The Asafi Mosque, Old City, Lucknow

The Asafi Mosque, Old City, Lucknow

My dissertation explores how religious appeals by elites shape extremism among followers. I analyze a series of related questions on this topic through the case of extremism among Sunni and Shia Muslims in Lucknow, which has the highest Sunni-Shia violence of any Indian city. 

My job market paper can be found here. I report the results of an experiment among 2,100 Sunni and Shia young adult men implemented in Lucknow’s most riot-prone neighborhood. The experiment tests a logic of victimization: that anti-violence appeals by an in-group cleric will reduce extremism within a non-victimized group but not within a victimized group (here: the Shia).

I first developed this logic in a prior experimental study I conducted as part my dissertation.

  • In "How Political Conditions and Religious Doctrine Shape Extremism in Northern India," I qualitatively study how changing political conditions determined the extent to which elites effectively persuaded followers to engage in extremist behaviors. My analysis combines insights from 70 semi-structured interviews and secondary sources covering the last three centuries. I argue that the contemporary Shia perception of victimization is due to a 'reversal of fortune' in political conditions since the mid-nineteenth century that increased the salience of martyrdom themes in Shia theology. In doing so, I show how political conditions interact with religious doctrine to lead to assymetric effects on extremism within groups. Furthermore, the chapter argues for a conceptualization of religious identity qualifies constructivist approaches. Despite modernization and social change, I show that a common core of doctrinal disputes has characterized Sunni-Shia relations in Lucknow since the eighteenth century.

  • In "Understanding the Relationship Between Extremist Attitudes and Behaviors: Evidence from Northern India," I use survey evidence to show some of the first evidence that extremist attitudes significantly predict extremist behaviors, but that the strength of the relationship is not as strong as commonly expected. Second, the study argues that economic grievances are stronger predictors of extremist attitudes than of behavior, and thus challenges theoretical expectations from the conflict literature. Third, the study points to a model of extremism in which religious and psychological factors–rather than grievance or social network explanations–drive both extremist attitudes and behaviors.