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

  • Valery Dzutsati (a1), David Siroky (a1) and Khasan Dzutsev (a2)

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.

Corresponding author
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:
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