The Baker Institute at Rice University released a report examining the authority of religious leaders across the Middle East. The study surveyed thousands of people in 12 Middle Eastern countries to assess their support of different political sentiments as well as specific individuals.
“The findings depict a complex religious space in the Middle East that reflects its citizens’ nuanced approach toward religion and the religion-politics relationship.” The author emphasizes that “religion permeates various aspects of life in societies across the Middle East. Reducing it to extremism and extremist violence alone compromises the ability of the U.S. foreign policy to engage with a much larger population and a broader set of issues.”
Who speaks for Islam and who holds religious authority in the Middle East? A new study from Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy aims to provide answers by identifying the channels of influence between religious leaders who claim to hold Islamic authority and individual Muslims across the region.
The findings depict a complex religious space in the Middle East that reflects its citizens’ nuanced approach toward religion and the religion-politics relationship, said A.Kadir Yildirim, fellow for the Middle East at the Baker Institute, who oversaw the study and discusses its scope and significance in a paper published this week, “The New Guardians of Religion: Islam and Authority in the Middle East.”
Supported by the Henry R. Luce Foundation’s Initiative on Religion in International Affairs, the study will feature additional papers by country-specific and topical experts that will be posted in the coming weeks at www.bakerinstitute.org/research/new-guardians-religion-islam-and-authority-middle-east.
As part of the study, the researchers conducted an original 12-country public opinion survey that asked nearly 16,500 respondents their views on 82 religious leaders. The survey included direct questions about the respondents’ approval of and trust in these religious leaders. Because of the sensitive nature of the topic, the researchers also aimed to gauge the respondents’ views of these religious leaders indirectly, Yildirim said. To this end, they used endorsement experiments.
“This experimental design allows us to make a series of religious statements the focus of the respondents’ evaluation instead of the religious leaders themselves,” he wrote. “The combination of alternative methods to map religious authority in the region enables us to reach a more comprehensive set of conclusions than we would be able to by using a single method.”