Author(s): Fotini Christia, Elizabeth Dekeyser , Dean Knox 

Status/Format: In Progress

Date: 2021

Publication Type: Journal Article

Publisher: Revise and Resubmit in Nature: Human Behavior

The Nature and Origins of Sectarian Animosity



What drives the sectarian antipathy underlying so much conflict across the Middle East? We offer the first systematic, large-scale evaluation of prominent hypotheses about the nature, origins, and content of individual-level sectarian animosity. Our results show this phenomena is best conceived in terms of the national politicization of sect identities, rather than religious conflict or transnational sectarian movements. This analysis is based on a broad, geographically representative survey of over 4,000 devout Shi’a from Iraq and Iran, integrated with numerous additional data sources. Our findings suggest tempting parallels in the way that sectarian animosity and ethnonationalism operate. Yet these parallels can only go so far; the uniquely religious aspects of sectarianism introduce new complexity. While religious adherence can strongly inflame doctrinal schisms in some contexts, it moderates tensions in others. We argue that enormous gendered variation stems from religious socialization, or belief transmission within a religious context to individuals who would otherwise be excluded from the social sphere—a mechanism that undoubtedly influences not only sectarianism but broader beliefs.