David C. Rapoport

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David Charles Rapoport
David C Rapoport.png
Portrait of David C. Rapoport

David Charles Rapoport (born January 7, 1929, Pittsburgh, PA) is a Professor Emeritus of Political Science at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) He is “one of the founding figures of terrorism studies”[1] In 1989 he established the scholarly journal Terrorism and Political Violence and is its chief editor.[2]


Rapoport received his Ph.D. at University of California, Berkeley in 1960, His dissertation was Praetorianism: Government without Consensus. His first job was at Columbia University, a Research Associate at the Institute of War and Peace and lecturer at Barnard College. In 1962 he joined the UCLA political science department. Initially a political theorist, in the late 1960s he became interested in terrorism and in 1969 taught the first terrorist course in the U.S.[2] The journal he founded Terrorism and Political Violence became “one of two journals which has made terrorism into an academic field”.[3] At the same time he became absorbed with religion and politics, creating several new courses, i.e., The Bible as Political Theory, Comparative Fundamentalism, Religion and Violence, and became a Consultant for the Fundamentalism Project, University of Chicago 1988-92. He received 12 Awards from a variety of Foundations including the Social Science Research Council, Ford Foundation, Fulbright, American Council Learned Societies, National Institute of Mental Health and Harry Frank Guggenheim.

After retiring in 1995 he founded the Center for the Study of Religion UCLA and became the Chair of the Interdepartmental Religion Major 1995-7. He continued teaching until 2012, received the UCLA Emeritus Distinguished Dickson Award. 2007 and an Emeritus Research Grant from the Mellon Foundation 2007-12. From 1985-2015 he accepted 104 special invitations from university, foundation and government conferences to speak. Many were in foreign countries, U.K., Spain, Israel, Ireland, Italy, Germany, Sweden, Netherlands, etc.

In 1998 he and Paul Wilkinson edited the Routledge Political Violence Series. In 2011 he became the sole editor. The Series has published 31 volumes.

In 2008 16 colleagues (including six former students) received funds from the Sidney L. Stern Foundation to organize the UCLA Festschrift Conference for Rapoport dealing largely with his work on religion and on terrorism later published Terrorism Identity and Legitimacy: The Four Waves Theory and Political Violence,.[4]

Academic publications[edit]

Rapoport wrote and edited six books, 50 academic articles and 12 op-ed newspaper columns. Ten academic publications were republished in Spanish, French and German. Two of his academic articles were written for Encyclopedias, and a third will be published in 2017.[5]

His initial articles were in political theory and concentrated on the different forms of legitimate government force and illegal violence by members of the administration to overthrow the existing government. He also was deeply concerned with the concept of the corrupt state.[6]

He wrote a series of articles on ancient religious traditions. The first was “Moses, Charisma, and Covenant” which examines Moses as a political leader and one who witnessed the first rebel terror campaign ever described. The best known article that followed was "Fear and Trembling: Terrorism in Three Religious Traditions",[7] an analysis Jeffrey Kaplan described as the ’first truly comparative study of three historic religious terrorist groups-indeed it is one of the first studies of religious terrorism at all...remarkably pertinent to the present, and has proven over time to be one of the most memorable readings for successive generations of my own students. During the latest years of the “Cold War context David Rapoport’s work stood virtually alone in insisting on the importance of religion as a vital force in the modern world. Rapoport’s work has shaped, defined and indeed invented the study of religious terrorism.”[8] He wrote a number of essays on apocalyptic movements in the modern world especially in Christianity.[9]

In 1999 his article “Terrorism” in the Encyclopedia of Violence, Peace and Conflict, contained the first analysis of the history of modern global rebel terror. Political concerns and technological development produced the new form. Repeated mass European uprisings during the 19th century failed to achieve the aims of the French Revolution and finally the Paris Commune disaster (1871) imposed by the French army made revolutionaries feel a new strategy was necessary. The invention of dynamite made it possible for small groups to use easily portable and safe to use bombs for all sorts of targets. Technology also enabled one to transmit messages over enormous distances instantly. The new terrorism began in the 1880s and has produced four different overlapping waves, the Anarchist, Anti-Colonial, New Left and Religious. Each wave had a special purpose and strategy. The first three lasted a generation or 40 years, and the Religious wave then began its second decade. Each wave was provoked by a dramatic international event which stimulated hope in a new generation and various important technological changes had their effect in each wave. The argument drew little attention until Rapoport published a second article on the subject immediately after the 9/11 attack, “The Fourth Wave: September 11 in the History of Terrorism” in Current History. The aim was to demonstrate that although the tragedy “created a resolve …to end terror everywhere”, the history of modern global terror did not inspire much confidence that this resolve would succeed.[10] In 2009 Karen Rasler and William R. Thompson systematically tested the wave argument; “Our findings…provide empirical support for the Rapoport model. Waves do indeed appear to characterize terrorist activity.”[11] In 2011 Alex P. Schmid emphasized that it was “one of the greatest contributions to the study of terrorism in the past two decades”.[12] 2016 Tom Parker and Nick Sitter described Rapoport’s piece as “one of the most influential articles ever written in the field of terrorism studies and referenced in numerous volumes. To this day it provides the basic conceptual framework for academic courses taught around the world on this subject.”[13]

