The Strategic Use of Official Religious Discourse
Chair: Nathan Brown
Committee: Marc Lynch, Harris Mylonas, Henry Hale, Peter Mandaville
Research question: What explains variation in the credibility of religious messaging produced by the state?
In the Middle East and North Africa, state Islam is often assumed to lack credibility. As a result, scholars interested in these societies’ religious views tend to focus on the activities and ideologies of Islamist groups, seeing them as a more accurate reflection of public religious sentiment.
Existing scholarship often overlooks the ways in which state institutions shape the religious arena. In the contemporary Middle East, the state exerts control over institutions of religious education, oversees the training of would-be religious actors, and regulates religious spaces. Moreover, in certain contexts state-sponsored religious messaging is seen as credible, and in other contexts it is not.
Deriving insights from theories of nation-building and frame theory, I propose an explanation for variation in the credibility of state Islam.
Implications: If state Islam possesses credibility, state-led efforts to counter violent extremism will likely achieve greater success. If state Islam lacks credibility, such efforts are likely to fail, or may unintentionally contribute to further intolerance.
Fieldwork: In 2015 I spent four months in Jordan and two months in Oman, conducting over 150 interviews with government officials, Islamists, and young people. In 2016 I conducted three months of follow-up fieldwork in Morocco. I have spent a total of four years in the Middle East, primarily in Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, and Oman.
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, and the Boniuk Institute for Religious Tolerance.