Interviewing Muhammad al-Issa, Secretary General of the Muslim World League, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, March 2019

Interviewing Muhammad al-Issa, Secretary General of the Muslim World League, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, March 2019

Book Manuscript

Traditions of Tolerance: The Manufacture of Religious Heritage in the Arab Monarchies


I examine how Arab monarchies manufacture religious heritage to serve the international counter-terror security agenda. In the context of concerns about religious extremism, Arab regimes frequently vilify the domestic Islamist political opposition as “terrorists,” while seeking to enhance their international image by promoting a religious heritage of “toleration,” a concept that tends to be uncritically accepted by non-Muslim international audiences. In the name of toleration, these regimes repress both religious and political expression, and face minimal critique from an international community primed to fear religiously oriented political actors.

I analyze the cases of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Morocco, and Oman— monarchs who claim a measure of religious authority—to compare the effectiveness of their strategies. I find that variation in the credibility of state-sponsored religious discourse is the result of perceived authenticity: when both domestic and international audiences experience official religious rhetoric as reflecting long-standing heritage, they are less likely to view it as a political strategy. Due to fears about a perceived link between Islam and violence, monarchs that are able to draw on or invent traditions of toleration serve their own interests by enhancing their soft power, strengthening their alliances, and promoting regime security. However they do not address the economic and political inequalities that can produce conditions associated with violent extremism.

Fieldwork: Findings are based on interview data with over 200 religious bureaucrats, educators, experts, students, and members of Islamist groups, as well as over 1000 media and government documents collected during ten months of fieldwork in Jordan, Oman, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia.

Support: I gratefully acknowledge the support of the Boren Fellowship, the Project on Middle East Political Science, the Foreign Language and Area Studies program, the Loeb Institute for Religious Freedom, the Baker Institute for Public Policy, the Boniuk Institute for Religious Tolerance, and the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies.


Academic Writing

“Constructing an Islamic Nation: National Mosque Building as a Form of Nation-building,” Nationalities Papers, 47, no. 1 (2019): 104-120.

Dissertation: Branding Islam: The Strategic Use of Official Religious Discourse. Chair: Nathan Brown Committee:  Marc Lynch, Harris Mylonas, Henry Hale, Peter Mandaville. George Washington University, Department of Political Science, Defended 23 July 2018.

“Ibadism and the Tradition of Tolerance in Oman.” Abdulrahman Al Salimi, Reinhard Eisener (eds.) Oman, Ibadism and Modernity: Studies on Ibadism and Oman, vol 12. Hildesheim: Olms Weidmann, 2018.

Review of “Zakir Hussain. Saudi Arabia in a Multi-Polar World: Changing Dynamics. New York: Routledge Publishers, 2016.” Journal of International and Global Studies. 8, no. 2 (2017): 18-19.

Ongoing Research

“Shifting Definitions of Moderation: Evidence from Qatar, Jordan, and Morocco,” Under review, 2019.

“Religio-National Identity in Ukraine and Morocco,” Under review, 2019.

“Saudi Clerics React to New Policies: Evidence from Twitter,” Working paper with Alexandra Siegel. 

“Comparing Religious Justifications for Environmental Conservation,” Working paper.

“Nation-branding and Religious Public Relations in a post-ISIS Context,” Working paper.