Trust in Religious Leaders & Voluntary Compliance: Social Distancing during COVID-19 in Central Asia

Fri October 29th 2021, 12:00 - 1:00pm
Event Sponsor
Abbasi Program in Islamic Studies, CREEES Center for Russian, East European & Eurasian Studies
Trust in Religious Leaders & Voluntary Compliance: Social Distancing during COVID-19 in Central Asia

What is the relationship between trust in religious leaders and voluntary compliance with policies that are costly to the individual? Religious leaders have the moral authority to affect individuals’ willingness to adopt pro-social behaviors across many societies. Less clear is whether that influence will be positive or negative. It cannot be assumed ex ante that religious leaders will uniformly support social distancing guidelines both because they may be reluctant to discourage congregants from attending services and because their leadership within a country is often decentralized. We investigate how trust in religious leaders affects compliance in countries where religious authority is centralized and state aligned. We argue that, under these conditions, greater trust in religious leaders will be associated with more voluntary compliance, but that this effect will be limited to religious celebrations and rituals. Using novel data from surveys fielded in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan during the COVID-19 pandemic, we find support for both hypotheses but only in Kazakhstan, where religious leaders consistently offered adherents substitutes that enabled them to practice their faith while social distancing. The influence of religious leaders on voluntary compliance, therefore, may depend as much on the content of the message as it does on the source.

Pauline Jones is Professor of Political Science and Director of the Digital Islamic Studies Curriculum (DISC). Previously, she served as Director of UM’s Islamic Studies Program (2011-14) and International Institute (2014-20). Her past work has contributed broadly to the study of institutional origin, change, and impact in with an empirical focus on the former Soviet Union, primarily the five Central Asia states of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Currently, she is engaged in two major research projects. One explores the influence of religion on political attitudes and behavior in Muslim majority states with an emphasis on the relationship between religious regulation, religiosity, and political mobilization. The other focuses on the identifying the factors that affect the extent to which people are complying with social distancing policies to combat the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact that these policies are having on individuals and communities around the world. She has published articles in several leading academic and policy journals, including the American Political Science ReviewAnnual Review of Political ScienceComparative Political StudiesCurrent HistoryForeign AffairsPolitics and SocietyEurope-Asia Studies, and Resources Policy. She is author of five books: Institutional Change and Political Continuity in Post-Soviet Central Asia: Power, Perceptions, and Pacts (Cambridge 2002); The Transformation of Central Asia: States and Societies from Soviet Rule to Independence (Cornell 2003); Oil is not a Curse: Ownership Structure and Institutions in the Soviet Successor States (Cambridge 2010), Islam, Society, and Politics in Central Asia (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2016), and most recently The Oxford Handbook on Politics in Muslim Societies (Oxford University Press, forthcoming). Her research has received generous support from several prestigious sources, including the McArthur Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Mellon Foundation, and the National Science Foundation.

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