Adam HoweFollow

Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science

First Advisor's Name

Barry Levitt

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Chair

Second Advisor's Name

Tatiana Kostadinova

Second Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member

Third Advisor's Name

John Clark

Third Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member

Fourth Advisor's Name

Steven Vose

Fourth Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member


State Capacity, Authoritarian Regimes, Religious Organizations, Southeast Asia

Date of Defense



This dissertation examines the complex relationship between state capacity, authoritarian regimes and religious organizations in Southeast Asia and beyond. Through an interdisciplinary synthesis of secondary literatures in Comparative Politics, Sociology, and Religious Studies, complemented by archival research conducted at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, this dissertation argues that relative state capacity endowment shapes the strategies that authoritarian regime elites employ against domestic religious organizations as a means of ensuring regime survival.

Through typological theory-building and a comparative case-study methodology, I argue that state capacity, imagined in terms of both bureaucratic/administrative and coercive components, influences whether authoritarian regime elites decide to pursue policies of cooptation (bribery, patronage, and political appointments) or coercion (incarceration, threats, violence) vis-à-vis religious organizations. Comparative case- study analysis of the relationship between authoritarian regimes and religious organizations in Burma, Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Poland, and Nicaragua reveals clear variations in regime elite strategies across time and space.

My findings demonstrate that authoritarian regime elites in states with strong bureaucratic/ administrative capacity and strong coercive capacity have relied on cooptation as their preferred strategy for containing threats posed by religious organizations, while regime elites in states with weak bureaucratic/ administrative capacity and strong coercive capacity have instead tended to employ violence against these groups. Finally, regime elites in states with weak bureaucratic/administrative capacity and weak coercive capacity have cycled, unsuccessfully, between policies of cooptation and coercion in the hopes of containing powerful domestic religious organizations. The comparative analysis in this dissertation provides a nuanced explanation for how authoritarian regime elites leverage state resources to counter threats posed by symbolically powerful religious groups and contributes a new mid-range theory of state-society relations with implications for authoritarian regimes far beyond the region.





Rights Statement

Rights Statement

In Copyright. URI:
This Item is protected by copyright and/or related rights. You are free to use this Item in any way that is permitted by the copyright and related rights legislation that applies to your use. For other uses you need to obtain permission from the rights-holder(s).