Current Research – August 2018

Communities showing significant poverty and a lack of ethnic diversity may produce both more anti-Islamic sentiment and more extremist Muslim tendencies, according to a recent study in the journal Science Advances (June 6). Researchers Christopher A. Bail, Friedolin Merhout, and Peng Ding examine the relationship between anti-Muslim and pro-ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) Internet searches in 3,099 U.S. counties between 2014 and 2016, using instrumental variable models that control for various community-level factors associated with radicalization. They find that searches for anti-Muslim material are strongly associated with pro-ISIS searches—particularly in communities with high levels of poverty and ethnic homogeneity.

Although the causal nature of this relationship is difficult to prove, these findings suggest that minority groups may be more susceptible to radicalization if they experience discrimination in settings where they are isolated and therefore highly visible—or in communities where they compete with majority groups for limited financial resources. The authors acknowledge that many convicted radicals do not cite racial or ethnic prejudice as motivating factors for their behavior. Yet the study has significant implications for counterterrorism and immigration policy, questioning the use of counterterrorism policies that target Muslims more than other groups. Such policies “may make communities more vulnerable to radicalization if they are interpreted as discriminatory or unfair.”

(Science Advances,

A new study of Pentecostalism in Zambia suggests that this faith energizes interest in politics more than does involvement in other churches. The study, conducted by Elizabeth Sperber and Erin Hern and published in the journal Politics and Religion (online in June), is based on a stratified random sample of 1,500 Zambians. The researchers find evidence that Pentecostals are more likely to report political interests— “a finding that cuts against earlier studies that portrayed Pentecostals as apolitical or focused on other-worldly concerns.” Such political interests include higher rates of voting than other Christians and talking about political matters. But the Pentecostals were also less likely to contact political officials than their peers. The higher rate of dissatisfaction with the government among Pentecostals may be one reason for that reluctance. Sperber and Hern caution that their sample is concentrated in three provinces in Zambia and may not represent the whole country.

(Politics and Religion,