Economic Shocks and Religious Conflict in Medieval India

Economic downturns can create conditions for conflict that may occur along religious or ethnic lines. In this paper, we provide arguably the first empirical evidence of this phenomenon in medieval India. Using centuries of geo-referenced data we document a positive relationship between weather fluctuations and the destruction of Hindu temples under Muslim rule. Specifically, during periods of large weather fluctuations a Muslim state is 0.4 percentage points more likely to desecrate a Hindu temple under its rule, compared to one outside its control (compared to no difference in probabilities in non-shock periods). We explore various mechanisms that could drive the ruler’s response including looting and battles, showing that maintaining regime stability by suppressing rebellions resulting from weather shocks is the likely explanation for this relationship.