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Religion, Rulers, and Conflict


  • Metin M. Cosgel

    (University of Connecticut)

  • Thomas J. Miceli

    (University of Connecticut)

  • Sadullah Yıldırım

    (Ibn Haldun University)


Although civil conflicts seem highly correlated with religion, no robust empirical relationship has been found between religious fragmentation and civil conflict in modern societies. We argue that the religious roots of today’s civil conflicts lie deeply in history. The argument is based on a political economy approach centered on the legitimizing function of religion, with the implication that the salience of religious fragmentation would be magnified by rulers who favored co-religionists in the distribution of public goods, which would plant the seeds of grievance and conflict among the disfavored groups. We test the resulting hypotheses using a new dataset that includes annual information regarding the religious and political histories of today’s nations since the year 1000. The results show that the likelihood of today’s conflicts is higher in societies that historically experienced not just religious fragmentation but rulers who shared religion with one of the groups. We address endogeneity concerns between religious fragmentation and civil conflicts by exploiting variation across countries in their travel cost (walking time) to religious “capitals” of the world. Instrumental variable analysis indicates that the presence of historical religious fragmentation that could be exploited by rulers accounts for a substantial portion of civil conflicts between 1960 and 2017. Discrimination and grievances served as channels of transmission.

Suggested Citation

  • Metin M. Cosgel & Thomas J. Miceli & Sadullah Yıldırım, 2016. "Religion, Rulers, and Conflict," Working papers 2016-05, University of Connecticut, Department of Economics, revised Dec 2019.
  • Handle: RePEc:uct:uconnp:2016-05
    Note: Metin Coşgel is the corresponding author

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    Cited by:

    1. Coşgel, Metin & Histen, Matthew & Miceli, Thomas J. & Yıldırım, Sadullah, 2018. "State and religion over time," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 46(1), pages 20-34.

    More about this item


    Civil conflict; conflict; religion; historical roots; political economy; legitimacy; grievance; state capacity; geographic distance; religious difference;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • D63 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement
    • D74 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Conflict; Conflict Resolution; Alliances; Revolutions
    • J15 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of Minorities, Races, Indigenous Peoples, and Immigrants; Non-labor Discrimination
    • N30 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - General, International, or Comparative
    • O50 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economywide Country Studies - - - General
    • Z12 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - Religion

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