Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.
—THE KORAN (13:11).
Take, [O, Muhammad], from their wealth a charity by which you purify them and cause them increase, and invoke [Allah’s blessings] upon them.
—THE KORAN (9:103)
The global rise of the antiausterity movement since the 2008 Great Recession marked the beginning of a new global protest era. From the squares of the Middle East to Wall Street and from the slums of Brazil to the skyscrapers of Hong Kong, people took to the streets in unprecedented numbers within the past decade. According to a recent study,1 global protests increased by a rate of 11.5 percent annually between 2009 and 2019, making this period one of the most remarkable eras of mass mobilization. Echoing the wishes of the protesters in the Arab Spring, demonstrators across the globe have demanded justice in their chants for freedom, political accountability, and public services. For example, during the remarkable mass demonstrations against the government before the 2014 Soccer World Cup in Brazil, a protester dressed in a Batman costume told the reporters that “he dresses as Batman because the character is a symbol of the struggle against oppression . . . in [my] opinion Brazil is a dictatorship posing as a democracy, and I will continue to appear at protests as the Caped Crusader until people get the housing, education, and health they need.”2 Similarly, referencing the antigovernment Gezi protests in Turkey in 2013, İhsan Eliaçık stated that their real fight is for social justice and people in these protests were chanting against authoritarianism.3 In short, the language of global protests involved calls for freedom, democratic government, and, importantly, social justice.
Given the strong desire for democracy in the language of these global protests, it is crucial to understand the underlying attitudes, which, presumably led the people to take the streets. This chapter examines support for democracy as a significant precondition for civic participation in the Muslim world. The analysis builds on two assumptions. First, religion is a significant factor shaping attitudes toward democracy in Muslim-majority societies. Second, Islamic faith informs value orientations, especially those concerning social and political justice among the devout. The main proposition following these assumptions is that value orientations stemming from Islamic conceptions of justice may engender support for democracy among the religious individuals. This chapter tests the effect of Muslim religiosity on individual value orientations and support for democracy. To that end, it conducts statistical analyses of the WVS and reports the results of several regression models.
The theoretical framework presented in this chapter builds on the implications of political and social justice trajectories to explain how religion shapes value orientations and support for democracy via two distinct paths. The first path explains why democracy will be a more acceptable form of government than authoritarian systems to religious Muslims. It is proposed that religious individuals will hold pro-distributive preferences due to Islam’s emphasis on charity and egalitarianism. Pious Muslims will be more supportive of democracy because egalitarian distribution is more likely in democracies. A second path concerns the implications of the political justice trajectory in Islam. One legacy of this trajectory emphasizes free will and responsibility as qualities compatible with an individualistic value orientation. Research shows that individualism is conducive to democracy because of promoting individual autonomy, openness to innovation, and critical outlooks, which are foundational for a democratic culture.4 Therefore, religious individuals holding individualistic value orientations should be more supportive of democracy than those with collectivist orientations. These explanations are grounded in a cultural approach by linking religion to social justice preferences and individualistic value orientations.5 The empirical analysis tests these propositions using thousands of interviews conducted by the WVS in about two-dozen Muslim-majority countries.
Religion and Support for Democracy
Extant scholarship on Islam and democracy resulted in a theoretical fault line, with one stream of scholarship anticipating the cultural incompatibility between Islamic faith and democracy.6 Proponents of the other stream argue that principles of faith promote pluralistic ideas, and one can trace the procedural foundations of democracy in conceptions of Islamic legal methodology.7 The quantitative studies—built on the implications of this fault line—deployed significant empirical evidence to test the incompatibility thesis, focusing on the claim that Muslim religiosity is a source of opposition to democracy.8
Despite vigorous research, much ambivalence remains about the relationship between Muslim religiosity and support for democracy. The net contribution of this empirical scholarship is that Muslim religiosity is not necessarily at odds with support for democracy. Studies detecting a negative relationship between piety and democratic attitudes find that the proposed effect is inconsistent or negligible.9 To account for this ambivalence, some scholars consider the role of context as a significant determinant of democratic preferences.10 Others link trust and tolerance to support for democracy.11 A recent study explains Muslim support for democracy with different religious outlooks among the pious, including communitarian, individualistic, and Islamist views.12 These attempts at resolving the ambivalence in the relationship of Muslim faith and democracy do not point to a conclusive finding to satisfy the academic curiosity about this relationship. One reason for this ambivalence might be a lack of interest in examining the specific mechanisms linking religion to value orientations.
