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.

Forthcoming at Cambridge University Press

Trust & the Islamic Advantage:

Religious-Based Movements in Turkey and the Muslim World

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In much of the Muslim world, political and economic movements that make explicit reference to Islam appear to have a comparative advantage. Relative to similar but secular groups, they are better able to mobilize individual-supporters and sustain their cooperation and coordination over the long-term. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Turkey, a historically secular country that has experienced a sharp rise in Islamic-based political and economic activity. To explain this change, using econometric methods and a variety of data sources, existing explanations for the Islamic advantage – grievances, faith, information – are tested and effectively dismissed. In their place, an alternative theory is proposed and tested: that the Islamic advantage is based on feelings of trust among individuals with a shared, salient religious group-identity. This group-based trust operates as an effective substitute for more generalized feelings of interpersonal trust, which are largely absent in many Muslim-plurality countries, including in Turkey. The trust-based advantage of Islamic-based groups is demonstrated in a number of contexts, from participation in mass politics, to strategic voting in fractionalized electoral systems, and inter-firm cooperation during periods of economic instability. Meanwhile, an argument is made for conceptualizing religion both as a personal belief system and as a collective identity.

Read the introduction here.

NSF Award #1824005

Improving & Integrating Global diversity estimates using transparent methods

Existing estimates of ethnic, religious, and linguistic diversity are correlated cross-sectionally with a number of socio-political and economic outcomes including development, conflict, and social capital. Close examination of these data raises validity concerns: few are based on high-quality official statistics, the majority coming from questionable secondary sources. Further, criteria for group inclusion (i.e., ontologies) are opaque and inconsistently applied. Even where they appear accurate, data are static and aggregated at the country level, although they are often used to explain time-varying and spatially disaggregated outcomes. Ontologies in extant datasets are also incompatible, making comparison and integration difficult. This proposal improves existing measures by applying machine learning methods to compare 9 million responses across 175 countries with a new database of census results. An algorithm will identify survey design features that maximize accuracy, to define a compensatory weighting scheme across these features. The result is a set of survey-based demographic estimates with improved validity, even for countries lacking reliable census data. This method of triangulating surveys and official statistics is generalizable to research areas that use either source and can also inform improved survey design. The project will also develop tools for linking surveys, censuses, and existing datasets based on explicit and transparent decision rules to facilitate their comparison and integration. An online portal will provide access to datasets and code, supporting customized data manipulation and visualization. The methods and tools proposed here – emphasizing accuracy, transparency, and cross-resource integration – should serve as a model for future data collection.

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

Working Paper

The Cultural Legacy of Tolerance:

The Case of Ottoman Turkey

with Mark Westcott

Existing research reveals long-term legacies of inter-group hostility, but the only extant evidence that tolerance begets tolerance assumes its legacy operates through formal institutions. We argue that a culture of tolerance can also persist, even where cooperative institutions do not survive the unmixing of populations. To test this expectation, we leverage the case of Ottoman Turkey, where generations of religious inter-mixing ended through state-sponsored homogenization. Combining contemporary survey data with georeferenced Ottoman censuses, we find that individuals from historically diverse districts are more trusting of religious out-group members today. Moreover, the effect of historical religious diversity spills over, boosting inter-ethnic tolerance. Leveraging variation in internal migration and age cohorts, we offer evidence that a culture of tolerance can be passed down across generations, surviving incidents of mass violence and decades of separation.

Working Paper

Remote Sensing Religiosity in the Muslim World:

The Turkish CasE

Models of human behavior in the social sciences depend on estimating individuals’ values and preferences, including their religiosity. Recently, there is growing interest in how religiosity affects and is impacted by localized political and economic phenomena, including how it relates to risk aversion and uncertainty in the wake of unexpected socio-political, financial, and ecological events. To model these effects, in addition to concerns about measurement validity and reliability, we require an estimate of religiosity that is both spatially disaggregated and available before and after an unexpected event. In this paper, I raise questions about traditional survey-based measures of religiosity in these types of models and offer an alternative: changes in night-time luminosity during the holy month of Ramadan, as captured in satellite images. Because observant Muslims abstain fast during daylight hours throughout Ramadan, 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 depress night-lights in less observant areas. In this initial assessment, I examine and confirm both the inter-temporal reliability (2017-2018) and cross-sectional validity of this measure using a series of nationally representative surveys from Turkey.