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Religion, politics, and development: Lessons from the lands of Islam


  • Platteau, Jean-Philippe


The question as to whether religion can block economic development and institutional change, or is a purely endogenous factor, assumes particular importance today because of the rise of Islamist movements and the disappointing economic performances in the lands of Islam. This paper starts from a critical examination of the thesis of Bernard Lewis according to which the lack of separation between religion and politics creates particular difficulties on the way to modern economic growth in these lands. It will be argued that (1) Lewis' thesis conceals the critical fact that, even when political and religious functions appear to be merged, religion is the handmaiden rather than the master of politics; (2) the influence of religion increases when the state falls into crisis, owing to its impotence or excessive absolutism; (3) because the Islamic frame of reference provides political rulers with a cheap default option when they are contested, they rarely undertake the much-needed reforms of the country's institutions; (4) this way of escape is all the more attractive to contested rulers as Islamist movements, born of the internal situation as well as of the international environment, accuse them of un-Islamic behaviour; (5) as argued by Timur Kuran, by creating an "institutional trap", the legacy of the Islamic classical system also makes institutional reforms more difficult to achieve.

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  • Platteau, Jean-Philippe, 2008. "Religion, politics, and development: Lessons from the lands of Islam," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 68(2), pages 329-351, November.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:jeborg:v:68:y:2008:i:2:p:329-351

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Coşgel, Metin M. & Miceli, Thomas J. & Rubin, Jared, 2012. "The political economy of mass printing: Legitimacy and technological change in the Ottoman Empire," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 40(3), pages 357-371.
    2. Binzel, Christine & Carvalho, Jean-Paul, 2013. "Education, Social Mobility and Religious Movements: A Theory of the Islamic Revival in Egypt," IZA Discussion Papers 7259, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    3. Grigoriadis, Theocharis, 2016. "Religious origins of democracy & dictatorship," Journal of Policy Modeling, Elsevier, vol. 38(5), pages 785-809.
    4. Michalopoulos, Stelios & Naghavi, Alireza & Prarolo, Giovanni, 2010. "Trade and Geography in the Economic Origins of Islam: Theory and Evidence," MPRA Paper 23136, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    5. François Facchini, 2007. "Islam and private property," Université Paris1 Panthéon-Sorbonne (Post-Print and Working Papers) hal-00270475, HAL.
    6. Budiman, Mochammad Arif, 2014. "The Significance of Waqf for Economic Development," MPRA Paper 81144, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    7. Michalopoulos, Stelios & Naghavi, Alireza & Prarolo, Giovanni, 2016. "Islam, inequality and pre-industrial comparative development," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 120(C), pages 86-98.
    8. Ciaian, Pavel & Pokrivčák, Ján & Kancs, D'Artis, 2012. "The Rise and Fall of Enforcement Institutions: An Example of Religion and Secularism," European Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 20(02), pages 233-251, May.
    9. Auriol, Emmanuelle & Platteau, Jean-Philippe, 2017. "Religious co-option in autocracy: A theory inspired by history," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 127(C), pages 395-412.
    10. Auriol, Emmanuelle & Platteau, Jean-Philippe, 2017. "The Explosive Combination of Religious Decentralisation and Autocracy: the Case of Islam," TSE Working Papers 17-759, Toulouse School of Economics (TSE).
    11. Ishac Diwan, 2013. "Understanding Revolution In The Middle East: The Central Role Of The Middle Class," Middle East Development Journal (MEDJ), World Scientific Publishing Co. Pte. Ltd., vol. 5(01), pages 1-30.
    12. Chaara, Imane, 2011. "Pro-Women Legal Reform in Morocco: Is Religion an Obstacle?," Proceedings of the German Development Economics Conference, Berlin 2011 17, Verein für Socialpolitik, Research Committee Development Economics.
    13. Jean-Philippe Platteau, 2009. "Institutional Obstacles to African Economic Development: State, Ethnicity, and Custom," Post-Print hal-00726664, HAL.
    14. Stelios Michalopoulos & Alireza Naghavi & Giovanni Prarolo, 2012. "Trade and Geography in the Origins and Spread of Islam," Working Papers 2012-12, Brown University, Department of Economics.
    15. Platteau, Jean-Phillipe & Sekeris, Petros G., 2013. "Seduction of Religious Clerics and Violence in Autocratic Regimes - with special emphasis on Islam," NEPS Working Papers 3/2013, Network of European Peace Scientists.
    16. Ishac Diwan, 2012. "A Rational Framework for the Understanding of the Arab Revolutions," CID Working Papers 237, Center for International Development at Harvard University.
    17. repec:bla:etrans:v:25:y:2017:i:2:p:313-350 is not listed on IDEAS
    18. Wasseem Mina, 2014. "But Most of All We Love Each Other: Does Social Cohesion Pay off? Evidence from FDI Flows to Middle Income Countries," International Center for Public Policy Working Paper Series, at AYSPS, GSU paper1424, International Center for Public Policy, Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, Georgia State University.
    19. Antonio Estache, 2016. "Institutions for Infrastructure in Developing Countries: What We Know and the Lot We still Need to Know," Working Papers ECARES ECARES 2016-27, ULB -- Universite Libre de Bruxelles.
    20. Platteau, Jean-Philippe, 2009. "Institutional obstacles to African economic development: State, ethnicity, and custom," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 71(3), pages 669-689, September.
    21. Imane Chaara, 2012. "Pro-Women Legal Reform in Morocco: Is Religion an Obstacle?," Working Papers 685, Economic Research Forum, revised 2012.
    22. Platteau, Jean-Philippe, 2011. "Political Instrumentalization of Islam and the Risk of Obscurantist Deadlock," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 39(2), pages 243-260, February.
    23. Wang, Qunyong & Lin, Xinyu, 2014. "Does religious beliefs affect economic growth? Evidence from provincial-level panel data in China," China Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 31(C), pages 277-287.
    24. Samir Makdisi, 2011. "Autocracies, Democratization, and Development in the Arab Region," Working Papers 622, Economic Research Forum, revised 09 Jan 2011.


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