Cally O'Brien

Author Biography

Cally O'Brien recently graduated from Santa Clara University with majors in political science and psychology, as well as minors in Arabic, Islamic & Middle Eastern Studies, and International Studies. Her research interests include statistics, identity, violence, and the psychology of religion. She has also worked as a Henley-Putnam University staff member.



Subject Area Keywords

Fundamentalism, Identity, Information operations, Islamic culture and politics, Radicalization, Terrorism / counterterrorism


Certain terrorists come from unexpected backgrounds. They give up comfortable lives and opportunities in order to wage jihad. Their existence has puzzled various theorists since they came to light. This article will explain how a theory of psychosocial identity formation created by Erik Erikson and his student James Marcia may explain this phenomenon. It will also explain how Erikson's theoretical legacy has contributed to current attempts at increasing moderation in the Middle East through education. Many of those attempts reflect ideas that are drawn from Eriksonian theory, although they are not typically described in Eriksonian terms. Meanwhile, while some theorists have considered the applications of various aspects of Eriksonian theory, especially negative identity, to terrorism few have focused on radical Islam or evaluated specific biographies against Marcia's additions to the framework.