Youth Extremisms: Understanding across Ideological and Religious Contexts (Research Seminar Series)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Manchester
Department Name: Social Sciences


The proposed seminar series builds on the experience of the co-investigators in organising the ESRC Research Seminar Series on Right Wing Extremism in Europe (2014-2015). It arises from the recognition of the potential benefit of extending the success of the current seminar series in enhancing cross-disciplinary knowledge and creating a safe space to share research and best policy and intervention practice across substantively and ideologically different radicalisms and extremisms. The proposed new series will draw on the wide international academic and non-academic participant network developed through the existing seminar series (focused on anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and right wing extremism) but extend its reach to those engaged in research, policy and practice related in particular to religion-based extremism and extreme left and anti-corporativist radicalism.

Radical and extremist groups have embodied a broad range of cultural and political forms in Europe since World War II. While some groups have remained on the political fringes, others have become known through spectacular acts of public violence - such as bombings by left-wing and right-wing radical groups in Germany or the killing of a British soldier by Islamists on a London street in May 2013. Youth engagement is one of the most pressing concerns for researchers and policymakers who work on radicalism and violence. Young people are easier to recruit and easier to radicalise than older individuals; they are also disproportionately responsible for violent attacks. In this seminar series, we explore comparative trends in youth engagement in radical and extremist movements and subcultures across national, religious, and ideological contexts.

Coming on the heels of significant electoral successes and instances of extraordinary extremist violence, there has been renewed political, media, and scholarly attention to extremist and radical growth in Europe, and in particular to the role of youth in domestic and foreign extremist movements and violence. But there have been few sustained comparative discussions across or between European countries and almost no empirical comparative research on the many dimensions of radicalism and violence. We need more cross-disciplinary conversation as well as more discussion across ideological or substantive areas of focus. Scholars of the far left rarely compare their work to scholars of religious extremism or vice versa; so too historians and political scientists tend to present and publish their findings within their core disciplines rather than in cross-disciplinary venues. The vast majority of research scholars do not find ways to connect their empirical findings with policymakers. We need opportunities to compare and contrast issues such as radicalist engagement, propensity to violence, or the influence of transnational networks and new media platforms on extremist and radical recruitment and radicalisation of youth across these various disciplinary, national, and ideological spheres.

We need also structured venues to better connect policymakers with researchers and to share research findings in ways that are accessible to the broader public. To this end in the proposed series, seminars will be co-hosted with non-academic organisations, include dedicated space for presentations by non-academic organisation participants and will feature joint academic/non-academic small group discussions feeding in to the production of co-owned 'evidence briefings' related to each seminar theme.

The proposed series focuses on youth engagement in radicalism and extremism across ideological and religious contexts and consists of six thematically focused one-day seminars exploring: paths to radicalism and extremism; global and local horizons of action; social media and corporate responsibilities; terrorism; gender dimensions of radicalism and extremism; and deradicalisation and education.

Planned Impact

This seminar series benefits a wide range of non-academic users. It is aimed at policy makers from local and national government, frontline workers from the police, NGOs and educational charities engaged in monitoring, countering and preventing violent extremism. Contacts in these bodies (see Case for Support) have been invited to co-host a seminar in order to cement active engagement in shaping the series to reflect their concerns and interests. Youth engagement with violent political and religious extremism remains a chronic social problem and the composition of participants in our seminar series will reflect the wide range of groups and agencies working to combat this problem. By linking up organisations who often only deal with one particular form of youth extremism (i.e. groups monitoring right-wing extremism rarely monitor Islamist extremism or vice-versa) the series will directly enhance their better networking with youth workers, and community/social cohesion practitioners working in different contexts and countries and with policy makers, think tanks and indeed academic researchers drawn from other fields. Through the seminar on social media and corporate responsibility the Seminar Series will also link such communities with participants from the private, commercial sector providing for greater interaction between those who work directly with young people who consume on-line extremist content and those managing such platforms enabling discussion of strategies to better combat such challenges. This broadens the impact of the series further still for non-academic users and, ultimately, contributes to broader community resilience.

