Winning Proposal to the Organski Scholar's Fund: 2014 Competition

Project Title: Religious Regulation and Political Mobilization in Central Asia

Faculty Sponsors: Pauline Jones Luong

Graduate Student: Dustin Gamza

Project Description

Many scholars have argued that in the broader context of government corruption and deteriorating economic conditions, Islam has served as the primary basis for mass mobilization against the incumbent regime in the Middle East and North Africa (e.g., Kepel 2002). Scholars have paid less attention, however, to the way in which religious regulation itself can foster political mobilization. Since the 1960s, states in the predominantly Muslim world have largely opted to regulate the dominant religion (Islam) in an effort to constrain its potential political power. They have faced religious-based mobilization, however, to varying degrees. The purpose of our project is to explore the link between religious regulation and political mobilization through a controlled case comparison of three predominantly Muslim states in Central Asia – Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

Consistent with the literature on the political economy of religion, we conceptualize religious regulation on a continuum and define it as the extent to which the state endorses a particular faith or singular interpretation of that faith; in other words, the degree to which the state establishes a religious monopoly. Building on recent work by Jonathon Fox (2013) and Anna Grzymala-Busse (2012), we add to this definition the insights that a) this monopoly can be established via subsidy or repression and that b) these forms of regulation are usually combined such that there is a delicate balance between subsidy and repression; and c) that this balance can shift over time. Departing from the existing literature, which illuminates the indirect effects that that state regulation has on political attitudes and behaviors via its impact on the level of religious beliefs and participation (e.g., Finke & Stark 1988, Finke 1990), we seek to illuminate the direct effects that religious regulation has on political attitudes and behavior. Specifically, we are interested in the conditions under which state regulation fosters political mobilization. Our preliminary hypothesis is that it is most likely to do so when the balance between subsidy and repression shifts decisively toward repression. Our intuition is that religion is more likely to become politicized when the state appears to be obstructing rather than supporting the dominant faith, irrespective of the level of religious beliefs and participation.