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Research and Publications Supported by the Research Circle

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Data Projects

"Religious Rhetoric and Mobilization Dataset"

The Religious Rhetoric and Mobilization Dataset is an ongoing data project seeking to catalog the mobilizing rhetoric of political organizations representing religiously distinct ethnic groups worldwide from 1970 through 2012. This dataset contains comprehensive information on the ways in which political organizations use ethnic rhetoric to encourage collective action, including rhetoric aimed at appealing to religious, linguistic, tribal, racial, and national identity. This project covers approximately 500 political organizations, including political parties, protest organizations, paramilitaries, and terrorist organizations, representing 42 ethnic groups worldwide. This project is generously supported with funding from the Research Circle on Democracy and Cultural Pluralism at Brandeis University. The first phase of data collection is scheduled for completion in the fall of 2016. 


Matthew Isaacs, Principal Investigator, is a Ph.D. candidate in Politics. Matthew's research spans comparative politics and international relations with an emphasis on religion and the politics of divided societies. He is particularly interested in the role of religion in ethnic conflict and civil war, the politics of religious institutions, and post-conflict politics and peacebuilding. Matthew's doctoral dissertation, For God or Country? Explaining the Salience of Religion in Ethnic Conflict, examines the role of religion in conflict by combining cross-national statistical analysis of original data with qualitative analysis based on extensive field research in Northern Ireland and Sri Lanka.

Jiahui Zhong, Research Assistant, is a sophomore who is currently studying politics, economics, and psychology at Brandeis University. She is interested in studying international relations, cultural pluralism and democracy in the Western hemisphere and Asia. After graduating, Jiahui plans to go into either diplomacy or the legal field, focusing on trade policy.

Michael Tsahalis, Research Assistant, is a senior at Brandeis University. Before joining the Religious Rhetoric and Mobilization dataset, Michael performed research for Brandeis University's Economics Department and Standard & Poor's Ratings Services. With funding from the Max Kade Foundation, he also pursued an independent research project in Hamburg, Germany. After graduating this spring, Micheal will begin a professional career with Standard & Poor's.


Matthew Isaacs, "Sacred Violence or Strategic Faith? Disentangling the Relationship Between Religion and Violence in Armed Conflict," Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 53, No. 2 (March 2016).

Authored by Matthew Isaacs, Ph.D. candidate in Politics. Published in the March 2016 issue of the Journal of Peace Research. Work funded, in part, by the Research Circle on Democracy and Cultural Pluralism, Department of Politics, Brandeis University.

Abstract: Why are religious conflicts more violent than non-religious conflicts? Research has argued that religion pushes partisans toward violence. However, existing research suffers from widespread problems of measurement validity and fails to confront the possibility of endogeneity in the relationship between religion and violence. This article develops a more precise measure of the relevance of religion to conflict based on the use of religious rhetoric by political organizations. With this approach in mind, this article disentangles the causal sequence linking religious rhetoric and violence using annually coded data on the rhetoric of 495 organizations worldwide from 1970 through 2012. The analysis finds a strong general correlation between religious rhetoric and violence. However, past use of religious rhetoric does not increase the likelihood that an organization will participate in violence or the overall intensity of conflict. On the contrary, previous participation in violence makes an organization more likely to adopt religious rhetoric for mobilization. Indeed, religious rhetoric becomes more likely as violence increases in intensity and conflict continues for longer periods of time. These findings suggest that violent actors adopt religious rhetoric to solve the logistical challenges associated with violence, including access to mobilizing resources and recruitment and retention of members. This article contributes to the study of religious conflict by providing evidence of endogeneity in the relationship between religion and violence and highlighting the need for temporally sensitive measures of religious mobilization.

Steven L. Burg, "Identity, Grievances, and Popular Mobilization for Independence in Catalonia," Nationalism and Ethnic Politics, Vol. 21, No. 3 (August 2015), 289-312.

