Media Releases

Liberal democracy is possible in Muslim-majority countries

August 26, 2014

TORONTO, ON — A new study by Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to and Uni­ver­si­ty of Tübin­gen researchers sug­gests that Islam is not as much of an imped­i­ment to lib­er­al democ­ra­cy as is often thought.

“One of the key mark­ers for a suc­cess­ful lib­er­al democ­ra­cy is a high degree of social tol­er­ance,” says U of T soci­ol­o­gist Robert Ander­sen. “We want­ed to see the extent to which this exist­ed in coun­tries with a major­i­ty of Mus­lims com­pared to West­ern coun­tries.”

Ander­sen, U of T soci­ol­o­gist Robert Brym and Scott Mil­li­gan of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Tübin­gen  used data from the World Val­ues Sur­vey – a glob­al research project that explores people’s val­ues and beliefs, how they change over time and what social and polit­i­cal impact they have.  They com­pared lev­els of racial, immi­grant and reli­gious tol­er­ance by age, gen­der, edu­ca­tion lev­el, reli­gios­i­ty, eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment, eco­nom­ic inequal­i­ty and oth­er fac­tors in Mus­lim-major­i­ty and West­ern coun­tries.

“We found that peo­ple liv­ing in Mus­lim-major­i­ty coun­tries are on aver­age less tol­er­ant than peo­ple liv­ing in the West,” said Brym. “How­ev­er, a sig­nif­i­cant part of the rea­son for this dif­fer­ence is that Mus­lim-major­i­ty coun­tries tend to be less eco­nom­i­cal­ly devel­oped and more eco­nom­i­cal­ly unequal than West­ern coun­tries.”

Their study also found that:

  • the most social­ly tol­er­ant cat­e­go­ry of peo­ple are non-prac­tis­ing Mus­lims liv­ing in West­ern coun­tries.
  • in Mus­lim-major­i­ty coun­tries, there is no dif­fer­ence between Chris­tians and Mus­lims in terms of their lev­el of social tol­er­ance.
  • in at least one West­ern coun­try – France – Chris­tians are less tol­er­ant than Mus­lims are.

“Our find­ings sug­gest that, in Mus­lim-major­i­ty coun­tries, the nature of socio-eco­nom­ic con­di­tions and polit­i­cal regimes sup­ports a rel­a­tive­ly high lev­el of social intol­er­ance. Tak­ing these fac­tors into account, Islam still has a sig­nif­i­cant effect on intol­er­ance in Mus­lim-major­i­ty coun­tries, but that is large­ly because state and reli­gion are so tight­ly inter­twined,” said Brym.

The study, “Assess­ing Vari­a­tion in Tol­er­ance in 23 Mus­lim-Major­i­ty and West­ern Coun­tries,” is pub­lished in this month’s Cana­di­an Review of Soci­ol­o­gy.


Robert Ander­sen
Depart­ment of Soci­ol­o­gy
Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to
Tel: 226–973-8275

Robert Brym
Depart­ment of Soci­ol­o­gy
Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to
Tel: 416–508-6117

Kim Luke
Fac­ul­ty of Arts & Sci­ence
Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to
Tel: 416–978-4352