I am an Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. I study and teach on Islam, political violence, human rights, economic development, and research methods. My first book, Deadly Clerics (2017, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge Studies in Comparative Politics series), explores why some Muslim clerics adopt the ideology of militant Jihad while most do not. I am now writing a second book on how the Internet is changing the nature of Islamic authority. Some of my other research is published or forthcoming in The American Journal of Political Science, International Studies Quarterly, Political Analysis, and Sociological Methods and Research. I am the developer of free software tools for Arabic text analysis, causal inference, and qualitative case selection.
At MIT, I am affiliated with the Center for International Studies (CIS), the Security Studies Program (SSP), the Institute for Data, Systems, and Society (IDSS), and the Political Methodology Lab. With a number of other faculty, I help run the Poverty, Violence, and Development Working Group and the IPE speaker series.
I hold a PhD in Government (2013) and an AM in Statistics (2010) from Harvard University, and a BA in Political Science (2007) from Brigham Young University.
I am on sabbatical for the 2020-2021 academic year.
- "Com crescente autoridade, mulheres ganham espaço pregando o islã na internet" [With Growing Authority, Women Gain Space by Preaching Islam on the Internet], Folha.
- "A new approach to studying religion and politics", MIT News.
- "Baghdadi's Martyrdom Bump", foreignpolicy.com.
- Women will soon be issuing fatwas in Saudi Arabia. This isn’t as groundbreaking as you’d think., Washington Post.
- 3 Questions with Richard Nielsen: How political science helps combat terrorism, MIT News.
- 10 minute non-technical summary of my book "Deadly Clerics" for the MIT Political Science Department 50th anniversary celebration.
- Does the Islamic State believe in sovereignty?, Washington Post.
- Interview with Marc Lynch about Jihadism, academia, and the future of Islamic authority.
- Demystifying ISIS, MIT Starr Forum with Juan Cole.