How State Support of Religion Shapes Attitudes Toward Muslim Immigrants. New Evidence from a Subnational Comparison

40 Pages Posted: 7 Jan 2015 Last revised: 8 Jan 2015

See all articles by Marc Helbling

Marc Helbling

University of Bamberg

Richard Traunmüller

Goethe University Frankfurt

Date Written: January 6, 2015


Why do so many citizens in European democracies fear Muslim immigration, dislike Muslims’ religious practices and oppose their religious rights? Looking at political contexts, this paper offers a new explanation and argues that governments play a considerable role in shaping citizens’ attitudes toward the Muslim minority through the way they regulate religion. European democracies are far from secular and matters of religious regulation cannot be reduced to abstract values or constitutional clauses. Under conditions of high state support of religion, accommodating new religious minorities not only involves the changing of existing rules but giving up on longstanding traditions, the loss of privileges, and everyday habits. As a result, citizens see religious newcomers as a threat to their way of life and react with animosity to their practices and demands. We support our argument by combining newly designed survey items on attitudes towards Muslims, the headscarf and the minaret with original data on religious regulation in a subnational comparison of 26 political contexts in Switzerland – a case whose accommodation of religious differences was praised by the classics of comparative politics but has now become a striking example for the new political conflict over Muslim immigration. Our findings contradict the extant literature and have important implications for the democratic challenges in Europe, the quality of modern immigration societies, and the role of religion in democracy more generally.

Keywords: Muslim Immigration, Religious Regulation, Subnational Analysis, Religion and Democracy

Suggested Citation

Helbling, Marc and Traunmüller, Richard, How State Support of Religion Shapes Attitudes Toward Muslim Immigrants. New Evidence from a Subnational Comparison (January 6, 2015). Available at SSRN: or

Marc Helbling

University of Bamberg ( email )

Feldkirchenstrasse 21
Bamberg, 96045

Richard Traunmüller (Contact Author)

Goethe University Frankfurt ( email )

Grüneburgplatz 1
Frankfurt am Main, 60323

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