The theoretical framework introduced in previous chapters proposed that Islamic justice discourses have profound implications for the attitudes and behavior of the devout. To recap, justice discourses followed two historical trajectories in the Muslim political experience. The first trajectory is political justice rooted in the early Muslim community’s conflicts over political leadership. The second trajectory, social justice, is rooted in Islam’s emphasis on charity and welfare provision. These trajectories have implications for pious individuals’ attitudes and value orientations because religious individuals presumably follow Islamic faith principles to form their opinions and guide their behavior.
Religion’s effect on support for democracy may work through two paths. First, individual religiosity will affect support for democracy, but the direction of this relationship is ambivalent, according to the empirical research noted above. Second, religion will have an indirect effect on support for democracy by two mediating mechanisms: the first path conveys religion’s effect on support for democracy via social justice preferences; the second path relies on one implication of the Islamic political justice trajectory concerning free will that might be conducive to individualistic value orientations. The former mediates religion’s effect on support for democracy via Islam’s doctrinal focus on egalitarian distributive preferences and the notion of maṣlaḥa. The latter path is related to free will and individual responsibility according to an individualistic interpretation of Islam that views man as vicegerent of God. The following sections introduce the theoretical underpinnings of religion’s direct and mediated effects on support for democracy.
Social Justice, Egalitarianism, and Support for Democracy
Social justice values provide the first mediation mechanism linking Islamic faith to support for democracy. Charity, giving to the poor, and economic egalitarianism are central elements of Islamic social justice.13 Scripture encourages the transfer of wealth from the rich to the poor as zakat (obligatory almsgiving), usually amounting to 2.5 percent of the wealth.14 There are numerous examples from the life of Prophet Muhammad where he asked the believers to pay zakat, give in charity, and help those who are in the most need. In the modern era, Islamist intellectuals introduced economic models that proposed wealth restrictions and made policy recommendations regarding redistribution.15 For example, Shariati proposed a model where social well-being is achieved by removing class differences and economic inequalities through the voluntary practice of charity and benevolence rather than by wealth accumulation.16 Islam’s emphasis on economic justice resulted in the collection and distribution of zakat by the state administration during the early and modern periods of Islam.17 Islamist political parties and organizations have expanded their support base by providing welfare services.18
The existing social theory provides several insights that could help explain the mediating role of Islamic social justice principles on support for democracy. Davis and Robinson argue that religious individuals should be “disposed toward economic communitarianism, whereby the state should provide for the poor, reduce inequality, and meet the community needs via economic intervention.”19 The Islamic communitarian outlook toward social justice may intersect with democracy’s tendency toward distribution. Acemoglu and Robinson argue that democratic government will emerge due to the struggle between the wealthy elites and the poor over the redistribution of a nation’s wealth.20 The masses want democracy because universal suffrage and political accountability give them some sway over the determination of tax rates that affects redistributive policy.21 One observable implication of this theory is that pious Muslims will favor governance models where it is more likely to implement distributive policy and social justice, such as democracies. At a minimum, regardless of democracy’s real success in establishing egalitarian distributive policies, religious individuals would favor democratic institutions as far as their expectations about the redistributive capacity of democratic government are in line with their religiously informed economic preferences.
ʾIḥsān (benevolence), a concept closely related to the principles of public interest and goals of sharia, provides additional insights about the connection between Islamic social justice and Muslim attitudes toward democracy. Helping those in need, charity, and working toward economic justice are acts of ʾiḥsān compatible with public interest and the goals of sharia. There are many verses in the Koran encouraging ʾiḥsān.22 One notable piece of advice of Prophet Muhammad that has come to be a maxim of Islamic governance shows the importance of benevolence and kindness toward others: “There should be neither harming nor reciprocating harm (lā ḍarar wa lā ḍirār).”23
In a system where public deliberation occurs freely and according to civic reason, using An-Náim’s terms, democracy will be viewed as the best form of government prone to social justice by the pious.24 This is because democracy provides the most significant potential among all political systems to perform benevolent acts and achieve the social welfare implied by Islamic law principles. Benevolence is central to the Muslim religious practice because one of the government’s primary goals is defined as “provision of good and prevention of vice” (al-amr bi-l-maʿrūf wa-n-nahy ʿani-l-munkar). Being a significant pillar of Islamic society, this maxim may be heard every week by pious Muslims during the Friday sermons. The benevolence principle requires a context where individuals who believe in it can freely organize to influence policy toward provision of good and prevention of vice or they can mobilize to implement social justice oriented policies. Just as altruistic behavior is more likely to flourish in civic cultures and political systems promoting trust, solidarity, and tolerance,25 the benevolence principle can be practically implemented in a system with free deliberation and the civic reason that allows religious Muslims to develop or influence public policy according to their faith’s prescriptions.26 As a result, democracy will be preferable for pious Muslims relative to its alternatives because it presents a comparative advantage in achieving social justice.
