Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


International Relations

First Advisor's Name

Eric Lob, PhD

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Chair

Second Advisor's Name

Ronald Cox, PhD

Second Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member

Third Advisor's Name

Qing Lai, PhD

Third Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member

Fourth Advisor's Name

Naisy Sarduy, PhD

Fourth Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member

Fifth Advisor's Name

Mark Tessler, PhD

Fifth Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member

Date of Defense



Contrary to the popular belief in IR that religion has no place within the political sphere, religion has been an integral part of the political and social fabric of the Middle East since the advent of Islam. States in the Arab Gulf, more specifically, have used religion and the religious establishment (Ulama) to proactively encourage support from the public when trying to permit or prohibit policies that would benefit or undermine state interests and objectives. For these states, religious discourse has become an essential tool to legitimate their authority and policies. By exploring this trend more closely, my dissertation fills a lacuna in the extant literature on the state-sponsored religious establishment in the Middle East and Arab Gulf by focusing on the role of religious elites or clerics in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and their attempt to use religion to influence public opinion toward the state domestically and regionally. In many cases, but not all, the ulama have become state-sponsored agents and have contributed to the dynamics of politics in the region being intertwined with interpretations of Islam and vice versa. Using a mixed-methods approach, I explore and compare the historical development of each state and the role of the religious establishment within the political sphere. I also use content analysis to examine religious sermons delivered by Saudi clerics sponsored by the Al-Saud as well as transnational ones sponsored by the UAE. These sermons illustrate the rhetoric and efforts of the religious establishment to appease political elites and galvanize the population in their favor. Finally, in the case of Saudi Arabia, I quantitatively correlate religious and sectarian discourse with public opinion data surrounding trust in government and perceptions of policies.






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