Research

My research interests generally fall under the heading of comparative politics and include: the politics of religion and ethnicity, particularly the micro-foundations of identity-based mobilization and the measurement of identity and diversity; electoral dynamics in developing democracies; and variations in interpersonal trust, across space and time. My region of interest is the Muslim World, particularly the Muslim Middle East, and I have conducted extensive research in Turkey.

My first book, Trust and the Islamic Advantage, is now available from Cambridge University Press

In it, I challenge existing explanations for the success of Islamic-based political and economic movements in Turkey and across the Muslim world. In contrast to theories that emphasize the personal piety of these movements' supporters, using a combination of qualitative observation and quantitative analysis, I demonstrate that the Islamic advantage is rooted in feelings of trust among individuals with a shared, religious group-identity.

Read the introduction here. More information, including the Online Appendix, can be found here.

Purchase a copy directly from CUP or through Amazon.

NSF Award #1824005

I am PI on three-year project updating estimates of ethnic, religious, and linguistic diversity around the globe. Our approach combines self-identification from surveys and a database of census results with machine learning to identify and correct systematic measurement error.

Find the full project description here. More information about the NSF award available here.

"How Extraordinary Was the Arab Spring? Examining 'Protest Potential' in the Muslim World"

Before the Arab Spring, the Middle East and North Africa was cited for its low levels of political mobilization, but recent events call for a more systematic study of “protest potential” in MENA and the broader Muslim world. Combining surveys from 141 countries, I identify a significant participation gap in Muslim-plurality countries: individuals living there are less likely to have participated in politics and are also less likely to self-report being willing to do so, a difference that holds across all demographic categories. After confirming the validity of retrospective and prospective self-reports using a survey of participants in Istanbul’s Gezi Park protests, I explore the role of religion in the Muslim world’s participation gap: while Islam, as a doctrine, does not inhibit activism, certain forms of religiosity do undermine participation. In particular, private beliefs and practices limit protest potential in the Muslim world, while collective religious engagement bolsters it. The latter, I argue, supports activism by helping address the collective action problem underlying mass politics.

Now available online as part of the Oxford Handbook of Politics in Muslim Societies (2020), edited by Melani Cammett and Pauline Jones.

Forthcoming in The Journal of Politics

"Survey Design, Order Effects, and Causal Mediation Analysis"

with Stephen Chaudoin and Brian Gaines

Causal mediation analysis (CMA) requires measurement of an outcome variable (O) with and without treatment, plus a set of mediator variables (M) that constitute possible pathways for the treatment effect. There is no consensus on whether surveys should measure potentially mediating variables before or after the outcome variables – “MO” or “OM.” We use a replication exercise to demonstrate how the order of mediator and outcome items can be consequential for the results from CMA. Order can affect mediation conclusions, even if the treatment effect is similar across designs. As such, randomizing order is usually prudent, though best practice depends on the researcher’s contextual knowledge about her particular application.

See the Appendix here.

Working Paper

"The Cultural Legacy of Tolerance: The Case of Ottoman Turkey"

with Mark Westcott

After centuries of inter-mingling across religious lines, Ottoman-Turkey was transformed, through a series of state-sponsored interventions, into a religiously homogenous republic, with lines dividing the Muslim population by ethnicity. We explore the legacy of Ottoman-era tolerance in contemporary Turkey, combining georeferenced historical censuses with novel surveys and making use of an instrumental variable to support causal identification. Ultimately, we find that a positive legacy persists: individuals from once-diverse districts are today more trusting of non-coreligionists and more tolerant of non-coethnics. Leveraging variation in internal migration, we show that the Ottoman legacy is a cultural artifact, passed down across generations. In so doing, we demonstrate that tolerance – and not just intolerance – can survive over time, even without formal institutions to support it and in the face of concerted efforts by the state to reverse it.

Working Paper

"Remote Sensing Religiosity in the Muslim World: An Assessment in Turkey"

Political economists have long been interested in how religiosity impacts and is impacted by socio-political and economic processes. Early work focused on the role of individual religious beliefs, relying heavily on responses to direct survey questions to measure religiosity. But given increased interest in the more collective dimensions of religious identity and practice, and given concerns about response bias and sampling constraints, new measurement techniques are warranted – ones that are able to capture variation in religiosity indirectly and at a localized level, across both space and time. Here, I propose a method for remote sensing religiosity in the Muslim world, using changes in night-time luminosity during the holy month of Ramadan, as captured in satellite images. Observant Muslims fast during daylight hours throughout Ramadan, so they gather with friends and family after sunset to eat, drink, and celebrate, increasing the intensity of night-lights in more religious communities; at the same time, implicit and explicit pressures against secular night-time activities during the holy month may depress night-lights in less observant areas. I explore and confirm the reliability and validity of this measure in the Turkish case, using a series of high-quality representative surveys and leveraging variation in religiosity across 973 administrative districts.