Brown University
International Relations

Honors Thesis Abstracts 2012

Government Strategy Behind Religious Conflict: Explaining Violence Against Christians in Egypt and Jordan
Julia Sheehy-Chan
What explains violence against Christians in the Middle East? In particular, why does the level of religious violence vary across time and space? Existing scholarship on religious conflict separately investigates internal within-country explanations and cross-national explanations. Synthesis of the two approaches into a comprehensive theoretical framework is critical to address enduring gaps in our understanding of religious conflict. I argue that government strategy determines the level of religious violence cross-nationally and across time. Using process tracing to analyze levels of religious violence in Egypt from 1952 to 2011, this study shows that changes in short-run government strategy impact incentives to attack Christians and thus the level of violence. Using the method of difference, comparison of Egypt and Jordan reveals that long-run strategies of accommodation vis-à-vis Christians correlate with the absence of violence while long-run strategies of marginalization correlate with the presence of violence. This study thus uses a two-axis design to achieve comprehensive understanding of a variable found in explanations of both the timing and location of religious violence, suggesting that it has significant explanatory power in accounting for religious conflict in general. This theoretical framework has broader implications for policymakers to understand and preempt the outbreak of sectarian violence.
Advisors: Melaine Cammett, Keith Brown
Keywords: Middle East, religious violence, government strategy, Christian
View presentation


Cherry-Picked Humanitarian Interventions: A Complexity Approach to Explaining Libya 2011
Sarah Wilbanks
Given the selectivity of military humanitarian interventions in the post-Cold War era, what explains the swift and multilateral intervention in Libya in 2011? Conventional theories of International Relations offer incomplete explanations to why states intervene in humanitarian crises. The single-dimensional approaches they provide fail to consider the interactions, adaptations, and evolution of diverse actors, and thus cannot account for the increasing interconnectivity of the international community. I argue that a comprehensive and realistic explanation of why the international community intervened in Libya requires the adoption of a complexity approach to international relations. By considering the emergent and adaptive effects of component interactions, complexity theory allows for a broader level of analysis that facilitates the discovery of new variables and provides the opportunity for theory building. In applying John Holland’s model of the properties and mechanisms of complex adaptive systems to a process trace of the situation in Libya, I illustrate the crystallization of four unique international orders (norms, structures, behavior) that led the international community to military intervention. This suggests that through complexity theory, we can gain novel understandings of the international responses to past and present humanitarian crises.
Advisors: Catherine Lutz, Nathaniel Berman
Keywords: humanitarian intervention, Libya, complexity theory, complex adaptive systems, international relations
View presentation