Essays on the Economics and Politics of Religious Institutions

Tolga Benzer

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisCollection of Articles


The first essay studies the impact of access to state-run modern Islamic schools on girls' educational attainment, fertility, and labor market participation in Turkey. In contrast to secular schools, Islamic schools in Turkey offered a hybrid curriculum that also included religious instruction, a more conservative school environment, and a more tolerant attitude toward the use of headscarves. Islamic schools expanded rapidly in the mid-1970s, and girls achieved the legal right to attend these schools after a ruling by the secular highest administrative court in 1976. Exploiting the variation in exposure to Islamic schools across districts and cohorts, I find that girls exposed to Islamic schools were more likely to complete lower and upper secondary school, while the corresponding effects for boys were small and nonsignificant. Moreover, affected women had lower fertility and higher labor force participation during early adulthood. My results suggest that making educational institutions inclusive toward culturally excluded groups by eliminating cultural barriers to education help to keep these groups in school and integrate them into public life. The second essay studies the impact of the establishment of state-run modern Islamic schools during the 1970s on electoral outcomes in Turkey. Exploit-ing the variation in exposure to Islamic schools across district centers and election years, I find that district centers with an Islamic school voted significantly more for Islamist parties after exposure to Islamic schools. The effect appears after prolonged exposure to Islamic schools, once affected student cohorts came of voting age. The faster increase in Islamist support is more pronounced in district centers with initial lower attachment to secularist parties that were right-wing strongholds. My findings indicate that policymakers with religious affiliations can utilize religious schooling as centers for the promotion of religious politics to achieve electoral success in secular electoral democracies. The third essay studies the long-term impact of Christian missions in colonial Egypt on present-day electoral outcomes. I combine contemporary census and election data at the district level with historical information on the spatial distribution of Christian missionaries and Muslim Brotherhood branches in early twentieth-century Egypt. I document a robust negative association between proximity to historical Christian missions and the support for Muslim Brotherhood in the 2012 Egyptian presidential elections. I do not find any relationship between Christian missions and historical Muslim Brotherhood presence. Finally, I present evidence that missions' lasting effect is partly explained by increased education and urbanization.
Translated title of the contributionEssays on the Economics and Politics of Religious Institutions
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor's degree
Awarding Institution
  • Aalto University
  • Sarvimäki, Matti, Supervising Professor
  • Pekkarinen, Tuomas, Thesis Advisor
  • Liski, Matti, Thesis Advisor
  • Domnisoru, Ciprian, Thesis Advisor
Print ISBNs978-952-64-0879-8
Electronic ISBNs978-952-64-0880-4
Publication statusPublished - 2022
MoE publication typeG5 Doctoral dissertation (article)


  • culture
  • religion
  • education
  • women's empowerment
  • religious schools
  • Islam
  • christianity
  • political Islam


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