Monica Duffy Toft
Before joining the Blavatnik School of Government in 2012, Professor Monica Duffy Toft taught at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. While there she directed the Initiative on Religion in International Affairs and was the assistant director of the John M. Olin Institute for Strategic Studies. She was educated at the University of Chicago (MA and PhD in political science) and at the University of California, Santa Barbara (BA in political science and Slavic languages and literature, summa cum laude). Prior to this, she spent four years in the United States Army as a Russian linguist.
Monica’s areas of research include international security, ethnic and religious violence, civil wars and demography. Her most recent books include: Securing the Peace (Princeton, 2011); Political Demography (with Jack Goldstone and Eric Kaufmann, Oxford, 2012); and God’s Century (with Daniel Philpott and Timothy Shah, Norton, 2012).
In addition she has published numerous scholarly articles and editorials on civil wars, territory and nationalism, demography, and religion in global politics. Her article Islamists and Nationalists: Rebel Motivation and Counterinsurgency in Russia's North Caucasus co-authored with Yuri Zhukov was published in the American Political Science Review in May 2015. Her most recent opinion pieces are on religious fundamentalism and women's equality in the Huffington Post and on the importance of identity politics for Iraq's security at Project Syndicate, a column that appeared in 19 publications in five different languages. Monica can also be found on Twitter @mduffytoft.
Affiliations: Monica is a Professor of Public Policy at the Blavatnik School of Government, supernumerary fellow at Brasenose College, University of Oxford, a Global Scholar of the Peace Research Institute Oslo, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Minorities at Risk Advisory Board, the Political Instability Task Force, and in 2008 the Carnegie Foundation of New York named her a Carnegie Scholar for her research on religion and violence.
Monica Duffy Toft works on international relations within the wider field of political science, encompassing international relations theory, security studies, global politics, ethnic and religious violence, civil wars, and demography. The title of Monica’s PhD dissertation from the University of Chicago was “The Geography of Ethnic Conflict”.
Monica’s main research interests focus on understanding political violence and war. Most of her scholarship can be encompassed under four broad rubrics:
Monica’s core areas of research interest include security studies and international relations theory with an emphasis on sub-state violence: in particular, she is interested in why people – as members of states, ethnic groups, nations, and religious communities – are willing to undertake violence in pursuit of their social, economic, or political objectives, even if it means that they or their children might die. Answering this question has led her to develop a number of theoretical frameworks for understanding this dynamic, including providing insight into the importance of territory in bargaining situations between states and ethnic groups; the problem of issue indivisibility; and time horizons in motivating people.
Related scholarship includes:
- "Islamists and Nationalists: Rebel Motivation and Counterinsurgency in Russia's North Caucasus," with Yuri Zhukov, American Political Science Review, May 2015.
- “Punishment and Denial in the North Caucasus: Evaluating the Effectiveness of Coercive Counterinsurgency,” with Yuri Zhukov, Journal of Peace Research, November 2012.
- Securing the Peace: The Durable Settlement of Civil Wars (Princeton, 2010).
- “Issue Divisibility and Time Horizons as Rationalist Explanations for War,” Security Studies, Vol. 15, No. 1 (January-March 2006).
Her column Defending a divided Iraq with Project Syndicate appeared in 19 publications in five different languages.
Monica has explored the central role of territory in the onset, continuation, termination and recurrence of large-scale violence. She has highlighted the key role that conceptions of homeland play in secessionist struggles and insights from evolutionary theory to help us to understand why fights over worthless territory come about.
Related scholarship includes:
- "Correspondence: Evolution and Territorial Conflict," with Raymond Kuo and Dominic Johnson, International Security 39,3 (2014/15): 190-201.
- "Bringing "Geo" back into Politics: Evolution, Territoriality and the Contest over Ukraine," with Dominic Johnson, Cliodynamics: The Journal of Quantitative History and Cultural Evolution 5,1 (2014): 87-122.
- “Grounds for War,” with Dominic Johnson, International Security 17, 2 (Winter 2013/2014): 184-204.
- “Territory and War,” Journal of Peace Research 51, 2 (March 2014): 185-198.
- The Geography of Ethnic Violence: Identity, Interests, and the Indivisibility of Territory (Princeton, 2003).
Monica also looks at the connection between demography and interstate and sub-state politics. She interested in how population dynamics and settlement patterns change (resulting from fertility rates and immigration, for example) and then how those changes affect political instability, violence, and war. This research includes global assessments of ethnic and religious groups, as well as in-depth analysis of the demographics of religious groups in India. In February 2015, she took part in a panel discussion on the future of political demography and its impact on policy.
Related scholarship includes:
- “Death by Demography: 1979 as the Turning Point for the Soviet Union,” International Area Studies Review (2014).
- “Demography and National Security: Population Shifts in Israel and the Implications for Policy,” International Area Studies Review, Vol. 15, No. 21 (March) 2012.
- Political Demography: How Population Changes are Reshaping International Security and National Politics, co-edited with Jack Goldstone and Eric Kaufmann, (Oxford, 2012).