Islamist intellectuals also argue that there is compatibility between benevolence, social justice, and democracy. For example, Shariati highlights the importance of ithar (love, benevolence) as a founding principle of Islamic society.27 For Qutb, charitable acts matter a great deal for purifying human conscience and creating social solidarity.28 Consequently, benevolence geared toward public interest would engender support for democracy among the devout to the extent that democracy is perceived to be a regime that has a comparative advantage in implementing egalitarian distribution according to Islamic social justice values.
Political Justice, Individualism, and Support for Democracy
The second mediating mechanism linking religiosity to support for democracy is individualistic value orientations. According to the collectivist/individualistic cultural framework, cultures have general patterns that shape value orientations.29 Such cultural frames may explain the differences in political and economic outcomes such as development30 and democratization.31 Societies that emphasize individualism engender value orientations compatible with independence, free will, transparency, critical thinking, and individual responsibility. In collectivist societies, attitudes and behaviors align with social conformity, obedience, and maintenance of hierarchical norms.32 By and large, value orientations align with democratic governance principles in individualistic and nondemocratic political institutions in collectivist societies.33
Religion has been a significant factor in the study of individualist/collectivist cultures and democracy. For example, Max Weber famously stated that protestant ethics made economic development possible by emphasizing individual responsibility and hard work.34 In general, however, religion is seen as inimical to individualism—and, by extension, economic growth, progress, and democracy—due to its emphasis on hierarchy, in-group solidarity, and order. By the same token, scholars argue that Catholicism, Asian values, and Islam are hostile to democracy and good government due to their strict doctrinal principles, prioritizing order over change, tradition over innovation, and hierarchy over autonomy.35
In contrast to this scholarship’s incompatibility argument, this chapter proposes that one implication of Islam’s political justice trajectory may be conducive to individualistic value orientations. To reiterate, the disagreement about selecting a leader after Muhammad’s passing created the first political cleavage in the early period of Islamic history. This cleavage spilled over into philosophical and theological spheres over time and resulted in the sectarian division between the Sunni and the Shia, contrasting theologies built on free will and predetermination, and political struggles between the proponents of authoritarian and democratic systems in the modern era.
One important implication of this lineage is the split along the popular sovereignty and obedience axis. The proponents of popular sovereignty include Khawarij, Qadarites, Muʿtazila, Muslim philosophers, and much later rational/modernist Islamist scholars. According to this view, individuals have free will and are responsible for their actions as God’s vicegerents. This position’s primary implication is that every believer has the duty of fighting injustices, including the deposition of an unjust ruler. The proponents of the obedience axis, in contrast, propagated unconditional submission to political authority based on predestination. Known as the Jabrī school and later consolidated into the Umayyad State’s and other Islamic empires’ official political ideology, this argument prioritized order over free will and conformity over independence.
The implications of the distinction between free will and predestination neatly overlap with the implications of the individualistic/collectivist framework. Pious individuals inspired by the idea of man’s vicegerent status are likely to hold outlooks cherishing free will and individual responsibility. According to this outlook, man can choose and shape his destiny through independence and hard work. As such, he can take action against injustices and can—or should—rebel against tyranny. Throughout Islamic political history, various intellectual traditions promoted this idea, and many rebellions took place against unjust rulers. In the modern era, this legacy incorporated the conceptions of political sovereignty and democracy as manifested in the modernist tradition, constitutionalist movements of the twentieth century, and mass protests of contemporary times, including the Arab Spring. This legacy of the political justice trajectory is based on individualistic ideals and should engender support for democracy.36
Figure 7.1 summarizes this theoretical framework by depicting the mediation mechanisms linking religiosity to support for democracy. Religiosity should engender prodistributive and individualistic value orientations, which will increase support for democracy. However, alternative explanations imply that religiosity will decrease support for state-led distributive preferences and engender collectivist orientations. As a result, religiosity may hamper the positive effect of these values on support for democracy or increase support for authoritarianism. The next section discusses the theoretical mechanisms of these alternative explanations.
