Scott Atran on Unconditional Commitment draws Reflections from Thuppahi Roberts

  ONE: Scott Atran: “The Devoted Actor Unconditional Commitment and Intractable Conflict across Cultures,” ... as introduced to Thuppahi by The Library of Social Science,in New York,with this abstract at

Uncompromising wars, revolution, rights movements, and today’s global terrorism are in part driven by “devoted actors” who adhere to sacred, transcendent values that generate actions dissociated from rationally expected risks and rewards. Studies in real-world conflicts show ways that devoted actors, who are unconditionally committed to sacred causes and whose personal identities are fused within a unique collective identity, willingly make costly sacrifices. This enables low-power groups to endure and often prevail against materially stronger foes. Explaining how devoted actors come to sacrifice for cause and comrades not only is a scientific goal but a practical imperative to address intergroup disputes that can spiral out of control in a rapidly interconnecting world of collapsing and conflicting cultural traditions. From the recent massive media-driven global political awakening, horizontal peer-to-peer transcultural niches, geographically disconnected, are emerging to replace vertical generation-to-generation territorial traditions. Devoted actors of the global jihadi archipelago militate within such a novel transcultural niche, which is socially tight, ideationally narrow, and globe spanning. Nevertheless, its evolutionary maintenance depends on costly commitments to transcendental values, rituals and sacrifices, and parochial altruism, which may have deep roots even in the earliest and most traditional human societies. Fieldwork results from the Kurdish battlefront with the Islamic State are highlighted.

Scott Atran Richard Koenigsberg

TWO: Michael Roberts: “About Scott Atran and ‘Sacrificial Devotion’,”

In addressing the phenomenon of suicide atstacks deployed by the Palestinians and the Tamil Tigers from the mid-1990s, I coined the concept of “sacrificial devotion”. This concept was at the heart of numerous essays which I presented in refereed journals in the first decade of the 21st cenury –articles which also embraced the kamikaze oprations of the Japanese war machine in the 1940s and world-wide acts of self-immolation in political protest. This line of work brought me into fruitful interaction with Richard Koenigsberg and his Library of Social Science –where Atran is a regular contributor (visit

This line of research also encouraged me to organise a conference in Adelaide on that focused on “Sacrificial Devotion.” The particpants included Riaz Hassan, Daya Somasundaram, Clive Williams, Shyam Tekwani, Peter Mayer, Rohan Bastin and a number of postgraduates (for eg Daniel Nourri, Harshan Kumarakulasingham, Sophie Corfield). One outcome for the web site : …. which lasted for a couple of years and is non-operational now, but still acessible on internet.

Scenes from BBC documentary of 1991 entitled “Suicide Killers” –with the passing out parade of female Tigresses (involving the garlanding with a cyanide capsule) as the fnal act serving as one moment in the tale

Tileepan fasting unot death on behalf of the Tamil cause 1987

 A Tiger figheter in camp with the kuppi around his neck–Pix by Shyam Tekwani of India whi was embedded among the Tigers 


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