Drawing on the arguments and data from her 2007 International Security article, Monica explores conceptions of rationality (issues referenced in her 2006 Security Studies article) involved in the difference between nationalism and religious belief in the political sphere, and the conditions under which political and religious elites outbid one another to mobilize populations. When outbidding occurs, violence is often the result—a dynamic that occurs more often in Islamic societies and therefore explains why Islam is currently over-represented in the catalogue of religious civil wars. In addition to updating and expanding her civil war data, she has conducted fieldwork in Russia and Sudan to interview politicians, religious leaders, and academics.
Related scholarship includes:
- "Religion in Policy," in Religion and Public Policy: Human Rights, Conflict, and Ethics, Sumner B. Twiss, Marian Gh. Simion and Rodney L. Petersen, eds. (Cambridge, 2015).
- “The Invisible Woman: Religion, Politics and Economic Development,” The Review of Faith and International Affairs, Winter 2013.
- Rethinking Religion and World Affairs, co-edited with Timothy S. Shah and Alfred C. Stepan, (Oxford, 2012).
- God’s Century: Resurgent Religion and Global Politics, co-authored with Daniel Philpott and Timothy Samuel Shah, (Norton, 2011).
Grants and awards: Most recently she was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to Norway for the 2012–2013 academic year.
Why Islamist insurgents are so difficult to coerce
Washington Post (USA), 05/05/2015, Monica Duffy Toft and Yuri Zhukov
Monica Duffy Toft, professor of government and public policy at the University of Oxford’s Blavatnik School of Government, co-authors an article which discusses her recent research, with Yuri Zhukov, on Salafi-Jihadi violence in Russia’s North Caucasus. They found that ‘selective counterinsurgency tactics are unlikely to succeed in hurting groups like the Islamic State or to deter their continued assaults. Using unique micro-level data, we analyzed violence involving nationalist and Islamist insurgents in the North Caucasus and Moscow’s efforts to counter them. We found that Islamist and nationalist rebels respond differently to coercion. While selective attacks outperform indiscriminate ones in deterring nationalist rebels, the technology of government violence has little effect on the resolve and capabilities of Islamists. Their divergent ideologies do matter – but primarily because of how they shape the relative dependence of armed groups on local versus external sources of support.’
Master of Public Policy
With Professor Paul Collier, Monica co-convenes the module Policy Challenge I: Natural Resources: Curse or Blessing? This intensive introduction to the challenges of governing well focuses on the management of natural resources. Countries that discover oil, gas, or other riches face a “resource curse” unless they can govern their way to enjoying a “resource blessing”. The three-day intensive module introduces the key issues and dilemmas faced by states and policy-makers attempting to manage newly-discovered resource wealth. Through seminars and case-based group work students interact with leading scholars and practitioners (from Oxford and beyond). Students learn core elements of a government’s resource strategy - from estimating resource wealth, assessing its ownership, extracting it, and managing the gains. The underlying objective of this module is to illustrate the importance for policymakers of being attentive to different perspectives and dimensions of public problems.
With Professor Anne Davies and Dr Maya Tudor, Monica co-convenes the module Core III: The Organization and Practice of Government. The Organization and Practice of Government module helps prepare students to be more effective and critical participants in developing and implementing public policy across diverse institutional contexts. Since governments are often stymied in their efforts to both generate and to implement effective policy, the core objective of this course is to provide students with an understanding of why governments face these challenges and how best to identify and utilize the political determinants of policymaking. Part A, in Hilary Term, pursues these objectives by examining the insights offered primarily by political scientists, and Part B, in Trinity Term, considers the legal dimensions of policymaking.
With Dr Ivan Arreguín-Toft and Dr Tom Simpson, Monica also co-convenes the option Security. This option introduces students to foundational issues in security and strategic affairs. It is designed to give students a fundamental understanding of national security, military strategy and how militaries work. The course is organized around four main themes: national security and strategy (concepts and resources, including consideration of defense spending); institutions of order and military literacy (including the role and employment of different service arms; police versus armies; the basics of how weapons work; ranks; discipline and drill; conscripted versus professional); the changing nature of warfare and of armed service – such as the importance of local legitimacy, the warrior’s expanded skill set, PTSD, integration of homosexuals and women, procurement and retention issues, nuclear, smart-weapon capitalization (drones, robots, cyber), civil wars, terrorism, intervention, private armies and trends in violence; and the ethics of warfare and policing (including surveillance and privacy issues).
DPhil in Public Policy
Monica is a DPhil supervisor for the new DPhil in Public Policy programme at BSG. The programme is a research degree which is also rooted in and relevant to current policy challenges. Students meet and interact with leading public policy practitioners and work in an interdisciplinary environment where issues rather than the nuances of debates within specific academic disciplines would take priority in the formation and execution of research questions and strategies. Students also benefit from a new and DPhil specific set of seminars in Public Policy Analysis and Research, and seminars in Research Development.