Why do young people become Jihadists? A theoretical account on radical identity development

W.H.J. Meeus

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)


Identity status theory and Lofland and Starks' (1965, Becoming a world-saver: A theory of conversion to a deviant perspective, American Sociological Review, 30, 862–875) model of religious conversion were used to explain why young people become jihad fighters. Both theories maintain that young people with unclear commitments are vulnerable for radical identity change. A religious problem-solving perspective, along with a self-definition as religious seeker, steers this potential identity change into the direction of religious conversion. This may lead young Muslims or young people with an uncertain identity and a religious orientation to move closer to radical Islam and jihad. Also, research from both traditions found that absence of positive affective bonds with relevant others go together with unstable identity. A new group with a clear defined mission may therefore be able to solve their problems in two ways: it offers warm interpersonal bonds, as well as potential new personal goals and commitments. Groups of jihadists are perfectly fit to serve this twofold purpose.
Keywords: Jihadists, Identity Status Theory, Religious Conversion
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)275-281
JournalEuropean Journal of Developmental Psychology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • Identity Status Theory
  • Jihadists
  • Religious Conversion


Dive into the research topics of 'Why do young people become Jihadists? A theoretical account on radical identity development'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this