Luwei Ying - The Unified Strategy of Religious Extremists: Military Power and Ideological Appeals

Encina Hall West, room 400

Religious extremism is the dominant ideology among contemporary violent non-state actors. However, we know little about religious extremists' strategy in making ideological appeals. This paper studies jihadi groups' ideologies as reflected in propaganda and shows that these groups shift on a “religious vs. secular” spectrum according to the waxing and waning of their military power. Weaker groups must prioritize their core fanatic believers and foreground a more radical religious ideal, while stronger groups seek broader support from more moderate individuals and thus pitch themselves more secularly. I illustrate this dynamic with an original database of 84 magazines published regularly by 38 jihadi groups from 1984 to 2019. Further, I leverage approximately 6 million tweets from 21,000 ISIS-related accounts in 2015 to examine the jihadists' mobilization efforts regarding different audiences. Overall, in sharp contrast to the prevailing view that radical jihadi ideology and violence are bound together, I demonstrate that groups rhetorically emphasize religion when they carry out fewer attacks.


Luwei Ying is an incoming Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Los Angeles. She received her Ph.D. from the Department of Political Science at Washington University in St. Louis in 2022. She also holds a B.A. in international Politics and a B.A. in Journalism & Communication (with honors) from Tsinghua University.

She studies international relations, with a focus on civil conflict and political violence, and quantitative political methodology. Specifically, her research examines how militant organizations propagate ideologies to mobilize, recruit, and exercise control over individual members and how these ideological strategies fit into the groups' broader military agendas. Corresponding to this focus on ideology, her methodological work advances text-as-data methods that facilitate the measurement of ideology from text corpora. Another set of projects analyze the importance of territorial control for states and non-state groups in conflict. This research spans her work on the determinants of transnational terrorism, the consequences of modern state expansion, as well as the historical legacies of border institutions. Overall, her research provides a more comprehensive understanding of modern warfare and the violent actors involved.

Her papers have been awarded the Best Paper in International Relations Award, the Pi Sigma Alpha Award for the best paper presented at the 2019 MPSA Conference, and the Best Poster Award (Application) at the PolMeth XXXVII Summer Meeting. Her published work has appeared in American Political Science ReviewPolitical Analysis and twice in the Journal of Conflict Resolution.