The potential impact of such a seminar series to non-academic users is reflected in the inter-disciplinary and cross national forum that it will provide such groups and individuals, where cutting edge insight will be generated into the problem of youthful engagement with political and religious extremism that will help bolster their analytical armoury in their day-to-day response to it at street level. Historical, sociological and transnational perspectives on various factors determining or deterring engagement with a range of youth extremisms will help users compare and contrast different forms of extremism and in so doing draw new insights for their own strategies to insulate potentially vulnerable youth against violent extremism, increasing the effectiveness of public services and policy.

The cutting-edge research showcased by the seminar series (see Case for Support) will be of particular use to law enforcement and probation agencies, practitioners working in youth and community services, those working in 'Exit' programmes and indeed those managing Prevent/Channel portfolios in local authorities. Addressing the pivotal importance of local agency and transnational networks for violent extremisms within an internationally connected seminar series will ensure the impact of, and engagement with, the research by non-academic users with a variety of international experiences, perspectives and counter-networks. It will increase their ability to reflect on the wider phenomenon of youth engagement with extremism whilst offering greater potential for open exchange and discussion of theoretical and methodological issues for mutual benefit. This creates a greater synergy between academics, think tanks and government currently working on different aspects of youth engagement in certain forms of extremism without perhaps utilizing the full range of academic research on the broader phenomenon. The ultimate impact of such research for both academic and non-academic users will be the creation of an ongoing dialogue and network: that enables such problems to be seen holistically; which informs local and national strategies; and which highlights to policy makers and practitioners, the range of research and researchers working to curtail youthful engagement with violent extremism.


10 25 50
Description The ESRC Seminar Series on Youth Extremisms is not a research project generating new data or findings. Below, the main objectives of the seminar series supported by this award and how they were met are outlined: 1) to consider a wider range of radicalisms and extremisms and facilitate understanding across ideological and religious contexts, specifically by extending the remit to include religion-based extremisms, left-wing or anti-corporativist radicalisms and extremisms and terrorism. In meeting this objective, the seminars focused on a wide range of radicalisms and extremisms. Religion based extremisms were discussed in each of the seminars, but researchers and practitioners also spoke on right-wing extremism, anti-Semitism and anti-establishment movements. The seminar series also allowed flexibility to respond to how discussion on right-wing extremism has evolved since the submission of the proposal. Given the events of the last 18 months, in particular, the increasing audibility of populist and extreme right rhetoric, two seminars in the series were focused on different aspects of the 'mainstreaming' of populist and previously fringe right-wing politics. This decision reflects the fact that even if fringe parties may not actually have more support than previously, their increased visibility has shaped the political landscape so that mainstream parties incorporate aspects of the 'fringe' rhetoric into their agenda. 2) to focus discussion on youth engagements with such radicalisms and extremisms reflecting specific and urgent needs for academic input into policy debate and practical interventions in the light of recent evidence of a variety of youth radicalisations. Practitioners working in CVE and fundamental human rights contributed to all the seminars. The dialogue between practitioners and with academic participants established consensus across participants from different sectors that individuals' trajectories into extremism are often more nuanced and complicated than some academic 'models' and some existing CVE campaigns assume. There was a shared view was that whilst recruitment strategies and materials available online are a key 'supply' factor in radicalisation, the success of such recruitment is dependent upon the wider and unique social, economic, and political circumstances faced by young people encountering radicalisation messages. It was agreed that it is essential to be cognisant of these contextual and structural factors, alongside the dangers of online content on which some CVE interventions focus. At the same time, it was recognised that academic approaches that focus on either pathway models (to understand individuals' shift from 'thinking' to 'doing') or factor models (that focus on the range of socio-demographic variables that contribute to an individual embarking on that path) need to develop a move complex and contextualised sociological understanding of motivation. 3) to retain the cross-disciplinary focus (Sociology, Political Science, Cultural Studies, Anthropology, History) but extend and deepen cross-disciplinarity targeting in particular psychology and criminology. Alongside specialists from the field of Terrorism Studies, the seminar series benefitted from the input of expert speakers in psychology, political science, sociology, anthropology, medicine (mental health), film-makers, and education. Psychological theories of motivation were particularly insightful in the discussion of how individuals respond to messages received online while sociological perspectives kept us attentive to the importance of structural drivers of radicalisation , which may not be identified by individuals (e.g. 'formers' who are often the key source of information to policy makers). 4) to enhance the role of civil society actors in the seminar series, through changes to the organisation and format of seminars as well as the production and form of outputs. The format of the Seminar Series meant that a key NGO in the field - including Southern Poverty Law Centre, Moonshot CVE, Aktion Gemeinwesen und Beratung, Global Education Forum, German Federal Agency for Civic Education, Extremism section - co-organised or inputted substantially into the seminar design, selection of speakers and hosting of each event. The drawing in of such actors (alongside other NGOs in the cordinators' networks) meant we had diverse attendees at each of the seminars. Evidence briefings were based on the roundtable discussion held at the end of each seminar, and thus encouraged and benefitted from contributions of all attendees - not only the speakers.
Exploitation Route The main achievements that can be taken forward by others are: • The sustained and productive dialogue between policy makers, practitioners and academics in the field of extremism and counter extremism. As set out in the proposal, in order to facilitate open and constructive dialogue across sectors on sensitive subjects, seminar participation was based on an invitation principle and limited to about 30 participants each time. However, around one third of attendees at each seminar were from non-academic spheres (policy or practice) and speakers and participants from these spheres came from local, national and international agencies and organisations. • The consolidation of these discussions in six themed and targeted 'evidence briefings' made available on the website co-produced by participants in the seminars ogy/research/projects/youth-extremisms/ • The ongoing collaboration of a core group of participants in the Seminar Series (both academic and practitioner) through the H2020 DARE (Dialogue about Radicalisation and Equality) project (
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Government, Democracy and Justice

