Recent decades have seen an increased investment in Christian rhetoric, symbols and narratives among nationalist and populist actors in Europe and beyond. Examples range from apocalyptic tropes employed by far-right movements to more moderate references, by established nationalist parties, to Christianity as the backbone of Europe. In order to construct the identity of a nation or a ‘people’, these movements regularly draw on a purported common Christian heritage, using it to demarcate those who belong from those who do not. Yet this is not just a matter of ill-intended nationalist or populist movements ‘hijacking’ religion for political purposes. Christianity itself contains an array of tropes and motifs that lend themselves to such interpretations.
Despite often being used in the singular, the terms ‘nationalism’ and ‘populism’ both denote complex social and cultural phenomena that vary significantly according to their specific contexts. Nonetheless, a number of commonalities and ideological similarities can be identified, and there are often exchanges about practical matters between nationalist and populist movements. Furthermore, the way in which they interact and intertwine with religion and other cultural practices is specific to each case. The same complexity applies to ‘Christianity’. Christian individuals, communities and denominations are today deeply divided about questions pertaining to nationalism and European identity. As heated debates on immigration have shown, Christian symbols can be invoked to motivate liberal immigration politics as well as to stir up anti-immigration sentiments.
In response to these complex political and cultural processes, there is now a rapidly growing international interdisciplinary field of research that seeks to address the interconnections between Christianity and nationalism. The aim of this platform is to strengthen research in this field from a multidisciplinary perspective. The group of researchers linked to the platform comprises scholars from several disciplines in the humanities and social sciences: Church History, Educational Sciences, Ethics, Gender Studies, Global Christianity and Interreligious Relations, Jewish Studies, Law, Philosophy of Religion, Political Science, Sociology and Systematic Theology.
Although the platform’s focus will be on the interplay between Christianity and nationalism in the European context, this context is by no means exclusive. We are interested in comparative approaches and in dialogue with scholars working on nationalism and populism in relation to other religious traditions – in Europe and elsewhere. In addition, reflection on, above all, Muslim and Jewish perspectives plays a significant role in the platform’s research – for the simple reason that Islamophobia, anti-Judaism and antisemitism are often present in Christian nationalism.
In the years to come, several specific research projects will be developed within the platform. These projects will involve topics and themes such as:
- Political-theological motifs and the way in which they serve to buttress both nationalism and critiques of nationalism in contemporary Europe.
- Investigation of how Christian theology and populist thinking get woven together, as well as how Christian theology may be deployed to critique populist and nationalist thought.
- Exploration of the notion of ‘religious literacy’ as used in institutional contexts concerned with education in modern nation states.
- Historical case studies, such as the ways in which Christian doctrine served to challenge as well as to buttress nationalism in Nazi Germany.
- Exploring how ancient and early Medieval sources (Jewish, Christian and Muslim) can offer valuable correctives to contemporary political and religious ideologies regarding the religious ‘other’.
- Examining the fusion of Orthodox Christian identity-forming practices with nationalist binary codes and their counterintuitive effects on intergroup violence in Ukraine.
- Research on how Christianity, secularism and nationalism are interrelated, including how these concepts relate to Jews and Judaism as the crucial symbolic ‘other’ of Christian Europe.
- Exploration of the complex relationship between Christianity and nationalism by studying how grassroots Christian communities function as sites of both production and contestation of nationalist ideologies.
- Tracing the anthropological, political and theological implications of new apocalyptic movements, such as QAnon, which straddle the boundaries of American Evangelical Christianity and right-wing nationalism.
The platform invites scholars and others to join and participate in various ways.
- by being informed and updated through the electronic newsletter and the podcast
- by attending regular seminars organised by the platform
- by reading publications by members of the platform
- by collaborating in international research project initiatives