Ph.D. student studies how political extremists create a following

Thomas Just during his 2015 trip to Turkey as part of the International Summer University for Intercultural Leadership program.

What themes and symbols allow political extremist movements to create a brand and develop potential followers?

This question sparked an international research project and recently won Thomas Just a “Young Ambassador Award for Peace and the Rapprochement of Cultures.”

An international relations doctoral student in the Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs, Just worked with a group of students from around the world – students from Iraq and Tunisia – on the project.

“Our goal was to find ways for countries to combat that sort of ideology. I think our main message is that in order to truly curtail the growth of extremism, societies must expand their efforts beyond military campaigns and focus on ideological campaigns. It’s through ideas that extremism grows,” Just explains.

The award – presented by the Aladdin Project, under the patronage of UNESCO and with the support of the European Commission – recognized the work Just and his group conducted in 2015 while participating in the International Summer University for Intercultural Leadership. The program brings together top students and world-class faculty from universities across the globe to cultivate the values of peace, mutual respect and intercultural dialogue.

In May, Just reunited with his colleagues and accepted the award at a gala dinner at the Hotel de Ville in Paris. The group shared their research with dignitaries, including former French President Nicolas Sarkozy; leaders from the United Nations and European Union; and FIU Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies Tudor Parfitt, who is the director of the Education Mission of the Aladdin Project.

Just currently teaches American Foreign Policy at FIU as an adjunct professor. His area of interest centers on public diplomacy, researching how countries overcome genocide and combat anti-Semitism as well as religious intolerance.

His accomplishments are extensive. Under a Jonathan Symons fellowship, Just conducted research with Parfitt from 2014 to 2017. He has already published four articles in peer-reviewed journals – a lofty achievement especially for students still in grad school, says Associate Professor of Political Science Tatiana Kostadinova.

“He is extremely dedicated to his work and extremely enthusiastic,” adds Kostadinova, the chair of Just’s dissertation committee. “He has this spark which makes a good researcher become an excellent researcher. He is inspiring when he starts talking about his studies.”

One of the things that sets Just apart, she says, is his in-depth approach to research.

“He pays attention to nuances,” she explains. “It’s not only politics, but history, philosophy, anthropology…he is interdisciplinary-oriented. I think he will continue to be very productive in the future and be a successful young scholar.”

Just will graduate at the end of this summer.

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