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The Political Economy of Support for Sharia: Evidence from the Russian North Caucasus

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 May 2016

Valery Dzutsati*
Arizona State University
David Siroky*
Arizona State University
Khasan Dzutsev*
K. L. Khetagurov North-Ossetian State University
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Valery Dzutsati, Arizona State University, P. O. Box 873902, Tempe, AZ 85287-3902. E-mail:
David Siroky, Arizona State University, P. O. Box 873902, Tempe, AZ 85287-3902. E-mail:
Khasan Vladimirovich Dzutsev, K. L. Khetagurov North-Ossetian State University, 362025, Vatutina 44-46 Street, Vladikavkaz, Republic North Ossetia-Alania. E-mail:


Many scholars have argued that orthodox Muslims harbor attitudes that are more economically communitarian and politically illiberal, since individuals are seen as embedded within a larger community that places a premium on social order. Yet most studies have ignored the potential of Islam as an ideological platform for political reformers. Religion in general and Islam in particular has mostly been treated as a predictor rather than a derivative of political-economic preferences. This article suggests that, in the absence of credible secular political ideologies and representative political mechanisms, reformist-minded individuals are likely to use religion as a political platform for change. When Muslims are a minority in a repressive non-Muslim society, Islamic orthodoxy can serve as a political platform for politically and economically liberal forces. We test these conjectures with original micro-level data from the Russian North Caucasus and find strong support for them.

Copyright © Religion and Politics Section of the American Political Science Association 2016 

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We would like to thank the participants on our panels at the Annual Convention of the Association for the Study of Nationalities (2012) and the Annual Convention of the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies (2015); the workshops at the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Harvard University (2012), at the Social Science Research Council; and at the Institute for the Study of Religion, Economics, and Society, Chapman University (2013). We are grateful to Laura Adams, Cynthia Buckley, Rodolfo Espino, Anthony Gill, Laurence Iannacone, Liliya Karimova, Alexander Knysh, John O'Loughlin, Jean-François Ratelle, Christopher Rhodes, Jared Rubin, Brian Silver, and Carolyn Warner for comments. We are indebted to the anonymous reviewers and editors for their helpful comments and suggestions on the paper.



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