The career incentives of Jihadi clerics (how a glass ceiling generates extremism?)

This paper explains why some Muslim clerics adopt the ideology of militant Jihad while others do not.

I argue that clerics strategically adopt or reject Jihadi ideology because of career incentives generated by the structure of cleric educational networks. Well-connected clerics enjoy substantial success at pursuing comfortable careers within state-run religious institutions and they reject Jihadi ideology in exchange for continued material support from the state.

Clerics with poor educational networks cannot rely on connections to advance through the state-run institutions, so many pursue careers outside of the system by appealing directly to lay audiences for support. These clerics are more likely to adopt Jihadi ideology because it helps them demonstrate to potential supporters that they have not been theologically coopted by political elites.

I provide evidence of these dynamics by collecting and analyzing 29,430 fatwas, articles, and books written by 91 contemporary clerics. Using statistical natural language processing, I measure the extent to which each cleric adopts Jihadi ideology in their writing. I combine this with biographical and network information about each cleric to trace the process by which poorly-connected clerics become more likely to adopt Jihadi ideology.

A new paper by Rich Nielsen.

Possibly gets my award for most innovative data collection of the year.