Although religious values are likely to generate egalitarian distributive preferences, religious individuals and organizations may not always long for state-led redistribution. Religious belief and participation act as insurance in times of hardships reducing the need for state-led distribution.37 The highly devout might be less likely to favor state welfare policies than the nonreligious, and, subsequently, the proposed mediating effect of social justice value orientations on support for democracy may be the opposite of what is proposed above (or null). If religious individuals prefer state-led distributive policies due to their adherence to egalitarian principles, they may not care much about the specific system in place. To the extent that a leader can provide public goods, a “benevolent dictatorship” may be preferable to a democratic alternative. Any regime’s ability to deliver public goods and provide general welfare according to the goals of sharia may make it a desirable option for the pious despite its nondemocratic character.
It is also likely that the legacies of the political justice trajectory will stimulate collectivist value orientations in some settings. To reiterate, political divisions in the early Muslim community created an intellectual fault line separating a philosophy of predetermination from that of free will and individual choice. Those who accepted the predetermination as a worldview defended the status quo, order, and hierarchy. For them, avoiding fitna and maintaining public order was crucial for the community’s well-being. For example, the analysis of the writings in the Turkish Islamist journals from 1960 to 2010 in Chapter 5 revealed that religious groups justified political obedience by invoking public order (kamu düzeni) over anarchy for the sake of public interest. The emphasis on public order is not unique to the Turkish Islamists. Authoritarian leaders in other Muslim-majority countries had conveniently exploited political opportunities arising from civil wars (e.g., Algerian civil war) or international conflict (e.g., Arab-Israeli wars) to justify unconditional obedience, even when the ruler was unjust. This view created various hierarchies, including those between God and man, the religious elite and the masses,38 and traditional leaders (e.g., father, tribal chief) and their subjects.
Therefore, this second legacy of the political justice trajectory implies collectivist value orientations. Combined with Islam’s emphasis on distributive justice, the collectivist implications of the political justice trajectory may engender support for authoritarianism. This is because a benevolent autocrat ensuring social order and general welfare will be viewed favorably by the devout.39 The bottom panel in Figure 7.1 depicts these alternative mediation mechanisms.
Data and the Model
The WVS contains data suitable for testing the hypotheses concerning the association between religiosity, value orientations, and support for democracy. The six waves of the WVS include twenty-five Muslim-majority countries and 65,191 Muslim-only respondents, providing extensive data for analyzing Muslim political attitudes.40 The statistical models with all variables of interest contained 26,170 respondents in twenty-four Muslim-majority countries over three waves (4–6).41 Further robustness analyses relied on smaller samples in select countries with fewer observations. The surveys provide representative samples in a large number of Muslim-majority societies.
Support for democracy is measured by a question asking the respondents whether having a democratic political system is very good, fairly good, fairly bad, or very bad along a four-point scale with higher values representing a positive opinion about a democratic system. In the sample, 57 percent of the respondents believe that having a democratic system is very good, and 34 percent believe it is fairly good. With little variation in these responses, a second measure was used to check the robustness of the results. One survey question asks the respondents whether “people choosing their leaders in free elections” is an essential characteristic of democracy (10) or not (1). Since free and fair elections are among the central elements of democratic systems, this measure should serve as a proxy for evaluating responses about procedural aspects of democracy. About 4 percent of the respondents believe it is not essential, whereas 40 percent think free and fair elections are essential to democracy. Finally, support for authoritarianism is obtained using two survey questions. These questions ask whether it is very bad, bad, fairly good, or very good to have a strong leader and army rule. The combined additive index is standardized along a 0–1 scale. About half the respondents voice strong opposition to nondemocratic systems.
Figure 7.2 shows the distribution of mean scores for these three items across the Muslim-majority societies using a 0–1 standardized measure. There is a strong positive correlation between generalized and procedural support for democracy. While average scores are closer to the fitted regression line for most countries, sentiment appears more positive for generalized support than procedural support in Morocco and Nigeria. On the flip side, support for procedural democracy outperforms generalized support in Yemen. As expected, the correlation between generalized support for democracy and the authoritarian system is negative but weak. Notable outliers include Bangladesh, Albania, Burkina Faso, Uzbekistan, and Morocco, located above the fitted line, and Lebanon and Kyrgyzstan, below the line. Overall, this figure shows substantial variation in regime preferences, though support for democracy remains relatively high in the Muslim world.
