Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)


Political Science

Committee Chair(s)

Greg Goelzhauser


Greg Goelzhauser


Anna Pechenkina


Laura Gamboa


Norm Jones


Why do governments restrict religious freedom? As more and more governments have adopted restrictive policies over the past thirty years, scholars have traditionally examined internal domestic factors—such as the role of democratic governance, economic growth, or internal competition—that may influence government choices. I build on this literature by extending the discussion to external factors, arguing that some policies may also spread from one government to another. This process, identified by scholars as the idea of policy diffusion, may occur in several ways.

While previous research has focused on the spread of policies that are generally considered positive (i.e. the spread of democracy), I extend the literature by specifically focusing on the spread of restrictive policies. I argue that these policies may spread across countries through several specific mechanisms: geographic neighbors may observe each other, policymakers may learn generally from the adoption of policies throughout the world, countries may imitate the examples of others they consider powerful, or the merits of a policy may be socially constructed within groups of countries that have similar cultures.

To examine these theoretical assumptions, I first compile a dataset that captures years of policy adoption for twenty types of restrictive government religion policy based on the information available from the Religion and State (RAS) Project for 175 countries between 1990 and 2008. I then test the data with several statistical models that allow me to compare the extent to which the proposed mechanisms change the likelihood that a government will adopt a restrictive policy. Through these tests, I find moderate statistical support for the assumption that all four of the policy mechanisms examined increase the odds of restrictive policy adoption.