Minerva Initiative project recognized by DOD

Minerva Initiative project recognized by DOD

ASU is one of seven universities in the United States selected for a new program to infuse university-based humanities and social science research into the Department of Defense.

“Finding Allies for the War of Words: Mapping the Diffusion and Influence of Counter-Radical Muslim Discourse” is a $5.8 million grant to the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict, a transdisciplinary research center in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. It is one of seven projects at U.S. universities funded by the Minerva Research Initiative, a program of the Secretary of Defense that focuses on areas of strategic importance to U.S. national security policy.

The Minerva Research Initiative, which deals with different sides of the problem of extremism in the Muslim world, was recognized at ceremonies in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 9 for “exceptional scientific achievements and contributions” by the Human Social Culture Behavior (HSCB) Modeling Program at the Department of Defense. The HSCB program was established in 2008 to develop a science base and associated technologies for modeling human, social and cultural behavior.

“Finding Allies for the War of Words” was recognized by the Department of Defense for its exceptional scientific achievements and contributions to the field of social cultural modeling.

“Your Minerva project, ‘Finding Allies for the War of Words: Mapping the Diffusion and Influence of Counter-Radical Muslim Discourse,’ has significantly increased our understanding in countering violent extremist ideologies,” wrote Capt. Dylan Schmorrow, deputy director of the Human Performance, Training and BioSystems Research Directorate.

“The project is based on empirical research on extremist texts and statements with analyses and models,” says Steven Corman, professor, Hugh Downs School of Communication. “The research aims to create a database of Islamist narratives while revealing how these narratives are used to influence populations in areas such as the Middle East and Southeast Asia and North Africa. People from the U.S. often lack training and knowledge of the culture they reside in while overseas. This database will be useful for practical applications in field.”

The principal investigator for ASU’s Minerva project is Mark Woodward, an associate professor in ASU’s School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies. He leads a multidisciplinary, multi-university international team that includes, from ASU, Hasan Davulcu and Arunabha Sen, School of Computing, Informatics, and Decision Systems Engineering; Tom Taylor, School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences; and Corman; along with David Jacobson, University of South Florida; Riva Kastoryano, Centre d’Etudes et de Recherches Internationales, Sciences Po, France; and Muhammad Sani Umar, Northwestern University.

“One of the goals of the project is to deepen our understanding and knowledge of the types and complexity of counter-radical Islamic movements and networks in critical regions,” said Davulcu, who attended the ceremony on behalf of the team.

“By linking the deep knowledge of area experts and scholars of religious and Islamic studies with the quantitative and computational expertise of social and computer scientists, the Minerva project will provide a powerful visual tool for understanding the flow and influence of counter-radical ideas and movements across regions as well as globally,” Davulcu says.

“Scholars in the humanities have a rich history of studying the philosophical, social and historical dimensions of other cultures, hence they are able to pick up subtle nuances that are critical for understanding how counter-radicalism works on the ground across diverse communities and regions,” says Linell Cady, director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict.

“The integration of the qualitative methods of the humanities with the quantitative and computational methods of social and computer science produces a whole that is significantly greater than the sum of its parts,” Cady says.

The center’s Minerva project has already begun to produce a stream of publications that reflect the advances being made in sociocultural modeling.