There has been some excellent research into the link between populism and religion in the last couple of years, but the topic arguably remains under-reported given its contemporary urgency. Religion and Global Society has therefore launched its first major editorial series on this very subject. We are publishing academics at the forefront of this discussion, and it is our hope that through this conversation we will better understand the populist appropriation of religion in the West and its potential consequences.
In recent years, populist movements in the West have upset established political norms and secured major victories against the erstwhile post-Cold War, liberal democratic status quo. Trump, Brexit and several insurgent parliamentary advances across Europe have all benefitted from, and exploited, a widespread sense of national decline, out-of-control immigration and a stifling political correctness in public life.
There are several complex economic, political and social causes of this populist wave. This series, however, will focus on something less tangible but of no less importance. That is, the role of religion. Religiosity and cultural Christianity, often linked to national myth and nostalgia, are themes that have been co-opted by populist movements. For their part, religious leaders and institutions have sometimes pushed back against this appropriation, and have sometimes embraced such populist tactics by seeing them as tools for furthering their own agendas.
In an apparently ever-less-religious West, how has Christian identity, however indirectly, proven to be such a focal point for populist discontent? Our Populism and Religion series unpicks this phenomenon.
Through overviews of the current situation across the West, as well as country-specific case studies, our expert contributors are grappling with the populist appropriation of religion and the attempt to absorb it into a group identity narrative which in turn identifies ‘elites’ and minority groups as dangerous Others. In helping us to better understand this key ingredient of populist sentiment, our contributors also point to potential ways out of this crisis of liberal democracy.
#1: ‘Us’ and the ‘Other’: How populists continue to hijack religion, by Nadia Marzouki and Duncan McDonnell
#3: Seeing is believing: ‘Clergy’, the Polish Catholic Church, and popular appeal, by Helena Chmielewska-Szlajfer
#5: The transcendental nation: The overlooked spiritual dimension of political polarisation, by Julian Göpffarth