, it became a great question of who, what, when and why,” Bergesen said. “With 9/11 it really came home. Why would people do something like this? I think it heightened our awareness.”

The two driving thrusts of his class are understanding on a psychologic level how people process brain activity and the recent state of international terrorism.

But Bergesen says that the further removed his students are from the day, the less visceral the feelings of students.

“Today’s freshman is 18, so they would have been 8 years old, and so a senior would have been around 12 years old. The further away we get, the more it becomes an academic topic and less of an immediate experience,” Bergesen said.

“It’s coming back a little now because it’s the 10th anniversary but the further away you get, there’s a little less concern and interest.”

Bergesen said the class tries not to centralize itself around just 9/11 but to tackle the complex psychological reasoning behind why people commit terrorist acts.

“People who are suicidal don’t just become suicide terrorists,” he said. “The most interesting thing about terrorism is that it’s much more complex upon a moment’s reflection, if you think about it for a second. It’s talking about the mental architecture in someone committing suicide to kill someone else to affect a third person. It’s a very complicated process.”

He said understanding the process is like analyzing any other crime.

“No one’s quite solved that human psychological mindset in a satisfactory way and so we wrestle with it in class,” he said.

“It might seem dispassionate to look at it that objectively. But it’s not pro or con,” Bergesen said. “But it’s only when we look at them (that)we can take action to deal with them.”

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