GRADUATE STUDENT RESEARCH


Ugur Altundal

Ph.D. Candidate

Department of Political Science

Altundal is working on co-authored research with Omer Zarpli (University of Pittsburgh) regarding the effect of travel freedom on democracy. Altundal and Zarpli published the main findings of the research in the 2019 Henley Passport Index and Global Mobility Report. It was also cited in the Newsweek article “Ranked: The World’s Least Powerful Passports in 2019.” “Despite the important progress made in overall global mobility,” they write in their contribution to Henley and Partners’ annual report on global mobility, “there remains a significant ‘global mobility divide’, with some passports much more powerful than others (January 11, 2019).

Over the past decade, travel freedom has expanded precipitously, thanks to the rising number of bilateral visa-waiver agreements and unilateral decisions by governments. For example, in 2006, a citizen, on average, could travel to 58 destinations without needing a visa from the host nation; by 2018, this number had nearly doubled to 107. While this development has certainly paid economic dividends related to booming tourism, did it also have political benefits? More specifically, what has been the effect of increasing border openness on democracy? The literature on democratic diffusion would suggest that expanding cross-border interactions should be correlated with democratization. Yet, there is no systematic empirical evidence about the effect of the visa-waiver programs on democracy. Altundal and Zarpli aim to fill this gap. Using a novel data set that records the number of visa-free destinations for each country and territory from 2006 to 2018, their research offers the first cross-national analysis of this relationship. They find that the number of visa-free destinations held by a sender country has a positive and statistically significant, albeit non-linear, effect on that country’s democracy score. The findings suggest not only that visa-free travel can have non-tourism-related benefits, but also that democratization can indeed have an important international dimension.

Altundal and Zarpli will present their research at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association in Washington, D.C., later in the fall. They are also preparing an article to be published in a prominent academic journal. 


Ahmet Celik

Ph.D. Student

Department of Religion

Celik is completing coursework this semester and will take the comprehensive exams in Fall 2019. In the meantime, he is working on  his  dissertation  proposal,  which  enables  him  to  focus  on  key  methodological,  conceptual  and  historical  frameworks  that  serve to establish core competencies that will help structure the scope of his future research.

In  his  master’s  thesis,  Celik  focused  on  the  relationship  between  law  and  politics  in  Islamic  history  and  particularly  the  16th-century Ottoman Empire. His thesis provides an analysis of the 16th-century Ottoman legal-political thought and shari‘a-based legal practices of the Empire.

Celik’s  dissertation  project  aims  to  explore  and  compare  basic  concepts  and  themes  of  political  philosophy  and  legal  theory  in modern Europe and Islam. His research sits at the intersection of politics and law as it examines the concept of sovereignty and constitutionalism in modern state and Islamic governance. In particular, the project aims to explore and understand how sovereign power is defined, identified, justified and limited within the context of Islam and modern political philosophy. His method, in order to find an answer to this question, will be tracing the roots of similarities and differences in political and legal systems in modern Europe and Islam by rigorously analyzing and critically engaging with the basic texts in continental political philosophy and Islamic political thought.

Celik’s supervisor is Professor Ahmed Abdel Meguid, a faculty member in the Department of Religion.


Katharine Russell

Ph.D. Candidate

Department of Political Science

Russell previously earned a B.A. at Binghamton University, majoring in political science and Arabic studies.  Her research focuses on why terrorist organizations deploy “unconventional operatives”; that is, those individuals who do not represent traditional expectations of a young, able-bodied adult male terrorist. Her dissertation, titled “Femme Fatale: The Deployment of Female Operatives by Terrorist Organizations,” explores why some terrorist groups deploy women in active operative roles, whereas other groups use women primarily in supportive, auxiliary roles within the organizations. In order to understand this question, Russell examines two Palestinian organizations designated as terror groups by the U.S. government and others: The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade (AAMB) during the Second Intifada (2000-05). Both groups operated out of the West Bank during this time. The PFLP did not use female operatives in violent attacks, while AAMB famously employed several women as suicide bombers.

Russell’s dissertation argues that a gendered division of labor exists within terrorist organizations; women tend to take on nonviolent, supportive roles in the absence of tactical and strategic incentives for the organization to incorporate them into the violent roles more often dominated by men. She further argues that when these tactical and strategic incentives exist for the use of female operatives, the organization must weigh these tactical benefits against the societal costs of using women in normatively unacceptable ways.

Additionally, she has done work on child suicide bombers, exploring both the organizations who deploy children in suicide roles, as well as the public perception of these groups. Her future research will examine how public opinion among the terrorist group’s constituents and the broader public is impacted by the organization’s deployment of children in suicide attacks. Middle Eastern Studies Program10