Author Biography

Lynn Davies is Emeritus Professor of International Education at the University of Birmingham. Her interests are in education and conflict, education and extremism and education in fragile contexts, and she has done research and consultancy in a number of conflict-affected states such as Afghanistan, Bosnia, Angola and Sri Lanka. Work in UK includes evaluating programmes to counter extremism and radicalisation, and an ongoing project interviewing former extremists about their backgrounds. Elsewhere current research is on transitional justice approaches to education, on teacher education for democracy in South Africa and on leadership in the Philippines. Her books include Education and Conflict: Complexity and Chaos (2004) and Educating Against Extremism (2008). Her latest book is Unsafe Gods: Security, Secularism and Schooling (2014) and she is also co-editor of a recent book on Gender, Religion and Education. She is a Director of the social enterprise ConnectJustice. In October 2014 she was awarded the Sir Brian Urquhart award for Distinguished Service to the United Nations and its goals by a UK citizen.



Subject Area Keywords

Complex operations, Fundamentalism, Human rights, Religious violence, Terrorism / counterterrorism, Violent extremism


This article draws on the insights from complexity science to outline potential strategies within education which could interrupt the spread of violent extremism. It first identifies three problems in examining extremism - definitions, causes and targets—before arguing for a focus on systems, not individual learners. Within systems, diversity is needed for emergence, and narrow, hard secularism is rejected in favor of a dynamic secularism which encourages a variety of belief systems in order to guard against polarization. The systems of education, religion, law and of terrorism itself are analyzed to identify entry points and vulnerabilities. After looking at the theories of change used by extremist groups, the paper proposes a theory of change within the niche of education which has four strands: Introducing turbulence through value pluralism, working within the enabling constraints of human rights, building confidence and resilience, and developing networking for social change. All four combined are necessary to generate the creativity which can undermine the wicked problem.