Monash SPS Symposium: Aum Shinrikyo’s Failed Strategic Subculture

Each year I do a 20-minute presentation to the SPS Symposium in Monash University’s School of Political and Social Inquiry on my in-progress PhD research. Below is the outline for this year’s proposed presentation due to occur in October:


Aum Shinrikyo’s Failed Strategic Subculture

Alex Burns (


Key Words: Aum Shinrikyo; strategic culture; terrorist groups


In 1977, RAND’s Jack Snyder proposed strategic subcultures as a unit of analysis to understand distinct beliefs, analytical traditions, institutions, and socialisation norms in a strategic community. Recently, the so-called fourth generation of strategic culture scholarship has – via Alan Bloomfield, David Haglund, Jeffrey Lantis, and others – applied Snyder’s unit of analysis to examine new foreign policy actors. This presentation applies Snyder’s strategic subcultures to advance a new understanding of the militant Japanese religious sect Aum Shinrikyo, and its 1995 sarin gas attack on Tokyo’s subway system. I use narrative analysis and qualitative thematic coding to re-examine two theory-building explanations about Aum Shinrikyo’s decision-making: Robert Jay Lifton’s psychohistory (Destroying the World to Save It) and Haruki Murakami’s oral history interviews (Underground). I also develop a new strategic subculture explanation of Aum Shinrikyo’s failure that builds on Frederick M. Smith’s research into South Asian deity and spirit possession experiences (The Self Possessed).


Paper Type: Full Paper

Working Title: Terrorist Groups as Strategic Subcultures

Degree: PhD

Supervisor: Luke Howie

Recent Advances in PTSD Treatment

I’m working on integrating some different streams in my personal research program. One deals with the clinical treatment of complex PTSD. Today, I looked at 15 years of published books on PTSD treatment. What I found:


  • In the past five years there is much greater integration with neuroscience models and research, particularly for comorbid disorders.
  • There are now evidence-based, lifespan targeted interventions for children and adolescents who have PTSD symptoms.
  • Complex trauma, post-traumatic growth, and resilience are new specialist niches of PTSD research.
  • There is a heavy emphasis on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy models for the clinical treatment of PTSD.
  • Bereavement, grieving, culture, memory, empathy, and body/sensorimotor-oriented therapies are specialist topics in the recent literature, notably as guidance for new therapists and for trans-cultural researchers.
  • There appears to be a convergence to Trauma-Focused CBT and EMDR as evidence-based treatments in which meta-analysis and randomised controlled trials have been done.


There are specialist publishers including Guilford Press for therapist training and the Routledge Psychosocial Stress series (Routledge appears to have published a lot of overview books for clinical researchers).


I’m looking forward to adding academic books like The Oxford Handbook of Traumatic Stress Disorders (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012) to my long-term research library. There are also interesting specialist titles like The Alchemy of Wolves and Sheep: A Relational Approach to Internalized Perpetration in Complex Trauma Survivors (New York: Routledge, 2013), on child soldiers.

The Acorn Metaphor

The existential psychotherapist Irvin Yalom recounts in  his book The Gift of Therapy (New York: HarperCollins, 2009) how he encountered Karen Horney’s Neurosis and Human Growth as a “young psychotherapy student” (p. 1). What motivated Yalom was Horney’s insight that human like is like an acorn that has the potential to grow into a tree, if the obstacles can be removed. The acorn metaphor was a guiding principle for Yalom to develop insights and action strategies for clients to consider. James Hillman also uses the acorn metaphor in his book The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling (New York: Random House, 1996).