My research investigates the relationship between political repression and violence, with particular attention to the role of religion. This includes two primary lines of inquiry. First, I am interested in state responses to religious violence. My current book project focuses on how political officials construe the threat posed by and counter religious rebellions. Other work investigates public opinion towards religious insurgents and government regulation of religion in post-conflict societies. Second, I study how religious beliefs and practices shape the organizational dynamics of militant groups. I am especially interested in how state repression influences rebel group fragmentation and radicalization. I draw on diverse methods in my work, including survey experiments, archival research, and cross-national quantitative analysis.
How do Religion and Sexual Orientation Affect Support for U.S. Presidential Candidates?: Evidence from a Survey Experiment. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (forthcoming). With Kraig Beyerlein. A growing body of research has examined how candidates’ religion or sexual orientation affect voting likelihood among the U.S. public. No systematic study, however, has focused on the combined effect of these traits. We draw on the intersectionality literature to develop and test hypotheses for this neglected, but important, combination. Results from an original survey experiment conducted in late June 2019 demonstrate that all respondents, as well as the Republican subgroup, tend to disapprove of a gay, religious candidate relative to other options (i.e., gay, non-religious; straight, religious; and straight, non-religious). Even Democrats expressed little support except when a straight, religious candidate was the alternative. Our findings underscore the need to study how overlapping—rather than discrete—traits influence political views and behaviors. They also raise questions about the future of U.S. identity politics. Efforts to rally Republican and Democrat voters by mixing particular types of traits may not be very effective.
The Archival Researcher’s Dilemma: The Case of Postwar British Counterinsurgency. Sage Research Methods Cases (2020). This article considers a key challenge faced by political scientists conducting archival research – the desire to increase the scope of a study without sacrificing the depth of analysis into any single case. This tension often leaves political scientist’s torn about whether to plan brief, targeted trips or lengthier, exploratory visits to archives. The former poses the danger of only finding what the researcher expected and ignoring disconfirmatory evidence. The latter is often difficult to implement due to time and resource constraints. The article elaborates on this archival researcher’s dilemma and provides practical advice to address the challenge. It draws on ten months of research conducted at eight archives in the United Kingdom, Cyprus, and Israel. These data collection efforts were for a book project that examines British security forces’ understanding and response to religious rebels during the early postwar period. The case and examples highlight that the archival researcher’s dilemma is a persistent feature of the method and that ignoring its tradeoffs can undermine both data collection and analysis efforts.
War and Religion: An Overview. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics (2019). With Ron E. Hassner. Although largely ignored by international relations scholars until the 21st century, religion has been and remains a pervasive social force both on and off the battlefield. It affects how combatants mobilize and prepare for war. It regulates how they fight, including unit organization and strategic decision making. And, religious identities, beliefs, practices, and symbols shape how and when combatants pursue peace. The study of religion and war seeks to discover and understand these varied influences, even when religion is not the pretext for fighting.
Taming the Gods: How Religious Conflict Shapes State Repression. Journal of Conflict Resolution (2019). With Peter Henne. Despite a robust literature on general forms of state repression, the determinants of religious repression remain unclear. This article argues that a regime’s experience with religious conflict will lead it to be more repressive of religious groups within its territory for three primary reasons. Religious conflict increases the behavioral threat posed by religious groups, lowers the cost of repressing these communities, and evokes vivid memories of past religious violence that underscore the role of the state in taming religion to maintain social order. New, cross-national data on religious conflict and repression from 1990 to 2009 shows that religious conflict has a significant and positive effect on the level of religious repression for the time period under investigation, expanding the types and severity of government restrictions on religion in a country. Our findings point to the importance of studying the causes and nature of negative sanctions against religious communities, specifically. While this article is forthcoming in the Journal of Conflict Resolution, Peter and I recently previewed the paper in a podcast found here.
Seek, and You Will Find: Religious Intelligence in British Counter-insurgency Operations. St. Antony's International Review, 12, 1 (2016): 16-37. Counter-insurgent forces across a variety of contexts have been criticized in recent years for insufficient attention to the role of religion in insurgency wars. The consensus view of this critique alleges that military planners, at best, misunderstand the impact of religious identities and beliefs on guerrilla forces and, at worst, ignore them all together. In this article, I challenge this conventional wisdom by tracing the routine efforts of British forces to understand the impact of religion during conflicts in Mandatory Palestine, Cyprus, and Kenya. Drawing on original data collected from the colonial archives, I demonstrate how security personnel repeatedly obtained and evaluated religious intelligence in three key issue areas: combat operations, information operations, and demobilization. My findings have significant implications for the study of both religious violence and civil wars. First, they illustrate how binaries that construe state actors as secular and non-state actors as religious are often oversimplified. Second, they point to how religion affects conflict in meaningful, and oftentimes unanticipated, ways. While not necessarily the cause of a particular rebellion, religious sensibilities often shape how counterinsurgents combat guerrilla forces.
