Party System Religiosity and the Quality of Democracy in Predominantly Muslim Countries


The literature on the relationship between Islam and democracy explains the rarity of democratic occurrences in predominantly Muslim countries either through the destructive role of religion or the incompatibility of Islam and democracy. Arguing against this sweeping "Islamic democratic deficit" idea and taking a “dynamic” approach instead, this study looks at this diversity of democratic outcomes in Muslim-majority countries and asks what exactly leads to these differences. In this process, it focuses on party system religiosity as the key explanatory factor. Instead of combining all religiously oriented political parties under the same category and making a blanket assessment of some negative impact of their participation in politics, it argues that there are different degrees of party religiosity, ranging from religious extremism to hostile secularism, and that each type has different effects on the democratic quality of their countries. Through a statistical analysis of an original dataset on party system religiosity, it demonstrates that the parties with a more fundamentalist understanding of Islam usually have a negative impact on democratic quality, whereas parties that highlight inclusive and tolerant aspects of Islam contribute to the deepening of democracy in their respective countries. It then adds analytical depth to the findings with more qualitative and thickly descriptive research conducted in Turkey and Tunisia. By tracing the processes of democratization in several Muslim majority countries and using a large number of data sources (including information from field research, elite interviews, party statements and official documents), it constructs a causal story that showed how exactly these different types of religious parties interacted with the state, society and other parties, and how the constraints and political opportunity structures in which they worked affected their attitudes towards democracy, liberal values and plurality within their political systems. Overall, the study challenges the common assumptions about Islamic parties, secularism and democracy in the Muslim world, and changes the focus of debates on these issues from essentialist and neo-Orientalist arguments to actual practices on the ground and the day-to-day politics in predominantly Muslim countries.

Project Aims

  1. To differentiate types of religiosity in political life
  2. To examine the impact of these different types of religiosity in democratization
  3. To question whether secularism is a sine qua non condition for democracy, or religiously-friendly democracies are possible


Using a mixed-method approach, Liebermann's "Nested Analysis" (2005), this study examines the Islamic party participation in democratization efforts

Phase 1

Large-N Analysis

Creating an original dataset of Islamic political parties and their religiosities, this section statistically analyzes the relation between party system religiosity and democratic quality in 36 Muslim majority countries that underwent some democratic opening in the post Cold-War era.

Phase 2

Field Research

In its efforts to gather this kind of reliable evidence, this research utilizes a large number of sources, including books and pamphlets compiled by parties, official publications of states, formal and informal statements of party leaders and key officials, newspaper and magazine articles about political parties and democracy in the countries of interest, conversations with civil society organizations and university professors, documents on formal party positions, memoirs of key actors in these processes, videotaped campaign speeches of party leaders, and informal discussions of the research topic with political activists in said countries.

Phase 3


By tracing the process of democratization in these cases that were well-predicted by the statistical models, the study uncovers the causal mechanisms behind the correlation between the party system religiosity and democratic quality.