Ronald Horst
Inforum - Department of Economics
University of Maryland
College Park, Maryland

Suicidal Terrorism and Benevolent Alternatives: A Model of Economics and Religion

To be presented at the 2009 annual meeting of the Association of the Study of Religion, Economics, and Culture, April 3-5, 2009.

We construct an economic model of the religious terrorist who chooses between suicidal attack and benevolent alternatives. Rather than to assume fanaticism, we assume that behavior is guided by rational assessment of expected rewards for community and for self, both in the present world and in the afterlife.

We employ the (after) life-cycle model of consumption and savings that allows accumulation of religious capital by sacrificing economic resources, and where religious capital yields expected rewards in the afterlife. We incorporate beliefs that suicidal attacks may contribute to religious capital. In this way, we consider the anticipation of reward and punishment in the afterlife as a motivation for sacrifice in the present world.

The model is configured to reflect several traditions of religious and nonreligious terrorism, and optimal behavior is derived for each. The results suggest policy responses to lessen the appeal of terrorism relative to benevolent alternatives, and we determine the conditions under which such policies might prove effective.