In 2006 Rapoport published Terrorism: Critical Concepts in Political Science, a four volume collection including many primary sources and each volume was devoted to one wave.

Conferences were organized to discuss aspects of the wave theory and were later published as books. Thus, in 2011 he was the key note speaker at the Institute of Graduate Studies Geneva to explain the dimensions and consequences of terrorism’s global character. In 2014 an International Workshop in Madrid was arranged to consider the significance of the Third Wave concept. Rapoport was asked to assess and elaborate the argument he made in 1999, and those reflections became the basis for the book produced.[14]

Subsequent essays generally elaborate or clarify matters which the wave articles suggest but do not discuss fully. Contemporary analysts rarely discuss groups before the invention of dynamite. “Before the Bombs There Were the Mobs: American Experiences with Terror” analyzes the mob form focusing on two well-known but never compared groups, the Sons of Liberty (1757–76) and the Ku Klux Klan (1867–77).[15] Both were successful and consumed with local matters. The Sons of Liberty ignited the American Revolution and the Ku Klux Klan “won the peace” the South wanted after losing the Civil War, a success that lasted for a century. Despite their success neither group inspired efforts in other countries. One reason was mob members never described their methods while their successor made every effort to do so and indeed each wave published text books for that purpose. Unlike the global terrorists, mob members never sought martyrdom never claimed responsibility for their acts and if tried in court always claimed to be innocent! Global terrorists were professionals who devoted their entire lives to the enterprise and were subsidized by the organization. Mob members got involved intermittently and continued with their normal activities.

“Terrorism and Weapons of the Apocalypse” was written after Aum Shinrikyo, an apocalyptic group made a series of sarin attacks including one on a Tokyo subway in 1995.[16] While few were killed, the world, particularly the U.S., was deeply troubled. The U.S. convinced that religious terror groups would soon be using chemical and biological weapons creating a new form of terror, began spending considerable money to prevent this transformation. The article provides a careful examination of states using those weapons from World War I to the present day and concluded they were not effective and would even be less so in terrorist hands. Conventional explosives would remain the weapons used for the indefinite future.

“Questioning conventional wisdom-which is the only the provisional consensus at any given time – is a distinctive hall mark of Rapoport’s scholarship” Jean Rosenfeld writes. “Thinking about terrorism, what it all means, whether it is wholly random or patterned in its occurrences over thousands of years and in the modern world, where its ‘energy’ comes from, whether and for long it persists in a particular incarnation, who perpetuates it, how it changes, its professed morality, and its transcendent purposes have been some of the preoccupations of Rapoport, whose comparative studies of ancient and medieval religious terrorists in Hinduism, Judaism, and Islam alerted scholars to terrorism’s persistence in international affairs.[17]


Terrorism: Critical Concepts in Political Science 4 vols.(New York: Routledge, 2006) ISBN 0415316502

Inside Terrorist Organizations(New York: Columbia University Press, 1988) ISBN 0231067208

The Democratic Experience and Political Violence (Portland, OR: Frank. Cass, 2001) (with Leonard Weinberg) ISBN 0714651508

The Morality of Terrorism: Religious and Secular Justifications (New York: Columbia University Press,. 1989) with Yonah Alexander 2nd Edition ISBN 0 -231-06753-4

The Rationalization of Terrorism (Frederick, MD: University Publications of America, 1982 with Yonah Alexander ISBN 0890934134

Assassination and Terrorism(Toronto: Canadian Broadcasting Corp., 1971) 3 editions