The WVS also included several survey items that measured religiosity, distributive preferences, and individualistic value orientations. Religiosity is an additive index of four items: religion is important in life (four-point scale), self-reported religiosity (three-point scale), importance of religiosity as a desirable quality in children (dichotomous measure), and the frequency of religious service attendance ranging from 1 (never) to more than once a week (7). These items were standardized to range between 0 and 1 to create an additive index of religious belief with higher values representing more religious individuals.42 As Figure 7.3 shows, the countries cluster in three groups of low, medium, and high religiosity levels. Albania, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan have the lowest levels, with average religiosity scores lower than 0.60. Bosnia, Lebanon, Turkey, and Kyrgyzstan have scores ranging between 0.60 and 0.70. The rest of the sample has relatively high religiosity scores and includes countries from the Arab world, Africa, and South Asia. These figures may also be indicative of cultural differences according to various interpretations of the Islamic faith.
The main mediation mechanisms linking religiosity to support for democracy are distributive preferences (social justice) and individualistic value orientations (political justice). The WVS includes two questions asking the respondents whether they agree with the statement that incomes should be made more equal and whether government (or people) should take more responsibility to provide for people (1–10 scale). The responses to these questions are added to create a standardized index (0–1) representing egalitarian distributive preferences at the higher end. I use Pitlik and Rode’s43 strategy to measure two dimensions of individualistic traits. Self-direction evaluates respondents’ views about autonomous decision-making and independence. The WVS includes this question: “Here is a list of qualities that children can be encouraged to learn at home. Which, if any, do you consider to be especially important? Please choose up to five.” Following Pitlik and Rode, a dichotomous measure was obtained that takes the value of 1 when respondents choose “independence” but not “obedience” and the value of 0 otherwise. As Pitlik and Rode44 argue, the values of independence and nonobedience imply that individuals disapprove of hierarchical imperatives and coercion in their decisions. This measurement strategy follows the logic of Schwartz’s “intellectual autonomy” dimension that encourages people to follow their independent judgment in life.45 The opposite of independence is obedience, which implies accepting hierarchical relations, unequal values in social life, and conduciveness to authoritarian orientations.
A second measure, self-determination, refers to self-efficacy, belief in one’s ability to reach success,46 feeling of control over life outcomes rather than reliance on luck or destiny,47 or the belief that one can achieve success by working hard.48 Self-determined individuals will be more likely to question authority and hierarchical order and value hard work and initiative. Pitlik and Rode49 find that individuals with this orientation are less supportive of economic intervention. By the same logic, self-determined individuals should be critical of authoritarian political systems and lean favorably toward democratic institutions. Self-determination is measured by creating an additive index using two questions from the WVS:
Some people feel they have completely free choice and control over their lives, while other people feel that what they do has no real effect on what happens to them. Please use this scale [between] “none at all” (1) and . . . “a great deal” (10) to indicate how much freedom of choice and control you feel you have over the way your life turns out.
Now I’d like you to tell me your views on various issues (placing yourself on a continuum). Hard work brings success:
1 = Hard work doesn’t generally bring success, it’s more a matter of luck and connections
10 = In the long run, hard work usually brings a better life
These questions were added to create a standardized index (0–1) with higher values representing orientations that emphasize individual resolve and control.
The WVS questions used to measure social and political justice orientations are the best measures available to researchers. Distributive preferences measure individuals’ devotion to Islam’s social justice principles. Self-direction and self-determination are proxies for capturing an implication of the political justice trajectory concerning free will and man’s responsibility as vicegerent of God. These value orientations should engender support for democracy both directly and by mediating the effect of religiosity. Figure 7.4 provides the summary of these indicators in the Muslim world. Overall, Muslim publics appear to hold egalitarian views and highly self-deterministic orientations. While self-direction measure shows considerable variation, individuals appear to be not very enthusiastic about this trait as a quality to be taught to their children. In general, the sample does not demonstrate a noticeable regional pattern, and the distribution of average opinion appears to be random cross-nationally.
Since the theoretical framework implies parallel mediation analysis, I use seemingly unrelated regression (SUR) estimation to incorporate all mediation mechanisms and account for possible endogeneity issues related to the correlation among the variables of interest. This technique allows simultaneous estimations with correlated error terms and dependency between equations. I use the following three models in SUR estimations.50
1.Distributive Preferences = ∝ + β1 Religiosity + β2 (Control Variables 1) + β3 Fixed Effects + ε1
2.Individualistic Value Orientations = ∝ + β1 Religiosity + β2 (Control Variables 1) + β3 Fixed Effects + ε2
3.Support for Democracy = ∝ + β1 Religiosity + β2 Distributive Preferences + β3 Individualistic Value Orientations + β4 (Control variables 2) + β5 Fixed Effects + ε3
In these equations, “Control Variables 1” include age, education (eight-point scale), gender (female is the higher score), and income (ten-point scale). “Control Variables 2” include the first set of controls along with personal trust, political interest, and egalitarian gender beliefs. Personal trust is measured with an item asking the respondents whether most people can be trusted. Egalitarian gender beliefs are measured with an additive index of three questions: university education is more important for a boy than a girl, men make better political leaders than women, and when jobs are scarce men should have priority in employment. Finally, political interest asks the respondents the degree of their interest in politics on a four-point scale. All of these variables are standardized to a 0–1 scale. Fixed effects include both country and wave dummies where applicable.
