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Cross-national Variations and Trends in Islamic Fundamentalism

a PSC Research Project

Investigator:   Arland Thornton

Since the second half of the 20th century, the dominant trend among intellectual leaders in Islamic countries has been to resort to religion in trying to resolve the sociopolitical and cultural issues their countries have encountered, hence the creation of religious discourses that have given rise to diverse religious movements. These movements have taken an increasingly extremist turn in the form of either revolutionary Shi'ism spearheaded by the ruling clerics in Iran or Sunni extremism led by al-Qaeda.

This project intends to identify the social, cultural, and perceptual factors that influence the population that is sympathetic to these trends-the Shi'i and Sunni fundamentalism (the "gray layer"). It addresses two broad questions: To what extent does the rise of fundamentalism reflect the decline of Western influence in Islamic countries? To what extent is it related to the current sociopolitical and cultural conditions of these countries?

This project focuses on Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia, which are the major trouble areas for the U.S. national security. It draws on Thornton's (2005) developmental idealism perspective and measurement model in order to inspect the extent of the penetration of Western values in these countries. Then, it assesses the relationship with the West. Next, it develops a model to explain cultural change and the conditions of the rise of Islamic fundamentalism. Finally, it constructs a series of key indicators that are useful in predicting trends in values change among the Islamic publics. It uses survey research methodology to collect data on mass-level belief systems in these countries.

Funding Period: 06/01/2009 to 11/30/2011

Countries of Focus: Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia

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