Chris Blattman

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.

26 Responses

  1. I am sick to death of reading Blogs with low quality content and I am so glad that I found your article today. It has certainly cleared a lot of things up for me.

  2. You have proven that you are qualified to write on this topic. The facts that you mention and the knowledge and understanding of these things clearly reveal that you have a lot of experience.

  3. I am sick to death of reading Blogs with low quality content and I am so glad that I found your article today. It has certainly cleared a lot of things up for me.

  4. Cool. But it is only the supply side of the story. Clerics only have an incentive to be radical because there is a demand for radical ideologies. So the real question (which I don’t think the analysis addresses) is whether and how these career incentives influence equilibrium policies.

  5. sehrazatleyla, not quite. You are attempting to draw a cause and effect relationship with one person. This paper notes a correlation over many people. It’s quite possible, for example, that the cause runs the other way around – fanatical people tend to be rejected by the establishment.

  6. Actually, I think Vladimir makes a good point. I´m thinking of why the majority of the economic community in Latin America, for instance, is so fond of so-called heterodox economics, and like to bash neo-liberalism, accuse the US of economic imperialism and so on. They´re playing for the laymen public to promote themselves politically (with good results, unfortunately) while the few well-connected institutes devote their efforts to publishing in top-ranked US journals.

  7. Using the logic of this paper, might we ask if academics with poor educational networks are more likely to adopt radical political philosophies?

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