Stereotypes and Madrassas

Experimental Evidence from Pakistan

by Adeline Delavande, Basit Zafar

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Madrassas (Islamic religious seminaries) have been alleged to be responsible for fostering Islamic extremism and violence, and for indoctrinating their students in narrow worldviews. However, very little is known about the behavior of Madrassa students, and how other groups in their communities interact with them. To investigate this, the authors use unique experimental and survey data that they collected in Madrassas and other educational institutions in Pakistan. They randomly match male students from institutions of three distinct religious tendencies and socioeconomic background — Madrassas, Islamic Universities, and Liberal Universities — and observe their actions in several experiments of economic decision-making. First, they find a high level of trust among all groups, with students enrolled at Madrassas being the most trusting and exhibiting the highest level of unconditional other-regarding behavior. Second, within each group, they fail to find evidence of in-group bias or systematic out-group bias either in trust or tastes. These findings cast doubt on the general perception that Madrassas teach hatred and narrow worldviews. Third, they find that students of Liberal Universities underestimate the trustworthiness of Madrassa students, suggesting that an important segment of the society has mistaken stereotypes about students in religious seminaries.

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