Key Facts

Principal Investigator: 

  • Prof. Dr. Susanne Pickel, Institute for Political Science, University Duisburg-Essen

Duration: 12/2020 - 08/2024


Subproject 1: Prof. Dr. Susanne Pickel, Institute for Political Science, University Duisburg-Essen
Subproject 2: Prof. Dr. Michael Kiefer, Institute for Islamic Theology, University Osnabrück
Subproject 3: Prof. Dr. Riem Spielhaus, Georg Eckert Institute, Leibniz Institute for Educational Media
Subproject 4: Prof. Dr. Gert Pickel, Department for the Sociology of Religion and Church, Leipzig University
Subproject 5: Prof. Dr. Hacı-Halil Uslucan, Institute for Turkish Studies, University Duisburg-Essen


Publications in English

  • Pickel, Gert/Öztürk, Cemal/Schneider, Verena/Pickel, Susanne/Decker, Oliver (2022): Covid-19-Related Conspiracy Myths, Beliefs, and Democracy-Endangering Consequences. In: Politics and Governance 10 (4), 177-191. [Download]
  • Klackl, Johannes/Stollberg, Janine/Fritsche, Immo/Schindler, Simon/Jonas, Eva (2022): The interplay between individual and collective efforts in the age of global threats. In: Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 99, (104256). [Download]

Practice Partners

  • Competence Center for Right-Wing Extremism and Democracy Research (KREDO), Leipizig University (Website in German)
  • Center for the Study of Religions (CSR), Universität Leipzig
  • Research Institute for Social Cohesion (FGZ), Leipzig University (Website in German)
  • Rhine-Ruhr Institute for Social Research and Policy Advice (RISP), University Duisburg (Website in German)
  • Federal Office for Family and Civil Society Affairs (BAFza) (Website in German)
  • Educational Institution Bocholt - Political Education for Volunteers (Website in German)
  • Municipal Integration Center Duisburg (KI) (Website in German)
  • Center for European and Oriental Culture (ZEOK), Leipzig (Website in German)
  • Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Analysis (GEI), Braunschweig (Website)
  • Center for Turkish Studies and Integration Research (ZfTI), Duisburg (Website in German)

Radical Islam versus Radical Anti-Islam (RIRA)

Societal polarization and perceived threats as drivers of radicalization and co-radicalization processes for young adults and post-adolescents

In recent years, a polarization can be observed in German society. This polarization can be diagnosed as a result of mutual rejection processes between different social groups. The (perceived) threat of radical Islam or Islamism is of particular importance in this context. Perceptions of threat provide a fertile ground for the emergence of group-based prejudices. As a result, the likelihood of reciprocal radicalization increases, to which adolescents and young adults are susceptiblein particular: Due to devaluations and experiences of discriminationsome young Muslims withdraw into collectives that promise security (and are strictly conservative or even Islamist), which (can) represent a gateway to radicalization. The presence of Islamism and its recurring thematization in the media, in turn, favor a consolidation of threat perceptions in parts of the non-Muslim population. This serves to encourage radicalization in the direction of right-wing extremism, because right-wing extremist parties and movements make gains from Islamophobia and Muslimophobia. Observing right-wing extremist mobilization achievements, in turn, promotes radicalization in the left-wing political spectrum.

Based on this emerging spiral of radicalization, the collaborative project RIRA aims to deliver a transdisciplinary and multimethodological analysis. The project focuses on the interactions that arise from mutual threat perceptions of Muslims and non-Muslims. RIRA also examines the effects of mutual radicalization on political culture in Germany and on polarization and radicalization processes.

To this end, social attitudes toward Islam are assessed, including attitudes toward prejudice, polarization, perceptions of threat, and concepts of democracy and religiosity. In addition, the radicalization of adolescents and young adults of Muslim, non-Muslim, or no religious affiliation taking place in this context will be investigated. Causes and courses of radicalization processes are studied as well. By analyzing self-interpretations and interpretations by others, collective patterns of perception, and social dispositives during (post-)adolescence - a life stage of emotional insecurity - RIRA will finally develop measures for the prevention of radicalization tailored to the targets and causes. On the one hand, this focuses on intervention opportunities at schools and educational institutions. These will be captured, for example, in the form of teaching materials or training programs. On the other hand, recommendations will be developed for dealing with media-mediated misrepresentations and interpretations that can have a formative influence on political culture in the long term. Film projects, media-oriented educational material, and compilations of empirical fundamental research on prejudices and their political consequences will serve this purpose.