  1. ^ John Horgan and Kurt Braddock eds., Terrorism Studies (London: Routledge, 2012) p.1
  2. ^ a b UCLA Department of Political Science. www.plisci.ucla.edu.
  3. ^ Daryl R. Bullis and Richard D. Irving “Journals Supporting Terrorism Research: Investigation into their Impact on the Social Sciences” College and Research Libraries (74:2) March 2013
  4. ^ Jean E. Rosenfeld ed. Terrorism Identity and Legitimacy: The Four Waves Theory and Political Violence (London: 2011, Routledge)
  5. ^ Routledge Encyclopedia of Government and Politics, 1993, 2nd ed. 2003, Encyclopedia of Violence, Peace and Conflict, 1999 2nd Edition, 2008 Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics 2017. He also published “Anarchism” in The New Dictionary of the History of Ideas.
  6. ^ “Comparative Theory of Military and Political Types," in Samuel Huntington, Ed., Changing Patterns of Military Politics, Glencoe Ill, Free Press,1962), "Military and Civil Societies: The Contemporary Significance of a Traditional Subject in Political Theory," Political Studies, XII, 2, (June 1964)."Coup d’état: The View of the Men Firing Pistols," Revolution: Nomos, Vol. VIII, Carl J. Friedrich, ed., (New York: Atherton Press, 1966) “The Corrupt State: The Case of Rome Reconsidered," Political Studies, XVI, 3 (October 1968) The Political Dimensions of Military Usurpation," Political Science Quarterly, LXXXIII, 4, (December 1968) "Rome: Fides and Obsequium, Rise and Fall," Obligation Nomos, Vol. XII, E. Pennock and J. Chapman, eds., (New York: 1969) "The Praetorian Army; Insecurity, Venality, and Impotence," Soldiers, Peasants and Bureaucrats, Roman Kolkowicz and Andrzej Korbonski, eds., (New York: G. Allen & Unwin,1982).
  7. ^ "Moses, Charisma, and Covenant," Western Political Quarterly, (32 2 (Jun., 1979), pp. 123-148, with comments by Reinhard Bendix, Rolf Kneirem, Mulford Sibley and Murray Baumgarten.*Reprinted: Center for the Study of Federalism,Temple University 1980. “Fear and Trembling: Terrorism in Three Religious Traditions," American Political Science Review, 78, 3 (September 1984)
  8. ^ Jeffrey Kaplan, “David Rapoport and the Study of Religiously Motivated Terrorism”, Rosenfeld (note 4) p. 72
  9. ^ “Terror and the Messiah: An Ancient Experience and Some Modern Parallels," eds David Rapoport and Yonah Alexader eds. The Morality of Terrorism, "Why does Messianism Produce Terror?" Paul Wilkinson and A.M. Stewart, eds., Current Research on Terrorism (Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press, 1987) l“The Importance of Space in Violent Ethno-Religious Strife”, Nationalism and Ethnic `Politics,2,2 Summer 1996 “Why Has The Islamic State Changed its Strategy and Mounted the Paris-Brussels Attacks?”, Perspectives on Terrorism 10:2 April 2016
  10. ^ Current History December 2001, (100, 650)
  11. ^ “Looking for Waves of Terrorism”, Rosenfeld,(note) 5, p.15
  12. ^ Alex P. Schmid, The Routledge Handbook of Terrorism Research (New York:2011, Routledge) p.228
  13. ^ Tom Parker and Nick Sitter, “The Four Horsemen of Terrorism: It’s Not Waves, It’s Strains” Terrorism and Political Violence 28. 2 April 2016 pp. 197-98
  14. ^ “The Four Waves of Modern Terror: International Dimensions and Consequences” in Hanhimäki, Jussi and Bernhard Blumenau, eds., An International History of Terrorism: Western and Non-Western Experiences (London: Routledge, 2013) and “Reflections on the Third or New Left Wave: 17 Years Later”, in Alberto Martin Alvarez and Eduardo Re Tristan eds. Revolutionary Violence and the New Left (London: Routledge, 2017)
  15. ^ Before the Bombs, There Were the Mobs: American Experiences With Terror” Terrorism and Political Violence 20:2 2008 Republished twice -Rosenfeld, (note 5) and The Anthology Good Practice for Dialogue and Communication for Strategic Principles for Policing Political Manifestations in Europe (Stockholm: GODIAC, 2013)
  16. ^ National Security Studies Quarterly V, I (Summer 1999) 49-67 Reprinted in Henry Sokolski and James Ludes eds. Twenty-First Century Weapons Proliferation (London: Frank Cass, 2001)
  17. ^ Rosenfeld, (note 5) p. 1