Table 7.1 reports the SUR estimation results accounting for parallel mediation mechanisms of distributive preferences and individualistic value orientations. The results corroborate the theoretical expectations. Religiosity is positively related to distributive justice preferences (Equation 1), and these preferences increase support for democracy (Equation 4). Religiosity has a negative effect on self-direction, but this variable is not a statistically significant predictor of support for democracy. Religious individuals are more likely to hold self-determination attitudes and individuals with these attitudes are more likely to support democracy. According to these results, religiosity does not engender individualistic value orientations related to individual autonomy, yet it strengthens one’s belief in self-made success and control over destiny (i.e., self-determination). Such a belief, in turn, makes individuals more likely to hold favorable views toward democracy. The differing effect of religiosity on self-direction and self-determination can be explained with the dual nature of Islam’s ethical principles as specified in the scripture and other religious sources. Several verses and many sayings of the Prophet encourage obedience and kindness to parents.51 At the same time, Islam encourages hard work, effort, and striving for permissible worldly provision. One notable example is the verse that states, “Surely Allah does not change the condition of a people until they change their own condition” (Koran 13:11). The results might be showing the opposing effects of these religious principles on individuals’ value orientations.
The results show a positive and statistically significant relationship between religiosity and support for democracy (Equation 4). Subsequently, controlling for the possible endogeneity issues through mediation mechanisms involving distributive preferences and individualistic value orientations, we can resolve some ambivalence about religiosity’s effect on support for democracy. Religiosity increases support for democracy both directly and by increasing distributive preferences and individualistic value orientations, which also predict support for democracy.52
Overall, these results support the hypotheses concerning the individual-level implications of political and social justice trajectories in the Muslim world. Table 7.2 reports the direct, indirect, and total effects associated with the mediating mechanisms. Ceteris paribus and accounting for mediation mechanisms of social and political justice values, a large proportion of religiosity’s total effect on support for democracy is associated with the direct path (about 79 percent). This is a surprising finding given the lively debate about the ambivalence of religion as a determinant of democratic support. The mediating mechanisms explain the remaining proportion of the total effect (21 percent). The indirect effect of religiosity via distributive preferences accounts for 4.60 percent, whereas the indirect effect via self-determination path accounts for 16.11 percent. Since religiosity decreases self-direction orientation and because self-direction is not a statistically significant predictor of support for democracy, the net effect for this on the support for democracy path is substantively negligible.
As Percentage of Total Effect of Religiosity on Support for Democracy
Religiosity → Support for Democracy (Direct)
Religiosity → Distributive Preferences → Support for Democracy
Religiosity → Self-direction → Support for Democracya
Religiosity → Self-determination → Support for Democracy
Total indirect effect via individualistic orientations
Total indirect effect
a This path is not statistically significant.
The effects are calculated from the estimation presented in Table 7.1. Source: World Values Survey.
Overall, these results show that religious individuals are more likely to hold economically egalitarian preferences and specific type of individualistic value orientations, which increase support for democracy. Of the individualistic value orientations, self-direction (independence in decision-making) does not significantly affect support for democracy. Meanwhile, religious individuals tend to be less independent and more conformist, both of which are value orientations emphasizing acceptance of a hierarchical social order. In contrast, religious individuals are more likely to hold value orientations that emphasize initiative, hard work, self-made success, and belief in control over their life choices (self-determination). This self-deterministic outlook increases support for democracy.
Several additional models are estimated to test the implications of alternative explanations and check the robustness of the results. Table 7.3 reports alternative specification results using support for procedural democracy and authoritarianism (Models 1 and 2, respectively). Using the alternative measure for support for procedural democracy as a dependent variable is a necessary robustness check because it may help alleviate concerns about the minimum variation observed in support for democracy. The estimation results with this alternative dependent variable remain unchanged (Model 1 in Table 7.3). The coefficients for religiosity, distributive preferences, and self-determination are positive and statistically significant, showing the same links to procedural support as they did to overt democratic support. Self-direction values do not have a meaningful effect on support for procedural democracy.
