January 30, 2024

Professor Julie Chernov Hwang receives Guggenheim Award

  • Julie Chernov Hwang

Associate Professor of Political Science and International Relations Julie Chernov Hwang has been selected as a 2024-25 Harry Frank Guggenheim Distinguished Scholar. Chernov Hwang will use the fellowship to build a database for conducting research on how ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and Indonesia’s Jemaah Islamiyah construct terror cells, in order to predict who gets recruited into the groups.

In March 2023, Chernov Hwang published her third book, Becoming Jihadis: Radicalization and Commitment in Southeast Asia, with Oxford University Press, which looks at why and how people join Islamist extremist groups. The book is based on 175 interviews that she conducted over a decade with current and former members of 14 such groups in Indonesia and three in the Philippines, including the Maute group.

Chernov Hwang noted that Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim nation and among the world’s few Muslim democracies, albeit one that is backsliding. “People may join for a variety of reasons, but what makes them stay—what makes them participate in high-risk forms of activism like training camps, jihad experiences, and terrorist attacks—is the social bonds they foster with one another,” she said. “Feelings of brotherhood, trust, community, and connection are the glue that keeps people involved in these groups.” She found there are five pathways into the extremist groups: family, radical schools, study sessions, conflict, and prison. Social media is also a partial pathway for Indonesians.

The pathways to joining the Maute group in the Philippines are different, however. As in Indonesia, knowing someone in the group was key to joining. However, there were also economic factors and longstanding grievances that propelled Filipino youth to join the Maute group, particularly at the time Chernov Hwang was conducting interviews.

Chernov Hwang is continuing to expand her scholarship. Last year, she received a grant from Goucher’s KRES Fund (the Myra Berman Kurtz Fund for Faculty Research and Exploration of the Sciences), which she used to take a course in social network analysis at the University of Michigan’s Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research. At the end of the course, she applied for the Guggenheim Distinguished Scholar Award with an expanded vision of the original KRES project. Now, with the award, she will use what she learned to create a database to quantify her research.

The funding will begin in May and will be a two-year project. In her first year, she will use the database to analyze the major terrorist attacks carried out by Jemaah Islamiyah and its affiliates between 2000 and 2009 in Indonesia, examining the members of the cells, their relationships to each other, and which relationships predict the likelihood of a person being recruited. In year two, she hopes to expand the research to look at Al Qaeda and ISIS, which will be new for her. “I’ll do that same analysis on ISIS and Al Qaeda terrorist attacks and then look for those patterns again,” she said. “When recruiters form terrorist cells, if we can see which relationships they turn to, and whether that varies across group, whether that varies across country, whether that varies across cells—that’s important for predicting who gets recruited into a terror cell and how.”

Chernov Hwang is well known for her pathbreaking research on terrorist behavior in Southeast Asia. She has presented her findings at conferences in the United States, Singapore, Australia, Canada, Spain, Indonesia, and the UK. Her findings on disengagement and reintegration are included in U.S. Army course materials. She has briefed diplomats and staff at the State Department, the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, and the Joint Improvised Threat Defeat Organization on the implications of her research. In 2022, she presented her research at the UNODC-AUSAID joint conference, “The Threat Posed by Foreign Terrorist Fighters and Their Local Affiliates in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines” in Bali, Indonesia. Since the launch of Becoming Jihadis, she’s given talks at the Soufan Center, the Washington Institute, the Eradicate Hate Summit, the US-Indonesia Society, American University, and the University of Pittsburgh, with upcoming engagements planned for spring at the US Institute of Peace, the Naval Postgraduate School, and London School for Economics.