Traditions of Tolerance: The Strategic Use of Religion in the Arab Monarchies
Research question: What explains variation in the credibility of religious messaging produced by the state?
The construction of state-sponsored religious tradition is typically the result of decades of education and messaging. Similar to the process of nation-building, wherein a state constructs a national narrative out of a “usable” past, building a national religious identity must also draw on relevant existing beliefs. In certain cases, the religious identity lends itself to promoting a rhetoric of tolerance because it resonates with public practices. In contrast, if the government tries to promote a form of state Islam that fails to reflect existing traditions, it is more likely to be seen as motivated by political rather than spiritual imperatives, which can erode the credibility of state-affiliated religious institutions.
Arab monarchs seek to use their control of religious institutions to reduce the potential for dissent while shoring up foreign support, while Arab populations exhibit sensitivity to the manipulation of religion as a result of foreign concerns. Situated between top-down government pressure, and bottom-up popular resistance, are religious bureaucrats. Responsible for disseminating the regime’s preferred form of Islam, religious bureaucrats simultaneously face public demands to uphold Islamic tenets.
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.
Acknowledgements: 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.
Dissertation: 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.
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