Samuel Helfont, PhD


Samuel Helfont is an Assistant Professor of Strategy and Policy in the Naval War College program at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. He is also an Affiliate Scholar in the Abbasi Program in Islamic Studies at Stanford University and a Senior Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia. His research focuses on international history and politics in the Middle East, especially Iraq and the Iraq Wars. He is the author of Compulsion in Religion: Saddam Hussein, Islam, and the Roots of Insurgencies in Iraq (Oxford University Press, 2018). His work has been published by Foreign Affairs, The International History Review, The Middle East Journal, Orbis, The Washington Post, The New Republic, The American Interest, War on the Rocks, the Project on Middle East Political Science, and the Moshe Dayan Center at Tel Aviv University among several other outlets.

Helfont holds a PhD and MA in Near Eastern Studies from Princeton University. Prior to moving to Monterey, he completed a three year post-doctoral lectureship at the University of Pennsylvania. He has also served as a Visiting Assistant Professor at Haverford College, and was the recipient of US Scholar Research Support Fellowship from the Hoover Library and Archives at Stanford University.

Oxford University Press, 2018

Compulsion in Religion: Saddam Hussein, Islam, and the Roots of Insurgencies in Iraq


"Samuel Helfont has provided us with groundbreaking insights into the way Saddam Hussein's Ba'th Party used Islam to control the Iraqi population during his dictatorship-and how the abrupt removal of that control influenced the insurgencies that erupted in the wake of the American invasion in 2003. Most importantly, this book illuminates why those insurgencies were so virulent, and how the wake of Saddam Hussein's use of Islamic institutions to control the Iraqi population will continue to ignite conflict in the Middle East for generations to come."

–John Nagl, Lieutenant Colonel, USA (Retired), and author of Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam

"Samuel Helfont tackles an important subject that is significant not only for its historical aspects but also for its relevance to current affairs given the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and ISIL. He has tapped the Iraqi archives, providing a real contribution to the literature on Iraq's history and issues related to current politics."

–Joseph Sassoon, Associate Professor and al-Sabah Chair in Politics and Political Economy of the Arab World at Georgetown University.

"[S]cholars have been hard at work refining and challenging conventional narratives regarding Ba'thist Iraq. ... Compulsion in Religion forms a significant contribution to this more general effort. â [It] will be of great interest to students of Iraqi history and modern Iraqi politics alike."

–Cole Bunzel, Yale Law School, Orbis

"Worth reading for anyone interested in gaining a better sense of how authoritarian regimes operate, their organizational structure, decisionmaking processes, and responses to new challenges [...] a fresh look at the recent history of Iraq and the roots of several challenges that the country is still facing."

–Harith Hasan, Carnegie Middle East Center, Recommended summer reading 2019.

"[A] fascinating new book."

–Gareth Smyth, The Arab Weekly

"Helfont provides a totally original look at how Saddam observed, co-opted, repressed, and then operationalized religion to secure his rule and use it as another means to control society. He counters much of the previous research that largely dismissed religion in Iraq under the Baath. The book could also lead to a whole new range of research into how the insurgency and militias emerged in post-2003 Iraq. It’s therefore essential reading for Iraq researchers."

–Joel Wing, Musing on Iraq

“In sum, this work is indispensable for scholars of religion and authoritarianism as a hypothesis-generating case study and is a welcome contribution to the field of religion and politics in particular.”

–Ann Wainscott, Miami University/US Institute of Peace, Perspectives of Politics