Religious Identity, Informal Institutions, and the Nation-States of the Near East
This paper uses the Near East as a case study to describe how religious identity became a source of preference formation and a cause of social cleavage. It formulates the concepts of identity-sharing groups and resource-sharing groups to bridge between religious identity's social-psychological aspects and its socioeconomic effects. The paper then argues that social cleavages among religious identity-sharing groups generated informal institutions that are incompatible with the abstract formal institutions of the nation-states of Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria. That incompatibility hobbles efforts of formal state institutions to promote economic development, and instead restrains economic growth by intensifying existing conflicts among groups. It suggests that a state that could promote economic development would be the one that recognizes and supports the informal, localized institutions and allows those of them with common features to evolve into abstract formal institutions.
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