Religious Regulation and Political Mobilization in Central Asia

  • CPS
Religious Regulation and Political Mobilization in Central Asia

Project Summary

Regimes in predominantly Muslim states around the world create religious monopolies that employ different combinations of subsidy and repression to eliminate religion as a potential threat. This project is the first to explore how individuals respond politically to the state's regulation of religion, and to identify the conditions under which they are likely to respond in ways that pose a real threat at home or abroad. It posits that the threat of violence is greatest when the state creates a religious monopoly that combines high levels of repression and subsidies targeted at the regime's favored interpretation of Islam. The research team explores the direct relationship between religious monopolies and political mobilization in three post-Soviet Central Asian states: Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Following a protracted religious revival, each state established a religious monopoly to constrain Islam's growing political potential, and yet, experienced notably different levels and types of religious political mobilization. These different outcomes range from from lobbying and peaceful protests to terrorist attacks and the exodus of jihadists. Until the mid-2000s, only Uzbekistan created a religious monopoly that employed both high degrees of repression and targeted subsidies. Since then, the religious monopolies in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have both started to move toward Uzbekistan's. In Kyrgyzstan, the state increased repression, while Tajikistan opted to target subsidies. Prior to 2015, Uzbekistan experienced the largest number of terrorist attacks in Central Asia, as well as having contributed the majority of the region's jihadists fighting in foreign wars. This project predicts that Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan will experience similar trends as individuals respond to changes in religious regulation. Moreover, it suggests a policy solution: governments can achieve socially desirable outcomes not by dampening religiosity, but rather, by creating more space for the public and private expression of religion, which can be accomplished through low levels of repression and general subsidies that support multiple interpretations of Islam.

Technical Abstract

The political science literature posits that when states grant the dominant religion a monopoly, one observes a negative effect on both levels of religiosity and the degree of political mobilization. This result occurs because religious monopolies necessarily create a non-competitive religious marketplace. That is it results in a setting in which there is a single religious product for religious leaders to sell, and for religious adherents to buy. This poses a persistent empirical puzzle: governments in predominantly Muslim countries routinely establish religious monopolies, and yet, experience high levels of religiosity and varying levels and types of religious political mobilization. This research provides novel insight into this puzzle by making three important correctives. First, the proposed research eschews the assumption that establishing a monopoly is synonymous with establishing homogeneity within the dominant religion, or, more simply, that a religious monopoly precludes religious competition. Second, the work re-conceptualizes religious regulation as two-dimensional, consisting of both subsidies and repression. The project will create a novel typology of religious monopolies based on four different combinations of subsidy and repression. Third, the work will identify the direct effects of religious regulation on individual political behavior by specifying under which type of religious monopoly individuals are more likely to express loyalty, exercise voice, or choose to exit. The proposal argues that the key to explaining variation in religious political mobilization in predominantly Muslim counties is the type of religious monopoly. In particular, they note the significance of the interaction between the type of subsidy (general vs. targeted) and the level of repression (low vs. high). At the left end of the continuum, supportive monopolies are those in which subsidies are general and the level of repression is low; such combinations provide individuals with a greater incentive to express loyalty overall and to exercise voice in the form of lobbying and peaceful protest. At the right end, exclusive monopolies are those in which subsidies are targeted and the level of repression is high; such combinations provide individuals with a greater incentive to choose to exit overall and to exercise voice in violent and extreme forms. Targeting subsidies and increasing repression thus undermine the state's very goal of reducing Islam's potential political threat.




  • Pauline Jones

Project Period

2017-08-01 - 2020-07-31