Religious Origins of Political Regimes: Theory with Experimental Evidence from Russia

46 Pages Posted: 14 Jul 2012 Last revised: 25 Jul 2012

See all articles by Theocharis Grigoriadis

Theocharis Grigoriadis

Free University of Berlin (FUB) - Department of Business and Economics

Date Written: 2012


This paper argues that religious norms matter for the economic nature and transformation of political regimes. Religion is defined as a commitment device between the leader and his selectorate. More collectivist religions require a higher threshold of public goods provision by the government. In the collectivism-individualism continuum, Islam is treated as the most collectivist and Protestantism as the most individualist religion, while Judaism is denoted as the median religion. Eastern Orthodoxy and Catholicism are located in intermediate points between Judaism and Islam or Protestantism respectively. In the analysis of dominant religions in Eastern Europe and the Near East, this ordered sequence of public goods thresholds is defined by the structure of the Eastern Orthodox, Jewish and Islamic collectives: the monastery, the kibbutz, and the tariqa. Popular demand for public goods is shaped by religious norms. Leaders consider those in order to decide the intensity and nature of modernization. Regime transition occurs when the leader is not able to meet the public goods threshold. Contrary to conventional wisdom, modernization does not reduce the influence of religious norms on public goods distribution and can facilitate transition both to democracy and dictatorship. To support my theory empirically I examine experimentally the effects of collectivism on public goods contributions by regional bureaucrats in Tomsk and Novosibirsk, Russia. I expand the standard public goods experiment with three treatments, which I define as degrees of Orthodox collectivist enforcement: 1. Solidarity, 2. Obedience, and 3. Universal discipline. I argue for an Eastern Orthodox rationality in the Russian bureaucracy that prioritizes collective welfare over individual profit. Russian Orthodox collectivism is implemented through Bayesian and universal disciplinary monitoring such that hierarchical revelation of individual contributions and enforcement of collective punishment occur. Contrary to conventional wisdom about free-riding in administrative institutions, higher ranks in Russian Orthodox bureaucracies are associated with higher levels of contributions and enforcement.

Keywords: Democracy, dictatorship, collectivism, individualism, modernization, regime transition, Eastern Orthodoxy, Judaism, Islam, bureaucracy, Siberia, incomplete information, hierarchy

JEL Classification: P1, P2, P3, P5, B14, B15, B16

Suggested Citation

Grigoriadis, Theocharis, Religious Origins of Political Regimes: Theory with Experimental Evidence from Russia (2012). APSA 2012 Annual Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN:

Theocharis Grigoriadis (Contact Author)

Free University of Berlin (FUB) - Department of Business and Economics ( email )

Boltzmannstrasse 20
D-14195 Berlin, 14195

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