How State Support of Religion Shapes Attitudes Toward Muslims

37 Pages Posted: 31 Mar 2014

See all articles by Marc Helbling

Marc Helbling

University of Bamberg

Richard Traunmüller

University of Essex - Department of Government

Date Written: March 26, 2014


Given the salience of political conflicts over Muslim immigration in many Western countries, it is surprising how little we know about the reasons why Muslims are resented and their religious practices opposed. This paper takes a look at political factors and argues that governments shape citizens’ attitudes toward the Muslim minority through the way they regulate religion. Under conditions of high state support of religion, accommodating religious minorities not only involves the changing of existing rules but giving up on long-standing traditions, the loss of privileges, and everyday habits. As a result, citizens will see religious newcomers as a threat to their way of life and react with animosity to their practices and demands. We support our argument, which differs from existing ones in the literature, by combining newly designed survey items with original data on religious regulation in a subnational comparison of the Swiss case. Results and robustness checks show that citizens living in political contexts with higher levels of state support of religion are more likely to think that there are too many Muslims in the country and that the building of minarets should be banned. Results for attitudes on Muslim women’s right to wear headscarves in public point in a similar direction. The paper contributes to the recent growth in scholarly interest in public attitudes toward immigrants in general and Muslim immigrants in particular.

Keywords: Immigration, Muslims, religion, state-church regimes

JEL Classification: F22, Z1, D72, J68

Suggested Citation

Helbling, Marc and Traunmüller, Richard, How State Support of Religion Shapes Attitudes Toward Muslims (March 26, 2014). Available at SSRN: or

Marc Helbling (Contact Author)

University of Bamberg ( email )

Feldkirchenstrasse 21
Bamberg, 96045

Richard Traunmüller

University of Essex - Department of Government ( email )

Wivenhoe Park
Colchester CO4 3SQ, CO4 3SQ
United Kingdom

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