Scott Atran



Scott’s Home Page



Scott Atran is an anthropologist specializing in conflict resolution and is the author of

the book Talking to the Enemy, Faith, Brotherhood, and the (un)Making of Terrorists, released by Harper Collins.


"Violent extremism represents not the resurgence of traditional cultures, but their collapse, as young people unmoored from millennial traditions flail about in search of a social identity that gives personal significance and glory. This is the dark side of globalism. They radicalize to find firm identity in a flattened world."


On 23 April, 2015, Scott addressed the UN Security Council -- the first time an anthropologist has ever been asked to speak to this body. He spoke to the Ministerial Debate on ‘The Role of Youth in Countering Violent Extremism and Promoting Peace.’ Read Address. In March 2010, Scott testified before the U.S. Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities, advocating a field-based social understanding of terrorists’ motivation, as an alternative approach to conflict resolution. Read the Statement.


Scott received his PhD in anthropology from Columbia University. While a student he became assistant to anthropologist Margaret Mead at the American Museum of Natural History. In 1974 he organized a debate at the Abbaye de Royaumont in France on the nature of universals in human thought and society, with the participation of linguist Noam Chomsky, psychologist Jean Piaget, anthropologists Claude Lévi-Strauss and Gregory Bateson, and biologists Francois Jacob and Jacques Monod, which many consider a milestone in the development of cognitive science.


Scott has taught at Cambridge University, Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and the Ecole des Hautes Etudes in Paris. He is currently a research director in anthropology at the of the French Centre national de la recherche scientifique (National Center for Scientific Research) and member of the Jean Nicod Institute at the École Normale Supérieure. He is also visiting professor of psychology and public policy at the University of Michigan, and presidential scholar in sociology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.


He has experimented extensively on the ways scientists and ordinary people categorize and reason about nature, on the cognitive and evolutionary psychology of religion, and on the limits of rational choice in political and cultural conflict. His work has been widely published internationally in the popular press, and in scientific journals in a variety of disciplines. He has briefed members of the U.S. Congress and the National Security Council staff at the White House on the The Devoted Actor versus the Rational Actor in Managing World Conflict, on the Comparative Anatomy and Evolution of Global Network Terrorism, and on Pathways to and from Violent Extremism. He was an early critic of U.S. intervention in Iraq and of deepening involvement in Afghanistan, and he has been engaged in conflict negotiations in the Middle East.


In addition to his recent work on the ideology and social evolution of transnational terrorism, which has included fieldwork with mujahedin and supporters in Europe, The Middle East, Central and Southeast Asia, and North Africa, Atran conducts on-going research in Guatemala, Mexico, and the U.S. on universal and culture-specific aspects of biological categorization and environmental reasoning and decision making among Maya and other Native Americans.


Scott’s latest book, Talking to the Enemy, is an eye-opening and important book that offers readers a startling look deep inside terror groups. Based on Scott’s unprecedented access to and in-depth interviews with terrorists and jihadis—including Al Qaeda, Hamas, and Taliban extremists, as well as members of other radical Islamic terror organizations—Talking to the Enemy provides fresh insight and unexpected answers to why there are people in this world willing to kill and die for a cause. One review stated “Talking to the Enemy is required reading for anyone interested in making the world a safer, more secure place for everyone.”


Other books by Scott Atran: The Native Mind and the Cultural Construction of Nature (2010); Plants of the Petén Itza’ Maya (2004); In God We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion (2002); and Cognitive Foundations of Natural History (1993). Contact: Scott Atran

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