Sean Rao is a doctoral candidate in government and politics at the University of Maryland. His three-article dissertation studies religion and other strong ideologies as signals of political commitment, rather than signals only of identity or instrumental means of seeking power. The first article illustrates this relationship at the cross-national level with a novel dataset on self-determination organizations and shows that religious organizations and those with strong secular ideologies, as well as those with visible commitments, are more likely to persist over time. The second article illustrates this relationship at the microlevel. Using a lab survey experiment, that article shows that religion can signal a commitment from candidate over a specific policy to individual voters. The third article, using in-depth interviews of the Arab parties of Israel, shows that the commitment signal may not always work for effective mobilization if it is accompanied by state policies which condition the signal with an additional signal of a higher cost of participation. His other research interests include the spread of religious commitment signals on social media, American public opinion on foreign policy, particularly related to religious and national identity, and how social ties, often formed over religious activity, can condition the behavior of rebel organizations. He is a Fulbright alumnus who carried out fieldwork in summer 2021 in Israel.


  • Degree Type
    Degree Details
    Government and Politics, University of Maryland, College Park, 2017
  • Degree Type
    Degree Details
    Political Science, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 2015
  • Degree Type
    Degree Details
    International Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2011


  • 2021-05-01
    Fulbright One Semester Doctoral Study Award
  • 2022-01-01
    Humane Studies Fellowship
  • 2022-04-06
    UMD Graduate Research Appreciation Day (GRAD) (Graduate Student Government Interdisciplinary Conference), 3rd Place Presentation


  • "Exclusive and Inclusive Religious and National Values: The Case of American Views on Israel." Presented at the Midwest Political Science Association Conference.


  • Praying Together and Staying Together: Faction Survival in Self-Determination Movements (Dissertation, First Article)
  • Mechanisms of Religious Rhetoric and Political Mobilization (Dissertation, Second Article)
  • True Believers in Politics: Ideational and Solidary Rewards among the Palestinian Arab Citizens of Israel (Dissertation, Third Article)
  • Exclusive and Inclusive Religious and National Values: The Case of American Views on Israel (Stand-Alone Article)
  • Rebel Group Origins and Civilian Victimization (Co-authored with Jessica Maves Braithwaite, Kathleen Gallagher Cunningham, and Margaret McWeeney)

Research Topics

  • Comparative Politics
  • International Relations
GVPT Graduate Student Organization Co-Chair, 2016-2017
Graduate Faculty Mentor Award Committee, Student Member, Spring 2019
Sean Rao
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Government and Politics Department
seanrao [at]
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