Date of Completion


Embargo Period



conflict, world order, Luhmann, international relations theory, religion, hegemony, ISIS

Major Advisor

Jennifer Sterling-Folker

Associate Advisor

Jeremy Pressman

Associate Advisor

Stephen Dyson

Field of Study

Political science


Doctor of Philosophy

Open Access

Open Access


This dissertation examines the global role of the United States and other organizations within world society. What sets this project apart from previous scholarship is that it relies on the insights of Niklas Luhmann’s modern systems theory to contextualize those roles. Luhmann argues that the closest human civilization has to a world order is a “world society” made up of many functional communication systems. These systems each provide a distinct model through which humans understand and construct their social world. Because these models are not always compatible, the potential for conflict is woven into the fabric of world society. Extending Luhmann’s theory further, I argue that the differences between these systems structure this conflict and manifest themselves through organizational behavior, which I demonstrate through the development of a model of organizational behavior. I apply this model in four case-studies that reveal Luhmannian dynamics at play. From the political system, I focused on the United States. From the religious system, I examined the Islamic State, the Taliban, and the historical and current Catholic Church. In each case, organizational behavior conformed to the expectations of the model – conflict is driven by systemic differences. In addition to this observation, this dissertation makes several other contributions. It is the first book-length treatment that explores modern system theory’s application to the study of international affairs. Along with this, it is also an explicitly self-consciously analyticist project, a rarity in international relations. Substantively, it provides a unified theory of conflict for state and non-state actors sorely lacking in the field. Lastly, it suggests that conflict within world society will increase along with the number of communication systems.