“Opportunities and Challenges for International Religious Freedom Research to Inform Policy Initiatives in a Polarized America” (revise & resubmit). The promotion of international religious freedom (IRF) as a foreign policy goal remains one of the rare constants across the past four U.S. presidential administrations. The form and implementation of approaches to advancing IRF, however, has varied. This article explores these differences and their implications for how scholarship informs government initiatives to promote IRF. Particular attention is paid to the Trump administration’s expansion of IRF policy into the development space. On the one hand, this recent policy shift has increased demand from certain departments and agencies for new data and analysis. On the other hand, these calls are often ad hoc and uneven in nature as policymakers seek to quickly develop new ways to incorporate IRF into their programming. The article recommends that scholars can best respond to moments of policy change by remaining committed to nuanced, objective, and critical research that responds to empirically-driven problems related to religious freedom and discrimination.
“Regime Change and Religious Discrimination after the Arab Uprisings,” with Hyun Jeong Ha and Nathanael Sumaktoyo (under review). This article draws attention to an important, but understudied, consequence of the Arab Uprisings – increased levels of religious discrimination in the MENA region. It argues that regime change, not merely political unrest, is the key reason for this escalation for two primary reasons. Weakened political institutions opened the space for discrimination and religious outbidding exacerbated tensions between majority and minority religious communities. We adopt a mixed-method research design to test this relationship. Cross-national, quantitative analysis from round 3 of the Religion and State dataset reveals that while state discrimination towards religious minorities has not changed since the Arab Uprisings, societal discrimination has substantially increased in those countries that experienced regime change. A case study of Egypt provides more direct evidence of the institutional and religious outbidding mechanisms. Our findings underscore the twin challenge of protecting and accommodating religious groups during periods of political transition.
“The Shifting Sands of Relational Peace on Cyprus,” invited chapter for Relational Peace Practices, edited by Anna Jarstad, Johanna Söderström, and Malin Åkebo. The long-standing political dispute in Cyprus is routinely understood in terms of negative peace. The island has been free of armed conflict since 1974, even while the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities remain divided. But, how useful is this conceptualization given a half-century of failed peace plans? This chapter applies the relational peace framework to develop an alternative understanding of Europe’s oldest, unresolved political conflict. It primarily traces variation in political elites’ behavioral interactions, subjective attitudes, and ideas of relationship within the Greek Cypriot community and between Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders. The analysis employs between-methods triangulation to increase reliability and reduce researcher bias. Data are drawn from diverse primary and secondary sources, including historical records, public opinion surveys, policy reports, and English-language news material. A relational view of peace has important implications for both preventing renewed violence on the island and resolving the Cyprus Problem. It highlights an important set of interactions, namely intracommunal relations, overlooked by a negative peace framework. Additionally, it shifts the analytic lens away from ethnonationalism and foreign interests to the strategic preferences and behaviors of each community. This underscores how intercommunal relations are difficult to advance while within group competition remains high.
Exploring Public Support for Government Repression of Religious Insurgents. With Kraig Beyerlein. Numerous studies find that public opinion can constrain military policy. Less is known, however, about how, if at all, the identity of an adversary can moderate levels of popular support. In this study, we use an original survey experiment to test the impact of an insurgent group’s religious identity on individuals’ preferences for counterinsurgency policy. Our preliminary findings suggest that publics favor more coercive force against religious, compared to secular nationalist, insurgents. They also see repression as a more efficacious strategy than accommodation for resolving conflicts with religious combatants. We argue that these findings are due to what religious studies scholars refer to as the myth of religious violence – a popular notion that religion is a violent and irrational force that must be contained by the state in order to preserve social order. These findings have important implications for how we think about the relationship between public opinion, religion, and civil war. First, it draws attention to a possible lack of restraint when fighting religious opponents. This might explain, in part, why governments continue to rely on repression despite mixed results. Second, this study speaks to the larger debate concerning the role of religion in conflict. Even when religion is not the cause of a conflict, it can shape combatants’, including national militaries’, behavior in significant ways.
Band of Believers?: Religion and Rebel Group Fragmentation. How does religion impact the organizational structure of rebel groups? Conventional wisdom suggests that religious identities, beliefs, and practices help to unify and maintain the allegiance of insurgents. The demanding and rigid nature of religion is believed to increase combatant resolve and offer a powerful social control mechanism to deter defection. This consensus view, however, has not been systematically tested. I address this omission by analyzing new quantitative data on the religious dynamics and fragmentation of 240 rebel groups that participated in armed conflicts between 1990 and 2010. Contrary to popular notions, the results demonstrate that groups mobilized along religious lines are more, not less, likely than other rebel organizations to splinter. I argue that religious rebel groups suffer from fragmentation more often than their secular counterparts due to the prevalence of religious outbidding. This tactic exacerbates divisions between moderates and extremists and leads to collective splits. The argument and the findings point to the importance of studying how ideational factors can both advantage and undermine the resiliency of rebel groups. Versions of this manuscript were awarded the 2015 Weber Best Paper Award from the Religion and Politics Section of the American Political Science Association and the 2015 Best Graduate Student Paper Award from the Religion and International Relations Section of the International Studies Association, respectively.