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The Psychology of War

Why does war occur? Why does it last so long? What are its long-term effects on the people that lived through them? This course is designed to shed light on these questions, examining the interaction of psychological and strategic processes in international war and conflict. We will critically examine how psychological factors such as emotions, identity, cognition, and motivation impact (and are impacted by) political violence. We will examine these processes in the context of crisis diplomacy, national security policy, war, post-conflict reconstruction, and more. Specific examples of potential topics include: the global "War on Terror," ongoing intractable conflicts such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, diplomatic standoffs between the US and adversaries such as North Korea and Russia, and refugee and migration crises around the globe. By the end of this course, students should have a clear understanding of how political conflict both affects and is affected by human psychology, and the implications this has for addressing a host of political problems and challenges.


A second major objective of this course is to introduce students to rigorous social science research. In addition to the substantive content covered in this course, students will learn the step-by-step process of conducting social science research including: formulating a research question, building a theory and hypotheses, conducting a literature review, designing a scientific study, and writing up a research plan. By the end of the semester, students will have produced a scientific research proposal on a “psychology of war” question of their choice. This proposal may serve as the basis for students’ future work on senior theses or other projects. Because of the writing intensive nature of the class, this course qualifies as a Writing Intensive requirement for WUSTL.


International Relations Workshop

This course provides graduate students with key professional development skills on their path to becoming professional researchers and academics. The course accomplishes this goal in three ways. First, students will present research in progress week to week, receiving feedback on papers they are submitting for publication. This helps improve the quality of their work and gives them experience presenting and receiving constructive criticism on their work. Second, students will also provide feedback on other students’ work, helping them practice skills such as critical reading, crafting constructive feedback, and gaining exposure to different substantive topics and research methods in the subfield of international relations. Third, the course will help students build networks of collaboration in the department with other graduate students, WUSTL faculty, and external faculty who will also participate in some sessions, presenting their own in-progress work for students. Regular enrollment and attendance is expected for all international relations graduate students in the department and is open to those outside the department who have significant interests in international relations.


Behavioral Approaches to Political Conflict

This course will provide an overview of different behavioral and/or psychological approaches to the study of war, conflict and political violence. The class is designed for graduate students with interests in both international relations and comprative politics. Subjects covered will include cognition, emotions, identity, stress, trauma, morals and values, the role of personality, motivated reasoning, group processes and more. The class will also include a strong research design component, reviewing different potential designs that could be used to study psychological questions about political conflict. Students will be required to develop and revise a research proposal over the course of the semester. No prior knowledge of political psychology is required or assumed.



Terrorism & Counterterrorism

What is terrorism, when is it used, and how can we stop it? This course will tackle these challenging questions, examining both the use of terrorism in political conflict and the ways in which states have responded to these threats. Crucially, we will engage in critical discussions about the definition of terrorism - is one person’s terrorist really another person’s freedom fighter, as the saying goes? We will also explore the strategic logic of terrorism - why do individuals choose to engage in this practice and why is it an effective or ineffective tactic of political violence? Importantly, we will also examine the psychology of terrorism, investigating how the mass public and state leaders react to and cope with terrorist violence. Specific examples of potential topics include: the use of terrorism in anti-colonial and separatist movements, the history of terrorism in the United States from the Ku Klux Klan to jihadism, the post 9/11 “War on Terror,” and the resurgence of white nationalist terrorism around the world. By the end of this course, students should have a clear understanding of what terrorism is, why groups choose this strategy, how citizens and political leaders respond to this violence, and the implications this has for countering terrorism and extremism around the globe today.


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