Yesterday, a friend emailed me a really cool new piece of research that has come out at Harvard University School of Government. Rich Nielson of the Harvard School of Government has recently posted his research entitled Jihadi Radicalization of Muslim Clerics.
This paper explains why some Muslim clerics adopt the ideology of militant Jihad while others do not. I argue that clerics strategically adopt or reject Jihadi ideology because of career incentives generated by the structure of cleric educational networks. Well-connected clerics enjoy substantial success at pursuing comfortable careers within state-run religious institutions and they reject Jihadi ideology in exchange for continued material support from the state. Clerics with poor educational networks cannot rely on connections to advance through the state-run institutions, so many pursue careers outside of the system by appealing directly to lay audiences for support. These clerics are more likely to adopt Jihadi ideology because it helps them demonstrate to potential supporters that they have not been theologically coopted by political elites. I provide evidence of these dynamics by collecting and analyzing 29,430 fatwas, articles, and books written by 91 contemporary clerics. Using statistical natural language processing, I measure the extent to which each cleric adopts Jihadi ideology in their writing. I combine this with biographical and network information about each cleric to trace the process by which poorly-connected clerics become more likely to adopt Jihadi ideology.
I’m very excited about this article as I start to read it as it seems to reinforce my suspicions and theories put forth in a still unpublished working paper on labor economics application to terror group recruitment (Something I’ve posted portions of here, here, and here). I’ve only read about half of the article so far but look forward to finishing it tonight and I imagine Nielson is onto an important new line of research. Whether you are pastor in Florida or a cleric in North Africa, quite often, it pays to be extreme!