Description The seminars are generating research (including collaborative academic and practitioner engagement in research) through the H2020 DARE (Dialogue about Radicalisation and Equality) project ( An additional application was supported to the USA NSF for further collaboration with our US partner (and co-cordinator of the ESRC Seminar series)in this field. Although the initial application was unsuccessful, other possibilities for this collaboration are being explored and the collaboration has received extremely strong support from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Office for Community Partnerships. Policy impact is achieved through excellent relations between coordinators, seminar hosts and city, regional and national policy makers. For example, the Acting Director of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Office for Community Partnerships as well as a representative of the Federal Bureau of Investigation were speakers at the Washington DC Seminar while speakers at the Manchester seminar included representatives of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, the North West Regional Prevent Coordinator (NW CTU) and the Extremism Analysis Unit, Home Office, UK. The appointment of one of the coordinators (Hilary Pilkington) to the GMCA Preventing Hateful Extremism and Promoting Cohesion Commission set up in the aftermath of the MEN Manchester Arena bombing (May 2017) has also created a direct channel for the transmission of the combined expertise of the seminar participants into the policy arena. Since then Hilary Pilkington has been appointed a member of the expert group of the national Commission for Countering Extremism (2018-2019) and now serves and independent expert to the Commissioner, Sarah Khan. In terms of the reach of the seminars, the Seminar mailing list has grown to almost 150 contacts and is used also to disseminate key events of potential interest to its members. The evidence briefings have been warmly received by members of the seminar network, particularly by those in the policy and practice arenas. The evidence briefings are circulated to members of the network list (143 currently) but can also be downloaded from the website. As a university website, this platform has a limited visibility, however, there is a steady number of external downloads suggesting that the evidence briefings have reached just under 200 people to date.
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Societal,Policy & public services

Description Dialogue about Radicalisation and Equality
Amount € 5,000,000 (EUR)
Funding ID 725349 
Organisation European Commission H2020 
Sector Public
Country Belgium
Start 04/2017 
End 04/2021
Description Presentation to RAN workshop 'The role of gender in extremism and P/CVE' 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentation to Radicalisation Awareness Network which is a cross-European network for radicalisation prevention practitioners and policy makers.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018