The bottom panel of Table 7.3 runs the same SUR model on support for authoritarianism (Model 2). Support for authoritarian systems is measured with an index combining responses to two questions about the desirability of army rule and a strong leader who does not bother with parliament and elections with higher values showing authoritarian support. Religiosity is a statistically significant and positive correlate of support for authoritarianism in these estimations. However, the signs for the coefficients of distributive preferences and self-determination in relation to support for authoritarianism are negative and statistically significant. These results imply that religiosity may also engender support for an authoritarian system. However, self-deterministic value orientations and distributive preferences decrease support for authoritarianism. Since religion has a positive effect on these correlates, it indirectly reduces support for an authoritarian regime.
Religious Outlooks, Value Orientations, and Support for Democracy
The analysis up to this point explained religion’s effect on support for democracy via social justice preferences and cultural value orientations. While the link between religion and social and political justice orientations allowed partly overcoming the ambivalence surrounding the effect of a “catchall” category of religiosity on support for democracy, the analysis remains inconclusive due to the positive correlation between religiosity and support for authoritarianism. The latter finding undermines confidence in the statistical robustness of religion’s positive effect on support for democracy. Religion’s indirect effect on support for democracy works through distributive preferences and individualistic/collectivist value orientations. This effect may be due to religious outlooks that are more conducive to specific preferences and value orientations. Students of religion and politics have correctly voiced their skepticism about using a unidimensional measure of religiosity in quantitative studies and argued that the devout may hold many different outlooks that vary contextually.53 Religious individuals may hold communitarian or individualistic value orientations,54 or piety may be defined along a modernist/orthodox continuum.55 These religious outlooks likely shape distributive preferences and individualistic/collectivist orientations as well as support for democracy.
Although the mediation mechanisms, presented above, account for Islam’s impact on support for democracy via social and political justice orientations, the measure of religiosity used here is not suitable for capturing the effects of different religious outlooks. In other words, if we could show that the effect of religious outlooks, rather than a general measure of religiosity, indirectly increase support for democracy (or authoritarianism) via distributive preferences and individualistic value orientations, we could have more confidence about the positive correlation between religiosity and support for democracy. Fortunately, the WVS included the following questions that could partially remedy this shortcoming. One question evaluates the respondents’ opinion about the importance of government’s implementation of sharia along a five-point scale of (1) not important to (5) very important. Another question asks the respondents if they strongly agree, agree, disagree, or strongly disagree with the statement, “Whenever science and religion conflict, religion is always right” (four-point scale with higher values showing agreement with the statement).
In their study examining the association between religious orthodoxy and distributive preferences in several Muslim-majority societies, Davis and Robinson used the first question.56 They found that theological communitarianism of the religiously orthodox engenders egalitarian economic outlooks and authoritarian social preferences. In contrast, the theological individualism of modernists leads to support for liberal economic policies and individualistic value orientations.57 Davis and Robinson use the question about sharia implementation as a proxy for communitarian outlooks, with more support for sharia representing the religiously orthodox individuals’ theological communitarianism. Stark and Finke find that religious individuals with the modernist outlook are more likely to emphasize independent thinking and self-direction than obedience as a value to be taught to children in the American context.58 Similarly, Davis and Robinson argue that individuals with a modernist outlook put a premium on free will and individual choice.59
Following Davis and Robinson, I use the question asking about preferences for sharia implementation as a proxy for measuring communitarian outlook. Individuals who support government’s implementation of sharia presumably hold religiously orthodox and communitarian outlooks. These individuals should be more likely to hold collectivist orientations and should be less supportive of democracy.
The second survey item captures individual preferences concerning the contrast between scientific thinking and religious doctrine. This variable is a good proxy for measuring whether individuals prefer a scientific worldview to rigid religious authority. The political justice trajectory’s legacy involves a similar division between those who cherish the rational approach over unquestioned religious authority. Individuals who prefer religion to science should be less supportive of democracy.
The first variable capturing views about the government’s role in sharia implementation is asked only in the fourth wave of the surveys (1999–2004) and in Algeria, Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Jordan, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia.60 According to the data, 5 percent of the respondents believe that the implementation of sharia is not important, whereas 42 percent say it is very important. The proportion of respondents who believe that the implementation of sharia is important or very important is 79 percent. Not surprisingly, highly religious individuals are more likely to view the government’s role in sharia implementation as very important. The second question is asked in the sixth wave (2010–2014) and is available in seventeen countries from across the Muslim world.61 According to the survey results, 21 percent of the respondents in the sample strongly disagree or disagree with the statement favoring religion over science, whereas 79 percent agree or strongly prefer religion over science. Not surprisingly, highly religious individuals generally believe that religion is always right when it conflicts with science.