Authored by Steven L. Burg, Adlai E. Stevenson Professor of International Politics, published in the August 2015 issue of Nationalism and Ethnic Politics. Work funded, in part, by the Research Circle on Democracy and Cultural Pluralism, Department of Politics, Brandeis University. 

Abstract: Ted Robert Gurr explains group mobilization in terms of the joint effects of shared identity, economic and status grievances, and the actions of political entrepreneurs. This article examines the relative effects of identity, material grievances, and estimates of the consequences of independence on two key indicators of support for independence in Catalonia: declared preferences for independence and intentions to vote for independence in a future referendum. We examine the impact of political entrepreneurs by analyzing the vote for independence-oriented parties in the 2012 Catalan election. Our findings suggest mobilization is more a product of strong Catalan identity than of grievance, and that mitigation of Catalan demands will therefore require increasing the recognition and status of Catalonia in the Spanish state.

Steven L. Burg and Lachen T. Chernyha, "Asymmetric Devolution and Ethnoregionalism in Spain: Mass Preferences and the Microfoundations of Stability," Nationalism and Ethnic Politics, Vol. 19, No. 3 (August 2013).

Authored by Steven L. Burg, Adlai E. Stevenson Professor of International Politics and Lachen T. Chernyha '07 M.A. '08; published in the August 2013 issue of Nationalism and Ethnic PoliticsWork funded, in part, by the Research Circle on Democracy and Cultural Pluralism, Department of Politics, Brandeis University. 

Abstract: This article examines the impact of asymmetrical devolution on mass preferences for devolution and voting behavior in the regions of Spain. Rather than mitigating demands for greater devolution, asymmetry encourages the escalation of such demands in both the ethnically distinct and the majority-dominated regions. Preferences for symmetry and perceptions of inequality that result from asymmetry are transformed into pressures for further devolution via the electoral mechanism. These findings suggest asymmetrical devolution may be an unstable solution for managing ethnoregionalism, and that Stepan, Linz, and Yadov's strong endorsement of asymmetrical federalism as a tool for the management of ethnoregionalism in democracies should be qualified.

Lachen T. Chernyha and Steven L. Burg, "Accounting for the Effects of Identity on Political Behavior: Descent, Strength of Attachment, and Preferences in the Regions of Spain," Comparative Political Studies, Vol. 45, No. 6 (June 2012).

Authored by Lachen T. Chernyha '07, M.A. '08, and Steven L. Burg, Adlai E. Stevenson Professor of International Politics; published in the June 2012 issue of Comparative Political Studies. An earlier version of this research was presented at the the annual conference of The New England Political Science Association, Newport, RI (April 23, 2010). Work funded, in part, by the Research Circle on Democracy and Cultural Pluralism, Department of Politics, Brandeis University.

Abstract: This article examines the determinants of identification within the autonomous communities (ACs) of Spain and explores whether “activated identities” guide behavior. The authors test this hypothesized effect empirically and demonstrate that regional and especially (non-Spanish) national activated identity affect preferences for exclusionary policies and for greater autonomy or independence for the AC. Both preferences and activated identities increase the likelihood of voting for regional, rather than statewide, political parties. The authors argue that the strength of attachment to identity (i.e., to the AC to or Spain) and the effect of identities on preferences constitute the mechanisms that link identity to behaviors. Thus, the authors contribute to, and help to clarify, both the theoretical and empirical literatures focused on the relationship between identity and behaviors.

Conference Papers

Lachen T. Chernyha and Steven L. Burg, "Devolution and Democracy: Identity, Preferences, and Voting in the Spanish 'State of Autonomies'”

Authored by Lachen T. Chernyha ’07, M.A. ’08, and Steven L. Burg, Adlai E. Stevenson Professor of International Politics; presented at the conference on “Rethinking Ethnicity and Ethnic Strife: Multidisciplinary Perspectives” Central European University/Cornell University/University of Michigan, Budapest, September 25-27, 2008.

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