Terrorism and Counterterrorism: Comparing Theory and Practice

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Course Date: 08 September 2014 to 20 October 2014 (6 weeks)

Price: free

Course Summary

This course gives an introduction into the field of terrorism & counterterrorism studies. It will help you to analyze and understand these complex phenomena and discuss its impact on society with a global audience.
Students, policy makers, journalists or anyone with a strong interest in understanding issues like the history, origins and nature of terrorism, security, fear management, resilience, politics, violence, foreign fighters and radicalization will find the course most relevant.

Estimated Workload: 4-6 hours/week

Course Instructors

Edwin Bakker

Edwin Bakker is professor of (Counter-)Terrorism Studies at the Institute of Public Administration and director of the Centre for Terrorism and Counterterrorism (CTC) of Leiden University. Bakker is also a fellow of the International Centre for Counter Terrorism – The Hague. He is a member of the editorial board of the quarterlies Human Rights and Security, the Journal of Strategic Security, and Vrede & Veiligheid (Peace & Security).

Before joining Leiden University, Bakker was a fellow at the Netherlands Institute of International Relations ‘Clingendael’ where he headed the Clingendael Security and Conflict Programme. Bakker graduated from Groningen University where he studied Economic Geography and obtained his PhD with a thesis on minority conflicts in Slovakia and Hungary (1997).

Bakker’s research interests include radicalization processes, ‘jihadi’ terrorism, unconventional threats to security and crisis/terrorism impact management. 

Course Description

Terrorism has arguably been one of the defining factors of our age. It frequently makes headlines, threatening or attacking governments, private business and ordinary citizens. And in many parts of the world, it has been one of the most important threats to peace, security and stability. But what does this exactly mean? What is the nature of this threat? Who or what is threatened, how, by whom and why? What can be done about it or how can we at least limit the impact of terrorism and make sure that terrorists do not make headlines and manage to scare us?

These are just a handful of questions that will be addressd in this course that consists of three parts. First it focuses on the essence of terrorism as an instrument to achieve certain goals, in addition to an exploration of this phenomenon and the difficulties in defining it. The second part provides an overview of the state of the art in (counter) terrorism studies. Since ‘9/11’ terrorism studies have grown exponentially, reflecting the rise in perceived threats. But what has academia come up with? What theories, assumptions and conventional wisdom has it produced that could be of help in understanding terrorism and dealing with it? The most interesting results are examined and compared with empirical evidence with the aim to either stress their importance or to debunk them as myths. The final part looks into the implications and possibilities for policy making.


1. Will I get a certificate or Statement of Accomplishment after completing this class?
Students who successfully complete the class will receive a Statement of Accomplishment signed by the instructor.

2. Do I earn Leiden University credits upon completion of this class?
No. The certificate of completion is not part of a formal qualification from  Leiden University. 

3. What resources will I need for this class?
Currently we are negotiating to get all necessary reading material to be downloadable for free from the course web site. 

4. What are the learning outcomes of this course and why should I take it?
By following this course you will learn more about:
  • the notion of terrorism as an instrument to achieve certain goals
  • the difficulties and importance of definitions of terrorism
  • the state of the art of terrorism studies
  • theoretical notions and practical examples that help you to better understand and critique approaches to counter terrorism.
  • theoretical notions and practical examples that will help you to better understand the essence of terrorism.
5. Why do you offer this course for free?
Leiden University is grounded in a long standing tradition in providing students the space for obtaining a thorough and multifaceted education. This MOOC offers us the possibility to share our knowledge globally. Creating this MOOC is a collaboration between the Centre for Terrorism and Counterterrorism and Centre for Innovation The Hague at the university's Campus The Hague.


Week 1: What is terrorism?
Week 2: Researching terrorism and counterterrorism
Week 3: Five assumptions on terrorism
Week 4: Five assumptions on counterterrorism
Week 5: Dealing with terrorism and the future


This course consists of 6 weeks of video lectures, five weekly quizzes and a final exam. Additionally, there are video chats in which Professor Bakker responds to the Discussion Forum and presents results of the questionnaires that are part of the course. There will also be Google Hangouts - live video chats - and two peer reviewed assignments for those who want to do the advanced track.

Suggested Reading

All materials will be open-access, freely available for everyone enrolled in the course. 

Course Workload

4-6 hours/week

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