Stern Attends Aspen Ideas Festival

Courtesy: Aspen Ideas Festival

Jessica SternResearch Professor at the Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University, attended the recent Aspen Ideas Festival,  a gathering where leaders from around the globe and across many disciplines engage in deep and inquisitive discussion of the ideas and issues that both shape our lives and challenge our time.

Held at the Aspen Institute’s campus in Aspen, Colorado from June 23 – July 2, 2016, the gathering featured 350 presenters, 200 sessions, and 3,000 attendees. Stern, an expert on terrorist groups across religions and ideologies, spoke about terrorism at the conference, but said she most enjoyed her time listening to other presenters.

“I had the most fun at talks about issues I knew the least about, such as how to talk about the importance of studying humanities in addition to STEM,” Stern said. ” Literature makes us more able to empathize with those whose lives are quite different from our own, the panelists argued.  Interestingly, engineers are over-represented in jihadi organizations, per a recent book, Engineers of Jihad.  I think it’s okay for me to promote this book given that I have an engineering degree.”

Stern said one of the more memorable session of the conference was a panel of Syrian refugees which included a musical performance.

“One of the most moving sessions at the Ideas Festival was a panel made up of Syrian refugees, one of whom played the violin for us,” Stern said.  “The audience was utterly silent, listening to her play, her pain communicated to us without words, on the vibrating air.  It was a reminder of how much poorer the world is as a result of our inability to stop the loss of innocent lives in Syria’s civil war.  But I heard a lot more criticism about what we’re not doing in Syria than proposals for how to stop the bloodshed, without making things worse.”

Jessica Stern’s main focus is on perpetrators of violence and the possible connections between trauma and terror.  She has written on terrorist groups across religions and ideologies, among them neo-Nazis, Islamists, anarchists, and white supremacists.  She has also written about counter-radicalization programs for both neo-Nazi and Islamist terrorists.  She has been working with a team at Boston Children’s Hospital on the risk factors for violence among Somali-refugee youth.  She is currently working on a study of Radovan Karadzic, indicted for war crimes in Bosnia. You can learn more about her here.