The (co-)radicalization of adolescents and young adults has drastic effects on the political support for democracy in Germany. In the course of (co-)radicalization processes, an anti-democratic political culture is formed. The developments of (co-)radicalization with regard to political attitudes sometimes progress in parallel and with reference to the respective (political) community. They culminate in a rejection of the established democracy in Germany. This is also reflected in the desire for a political system that represents and validates their own non-democratic values. Subproject 1 focuses on different parts of the radicalization spiral. The analysis focuses on the importance of threat perceptions, prejudice, and social withdrawal into radicalized communities. In addition, the interactions between experiences of discrimination and (co-)radicalization among (non-)Muslim youth and young adults are explored. In order to ultimately develop impulses for preventive action, the project is creating a network of research and practice in the Rhine-Ruhr region.

Subproject 2 explores why young people become radicalized. Which social, religious, and theological factors influence the radicalization process? In particular, familial, societal, and milieu-specific influences will be examined. This places the focus on the family and mosque communities as socializing instances in which religious upbringing and education take place. The project seeks to find out to what extent the discourse on Islam contributes to radicalization processes. In this context, experiences of exclusion as well as protest behavior in radical Islamic ideologies will be analyzed. Another approach focuses on milieu-specific conditions, such as the question of which theological concepts and spiritual fathers are partly responsible for a radical understanding of Islam. Since the potential for radicalization is particularly salient among converted Muslims, this group will be studied specifically.

To answer the research questions, the subproject will draw on qualitative expert interviews with prevention practitioners and teachers of Islamic religious education. In addition, biographical interviews and group discussions with adolescent and post-adolescent Muslims will be conducted. The aim of the research is to generate insights for new approaches for prevention.

Subproject 3 analyzes Islam-related teaching materials for history, geography, and politics/social studies classes. This includes the review of curricula, textbooks, and supplementary (online) material for lower and upper secondary education. The focus of the analysis is on religious, cultural or culturalizing, and political implications or voids. The influence of relevant paths and places of learning on the image of Islam will be elaborated. The findings of the analysis will be used to develop educational concepts and teaching materials. These materials can be experimentally tested in the RIRA project. The materials will be published on the web platform operated by the GEI.

In cooperation with the Museum of Islamic Art in Berlin, the project organizes workshops with publishers and textbook authors and provides advice to this target group on topics related to Islam. The aim of this service is to contribute to a more diverse and diversity-sensitive image of Islam in educational media, which not only address the subject of Islam as a religion and theology, but also highlight the diverse artistic and scientific work in regions influenced by Islam. In addition, a webtalk series was conducted as part of the project to discuss various educational and legal aspects of dealing with Islamist and racist attacks in schools. A brochure summarizes the most important contents of the eleven webtalks. It also presents teaching concepts on images, satire, and humor in Islam, how to deal with images of violence, and teaching recommendations from experts in political and religious education.

The Leipzig subproject of RIRA combines various empirical analyses of radicalization and co-radicalization with a special focus on everyday life. Using a mixture of secondary analyses, experimental survey designs, group discussions, expert interviews, and participation in the RIRA population survey, radicalization processes are examined from multiple perspectives. Following the long-standing research of the Leipzig Authoritarianism Studies, the social circumstances of radicalization are examined as well as their socio-psychological justifications. It is clear already: When ones ability to act and control ones environment are perceived as threatened, this changes ones social thinking and actions. Anti-Muslim prejudice and racist discrimination also shape radicalization processes in the right-wing political spectrum. In particular, a tense atmosphere among the population proves to be an entry point into a spiral of radicalization.

The results of the subproject will be incorporated into educational concepts and recommendations for educational institutions. The researchers assume that the image of Islam conveyed in ethics and religion classes has a significant influence on the way adolescents perceive Islam. Therefore, the developed material will have a special focus on religious education. The Leipzig subproject also takes into account the specific social and political situation in Eastern Germany, which is characterized by a particularly high rejection of "Islam," minimal contact with Muslims, and strong right-wing extremist tendencies.

Subproject 5 combines the findings of RIRA with secondary data and systematically examines them with respect to processes of co-radicalization and polarization and their consequences. It integrates, for example, the Leipzig Authoritarianism Study and data on political attitudes and religiosity of people of Turkish origin collected by the Center for Turkish Studies and Integration Research (ZfTI). The findings of earlier studies on "authoritarianism and propensity to violence" among German and Turkish youth will also be included.

Another key objective of the subproject will be to use group discussions, especially with young people of Turkish origin, to identify the motives for radicalization and rejection of democracy, as well as the consequences of experiences of degradation. The results obtained will be processed so that they can be implemented in educational practice in Islamic and Christian religious education.

Film "Project RIRA" | Duration 2"10' | Production Ute Seitz // Philipp Offermann | HSFK 2021

What is RiRa working on right now? At a project meeting in Leipzig in October 2021, Prof. Dr. Susanne Pickel, Prof. Dr. Riem Spielhaus and Prof. Dr. Gert Pickel reported on perspectives, current processes and challenges of the pandemic for their research. Read more.