A systematic comparative study of the values and attitudes of the publics from Islamic countries started as a collaborative project between Mansoor Moaddel, currently at the University of Maryland, but then at Eastern Michigan University, and Ronald Inglehart of the University of Michigan, in 1999. This collaboration was a convergence of two different research programs the two investigators were conducting. Inglehart had been leading the World Values Survey (WVS) program for more than two decades. The WVS was designed to provide a comprehensive measure of all major areas of human concern, from religion to politics to economic and social life. Inglehart’s interest has been to inspect, analyze, and explain the pattern and process of values change and modernization in different countries and in delineating the world’s cultural zones. To this end, he has constructed two key dimensions of values structures underpinning cross-national variations in values. One varies along the continuum from traditional to secular values and the other from survival to self-expression values. The first reflects that contrast between societies in which religion is very important and those in which it is not. The second dimension of cross-cultural variation is linked with the transition from industrial society to post-industrial societies, which brings a polarization between survival and self-expression values.
The Muslim representation in the WVS, however, was limited. Of the sixty-six countries that were covered by the World Values Survey before 2000, only five were Islamic countries. These were Albania (1998), Bangladesh (1996), Pakistan (1997), and Turkey (1990, 1996). Nigeria (1990, 1995), which is about fifty percent Muslim, was also included in these surveys. Without adequate representation of the publics from Islamic countries, it may not be possible to have the knowledge of a full range of cross-national variations in values. Inglehart and the World Values Survey Association were naturally interested in filling this gap and assessing the points of convergence and divergence of the value structures of the Islamic publics with the Western as well as the rest of the world.
Moaddel has been involved in a comparative project on diverse ideological movements in the Islamic world that emerged in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This project grew out of his work on religious movements in Iran in the modern period, the Iranian revolution of 1979, and attempts to incorporate the role of ideology in the causes and processes of revolution. Moaddel’s analysis of this revolution rested on one simple premise: the revolutionary phenomenon is more than such objective changes as rapid breakdown of the administrative and military organizations of the state, the construction of a new political order, and replacement of one set of power holders by another. In addition to its content, the revolutionary phenomenon is a particular mode of historical action shaped by a revolutionary ideology. He argues that the dominant ideology of the Iranian revolution—the revolutionary Shi’ism—was not an inevitable reflection of social structure. Rather, it was produced within Iran’s socioeconomic, cultural, and political context in the 1960s and 1970s.
To more fully explain the process of ideological production, it was, however, necessary to go beyond a single-country study and explore the connection between cross-national and historical variation in ideologies and variation in social conditions. Moaddel launched a comparative historical project in order to explain this process by analyzing the origins of Islamic modernism in Egypt, India, and Iran; liberalism and nationalism in Egypt; anti-clerical secularism, Constitutionalism, and economic nationalism in Iran; and Arabism and Arab nationalism in Syria; and Islamic fundamentalism in Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Jordan, and Syria. His analysis focused on the writings, social or political orientations, and socioeconomic background of the intellectual leaders from these countries.
Moaddel’s comparative study of mass-level belief systems in the Islamic world was a continuation of this project in that he was interested in assessing the degree to which the causal dynamics at work in shaping the expressions and orientations of ideological producers are useful in explaining the cross-national variations and trends in value orientations of the publics. After all, the issues in relation to which intellectual leaders formulated their discourses were also the concerns of the publics at large.
One of the advantages of having conducted the comparative historical work was that it provided the deeper context necessary to understand and interpret findings from values surveys. The knowledge of the role of historical specificities, variations in social institutions, and changes in class relations in explaining the origins of diverse discourses was certainly useful in designing a values-survey questionnaire that taps into the distinctive experience of the Islamic publics. At the same time, this background made the PI better prepared to recognize and address such issues in comparative values surveys as the cultural embeddedness of the social-scientific concepts used in Western social sciences, the intercultural transferability of scientific taxonomy, data quality and the problem of preference falsification, and reconciliation of contradictory findings.