Geifman was born in 1962 in Leningrad, USSR and moved to Boston, Massachusetts with her parents in 1976. She received her BA from Boston University in 1984 and her PhD from Harvard University in 1990. She is a Professor of History at Boston University, where she teaches undergraduate and graduate classes on the history of imperial Russia, the USSR, psychohistory, and modern terrorism.
Geifman researches and writes on 20th- and 21st-century fundamentalist terrorism, emphasizing psychological patterns of political violence through comparative analysis. As psychohistorian, she focuses on incentives for extremist behavior, as well as on impact of organized brutality on the daily lives and emotional conditions of civilians in areas affected by terrorism.
Geifman has introduced the comparison between the pre-revolutionary Russian terrorist groups and the contemporary perpetrators of Islamist violence into the conversation on terrorism.
She maintains that in various parts of the world, including the [[Middle East]], the decentralized, informal network of combat [[Clandestine cell system|cells]] is very much like the network of pre-revolutionary Russian terror organizations that often operated without strong connections with one another, beyond the fact that all were inspired by similar [[nihilism|nihilist]], destructive (and self-destructive) attitudes.
Geifman downplays the importance of revolutionary ideologies, focusing not on the intellectual but on the psychological aspects of terrorism, which she relates to the perpetrators' difficulties in dealing with identity crises of modernity and post-modernity. She also underscores criminal tendencies both among the Russian radicals and the contemporary terrorists worldwide.
In Geifman’s opinion, the idea that taking on the responsibilities of government will moderate groups like Hamas and Hezbollah is a fallacy. A better understanding of how ideologically-driven groups that use terrorism as a tactic operate may be gained by looking at the Bolshevik Revolution. She points to the parallel between Hamas’ commitment to building up its “security forces,” and the Bolshevik establishment and funding of the Cheka (first Soviet secret police, precursor to the KGB) as its first priority upon gaining power.
According to Geifman, Hamas’s first victims are the Palestinian civilians, just like the earliest victims of the Bolshevik regime were its own citizens. “You want to know what happens when terrorists come to power? As soon as terrorists take control of the government, they begin building on what they had done in the underground. Look at the Bolsheviks, who were terrorists before they came to power in 1917". They used their extensive experience in violence to build a terror-based state.