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Clerics and Scriptures: Experimentally Disentangling the Influence of Religious Authority in Afghanistan

  • Luke N. Condra, Mohammad Isaqzadeh and Sera Linardi

This article unpacks the psychological influence of a Muslim cleric’s power to mobilize for collective action in an experiment in Afghanistan. The same cleric requests contributions for a hospital from day laborers when dressed as a civilian and as a cleric. In Civilian condition, 50 per cent contributed and 17 per cent made large contributions; in Cleric condition, 83 per cent contributed but average giving did not increase as most gave the smallest possible amount. Inclusion of a recitation of Qur’anic verses in the Cleric condition maintains the 82 per cent contribution rate while increasing large contributions to 30 per cent, doubling average contributions. Formal education and subjective perception of poverty appear to drive the opposing effects of cleric and scripture. These results suggest that the power to activate spiritual channels lies in the scripture, not with the human wielding religious authority, who instead appears to induce minimal compliance with Islamic norms of charitable giving.

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Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, University of Pittsburgh (email:; Department of Politics, Princeton University (email:; Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, University of Pittsburgh (email: We especially thank Emergency and Emanuele Nannini for their co-operation. For their helpful suggestions we thank the editor and three anonymous reviewers, Rikhil Bhavnani, Ed Condra, Eric Dickson, James Fearon, Yanna Krupnikov, Bethany Lacina, Paul Nelson, Jon Pevehouse, Jacob Shapiro, and participants at ASREC, SEA, ISA, WPSA, MPSA, the Science of Philanthropy Conference at the University of Chicago, and the Harris School of Public Policy’s Political Economy Workshop. Erin Carbone, Jikuo Lu and Katherine Yoon provided excellent research assistance. We gratefully acknowledge financial support from the following University of Pittsburgh entities: the Hewlett International Grant Program, the Global Studies Center and the Central Research Development Fund. This research was approved by the University of Pittsburgh’s Institutional Review Board (PRO14050489). Data replication sets are available at, and online appendices are available at

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