Figure 7.5 shows the mean score for religiosity with 95 percent confidence bars over different categories of the questions measuring views about sharia implementation and preferences about the religion/science binary. The extent of average religiosity does not widely vary across different responses to the first question, indicating high levels of religiosity in the sample, and it should be noted that the question on sharia implementation was asked in countries with a higher average religiosity, including Bangladesh, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Pakistan, as depicted in Figure 7.3. Nevertheless, the differences between some responses to this item remain statistically significant. The question inquiring about preference between religion and science demonstrates larger variation indicating significant variation at different levels of this religious outlook.
Table 7.4 reports the results from the SUR estimations using the same mediation mechanisms of distributive preferences and individualistic value orientations. The only difference relative to the original models is that instead of religiosity, the models use two indicators of religious outlooks. As Model 1 in Table 7.4 shows, individuals who strongly favor the implementation of sharia (religiously orthodox) are less likely to emphasize independent decision-making (self-direction). The questions measuring self-deterministic attitudes are not available in the sample in hand, so the first model cannot test this particular mediation mechanism.
Meanwhile, religious orthodoxy (sharia implementation) engenders distributive preferences, which is in line with the findings of previous studies.62 The results in the third equation demonstrate a negative correlation between sharia implementation and support for democracy. The effect of self-direction on support for democracy is negative and statistically significant. In the original models presented in Table 7.1, religiosity had a negative effect on self-direction, but the latter had no significant effect on support for democracy. In the current model, self-direction has a negative and significant effect on support for democracy.
Model 2 in Table 7.4 uses the question asking about a preference for religion or science. The estimation results are consistent with the original model (Table 7.1). As discussed previously, Islam emphasizes both hard work and family values encouraging obedience to parents. The latter might be the reason for the negative correlation between religiosity and self-direction value orientations. Individuals who have strict doctrinal outlooks by way of preferring religion to science are less likely to hold self-direction and more likely to hold self-determination value orientations. When the model controls for both indicators of individualistic value orientations, self-direction is no longer statistically significant in the fourth equation. Meanwhile, a strict religious outlook preferring religious authority over science increases self-determination and support for democracy.
Overall, these results have several implications. First, controlling for the mediating mechanisms of distributive preferences, religiosity increases support for democracy. This result holds whether religiosity is operationalized as a general tendency or as a religious outlook. Second, Muslim religiosity does not necessarily inhibit individualistic value orientations. While religion inhibits self-direction values, it increases the self-determination orientations. This result is not surprising given the simultaneous emphasis on obedience to parents and hard work and achievement in the Islamic faith. Finally, there appears to be a robust correlation between religiosity and distributive preferences in a positive direction. At the same time, distributive preferences consistently increase support for democracy.
This chapter employed a novel explanation about the microfoundations of Muslim support for democracy—Islamic justice values have significant sway over Muslim distributive preferences and cultural value orientations. The analysis of extensive survey data from two dozen Muslim-majority countries revealed a statistically significant correlation between religiosity and support for democracy. Simultaneously, distributive preferences predict and mediate the effect of religion on support for democracy. This result is robust to different model specifications and the use of alternative measures of religiosity. Furthermore, distributive preferences decrease support for authoritarianism. However, religiosity increases support for authoritarianism, and this is compatible with the implications of the social justice trajectory that Islam may engender both democratic and authoritarian attitudes. However, the net effect of religion on regime preferences through the mediation of the distributive preferences decreases overall support for authoritarianism.
The results of the statistical analysis revealed an interesting pattern about individualistic value orientations. According to the estimation results, religiosity increases the likelihood of self-determination but decreases the likelihood of self-direction. Self-determination is a significant predictor of support for democracy, and self-direction has no meaningful effect on democratic orientations in most models. This is a significant finding showing that the common assumption that certain religions are incompatible with individualistic culture and, hence, are inimical to democratization lacks an empirical basis. Islam simultaneously encourages obedience to familial authority and self-efficacy and hard work, which shows up in the diverging effects of religiosity on self-determination and self-direction. On average, religious Muslims are less likely to hold self-directional attitudes, but they are inclined toward self-determination. This difference is relevant to the extent that self-determination increases support for democracy, whereas self-direction does not. Thus, the positive effect of religiosity on support for democracy is amplified through the mediation of self-determination. Muslim piety, therefore, is not necessarily hostile to individualism. Islam may boost certain aspects of individualistic value orientations and engender support for democracy.