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Religiosity and Support for Militancy in Afghanistan:
Reassessing the Causal Relationship
Initial registration date
June 26, 2020
June 30, 2020 11:56 PM EDT
Other Primary Investigator(s)
Additional Trial Information
Muslim countries have experienced a drastic rise in the number of civil wars, and religion is assumed to be central to these armed conflicts. Muslims in countries experiencing armed conflicts perform religious rituals more frequently and express stronger religious beliefs than Muslims in peaceful countries. These patterns have led researchers to focus on whether and to what extent religiosity leads to support for violence among Muslims. This study argues that we need to focus on the reverse causal relationship: how violence leads to religious intensity as a psychological coping mechanism. Building on psychological theories of religion, I argue that exposure to violence leads to religious intensity among civilians, regardless of their support for Islamist militant groups. After exposure to violence, those who are initially less supportive of Islamist militant groups express stronger religious beliefs but even less support for Islamist militant groups and religious institutions supporting Islamist militancy. The research design takes advantage of the as-if random nature of insurgent violence and includes a survey experiment to assess how reminding civilians the increased risk of violence affects their religious beliefs.
This study includes a baseline survey that is currently being administered in Kabul. The follow-up survey will be conducted with the same respondents after the rise of insurgent violence in the fall. Both rounds of survey include an experimental module that combines priming, an
endorsement experiment, and a donation exercise. One third of the respondents are
randomly primed and reminded of the increasing risk of suicide attacks in Kabul if the peace
process fails. Another third are reminded of the prospect of a drastic decline in violence if
the peace process succeeds. The remaining respondents will be administered a neutral prime.
The objective is to study how reminding the respondents of the risk of suicide attacks
affects religious beliefs and support for Islamist militant groups and religious institutions. In
terms of religious beliefs, the experimental module concentrates on how the primes affect the
respondents' belief in a controlling God.
Intervention Start Date
Intervention End Date
Primary Outcomes (end points)
Religiosity, belief in a controlling God
Primary Outcomes (explanation)
For measuring religiosity, the survey includes a religiosity index, a battery of questions
that cover both individual spirituality -- prayers, recitation of the Quran and beliefs in the
afterlife -- and social aspects of religion, such as participation in congregations and religious
ceremonies. In addition, the survey assesses religious beliefs, particularly the belief in a controlling God, measured through these three
• Consider the safety of your family. How much do you think it depends on your efforts
and how much it depends on God's help?
• Think about earning money to make a livelihood for your family. In your opinion how
much does it depend on your efforts and how much does it depend on God's help?
• How much do you think not catching a disease such as COVID-19 depends on your
precaution and how much does it depend on God's help?
Secondary Outcomes (end points)
Support for the Taliban, support for religious institutions
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)
Support for the Taliban is measured using an endorsement experiment with questions on
policies that are relevant for Afghanistan. These questions reflect views that are usually
supported by the Taliban and other conservative religious circles in the Afghan society. Half
of the respondents will be randomly administered the questions without the endorsement
statement (the sentence enclosed in square brackets). The other half will be administered the question
with the endorsement statement.
• Some people believe that the spread of diseases is due to people being sinful. [Taliban
also agree with this view.] What is your opinion?
• Some people believe that women could be treated by female doctors only. [Taliban also
agree with this view.] What is your opinion?
• Some people believe that women should be allowed to work in hospitals only, and not
in other places. [The Taliban also support this view.] What is your opinion?
For assessing support for religious institutions, the survey incorporates a donation exercise.
For each interview, 55 Afs (around 75 cents) will be donated either to a mosque, a public
school, or a madrasa. However, the decision to allocate money to these institutions will be
left to respondents. The respondents will be randomized into three conditions. In 1/3 of the
interviews, the respondents will be asked to decide how 55 Afs should be donated between
a public school and a madrasa. In another third of interviews, they are asked to divide the
donation money between a public school and a mosque. In the remaining third, they are
asked to divide the money between a mosque and a madrasa. Mosques represent places of worship and are usually more liberal than madrasas -- particularly in Kabul. With government's oversight of mosques in Kabul, public sermons delivered
in Kabul mosques are rarely supportive of the Taliban or their ideology. On the contrary,
the government has a limited oversight of madrasas and their curricular. Since Madrasas
are often funded by fundamentalist circles in the Gulf states, they are perceived to be more
supportive of the Taliban ideology and sometimes even provide recruitment pools for the
Taliban and other insurgent groups. Public schools represent educational institutions that
are secular, compared to mosques and madrasas.
Since the donation exercise asks the respondents to allocate the money between these
institutions in a zero-sum manner, the exercise can provide a good indicator of support
for secular institutions, liberal religious institutions and religious institutions that usually
support Islamist militant groups. This exercise provides another method for exploring the
nuanced relationship between violence and support for religious institutions.
The respondents are randomly administered three different primes. One third of respondents will be reminded the increasing risk of violence and suicide attacks in Kabul if the current peace process fails. Another one third will be reminded the prospect for a significant decline in violence if the current peace process succeeds. The remaining third will be reminded the benefits of exercise.
Experimental Design Details
The data collection is done using smart phones and SurveyCTO -- a platform with a mobile application for electronic data collection. The randomization of primes is conducted automatically by the SurveyCTO application.
Was the treatment clustered?
Sample size: planned number of clusters
The treatment is not clustered.
Sample size: planned number of observations
1600 male adult respondents
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
1600 interviews for the baseline survey and follow-up interviews with the same respondents
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)
Based on similar studies, 3 to 5 percentage points
Supporting Documents and Materials
IRB Approval - Afghanistan MoPH
The IRB approval by the Afghanistan Ministry of Public Health
IRB - Modification Approval
The IRB modification approval by Princeton University
IRB - Modification Approval
June 26, 2020
IRB Approval - Princeton University
IRB approval by Princeton University
INSTITUTIONAL REVIEW BOARDS (IRBs)
Afghanistan Ministry of Public Health
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number
Post Trial Information
Is the intervention completed?
Is data collection complete?