Since 1990, more than two thirds of the world’s civil wars and battle-related deaths have occurred in Muslim-majority countries. The vast majority of these battles are fought by Islamist militants. To explain these patterns, political scientists have focused on whether religiosity, particularly among Muslims, causes political violence. However, they have ignored whether political violence could cause religiosity. My dissertation argues that, contrary to conventional wisdom, political violence affects religiosity.

Building on psychological studies of religion, I theorize that phenomena that cause excess mortality lead to death anxiety and religious intensity as a psychological coping response. My dissertation tests the proposed theory by investigating how excess mortality linked to two different causes – political violence and the Covid-19 pandemic – impacts religious beliefs and practices. First, using an original panel survey I conducted in 2020 and 2021 in Kabul, Afghanistan, I document that having seen dead bodies or having family members, relatives, or friends killed or injured because of political violence is associated with a seventeen-percent increase in religiosity. Second, I examine the search for key religious terms through Google in eighteen Arab-speaking Muslim countries from June 2017 to June 2022. I demonstrate that each Covid-related death per 100,000 people is associated with an increase of 1.5 points (0.15 standard deviations) in searches for religious terms that signify Islamic rituals and religious coping.

My dissertation makes several contributions to the field of political science. First, while political science scholarship has focused on religiosity as a detrimental force and the cause of political violence, my research highlights the positive role of religiosity as a coping response to the adverse effects of political violence. Second, my research offers insights into the puzzle of religiosity and political violence among Muslims. Intensified religiosity in Muslim countries that experience political violence is partly the effect of excess mortality and reflects religious coping in response to death anxiety.

As an extension of my dissertation, I am running a randomized controlled trial in Turkey to investigate the role of religious traditions in coping with the adverse effects of war and displacement. I test whether and to what extent Islamically integrated counseling could promote reconciliation among rival ethnic groups and enhance refugees’ psychological well-being. The experiment is funded by J-PAL, IPA, ESOC, and Princeton University.

My research is inspired and informed by my prior training in Islamic studies and eight years of fieldwork experience. Prior to starting university, I studied Islamic theology and jurisprudence for six years. I draw upon my Islamic studies to design field experiments and surveys that involve Muslim clerics and investigate the role of Islamic beliefs and practices in social and political life in Muslim societies. In addition, I have extensive fieldwork experience (six years in Afghanistan, one year in Iran, and a year in Turkey). In Afghanistan, I managed numerous field experiments and large-scale surveys. Working for the World Bank, I led the fieldwork for the impact evaluation of the World Bank’s NSP, NERAP, UCT, and TUP programs.

I enjoy walking, exercising, and playing with my two adorable sons in my free time. I also like traveling and visiting new places.