Religious Populism across the East-West Divide: Toward an Analytic Framework

Efe Peker, University of Ottawa
Emily Laxer, York University

The increasing prominence of religion in social and political life since the 1980s has been extensively discussed in the social scientific literature. Starting with Iran’s Islamic Revolution and Poland’s Solidarity movement, and continuing with developments such as the rise of global Pentecostalism, Sunni Islamic fundamentalism, Hindu nationalism, and the Protestant right in US politics, the “going public” of religions is widely documented. At the same time as scholars are acknowledging the transition to an age of post-secularity, research has demonstrated that populism is currently on the rise in Western and non-Western political systems. In this paper, we examine the interrelationship between these tandem processes by considering how populist movements utilize religion as a means to legitimize and consolidate their political power, and how, in turn, religious groups and organizations respond to such appropriation. We compare cases from major world religions – namely Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism – in both Western and non-Western societies. Drawing on the social movements literature, our analysis brings forth the framing strategies, mobilizing structures, and political opportunities of populist movements across the world in relation to their majority religions. Our findings reveal the multifaceted ways that populist actors deploy religion as they seek to draw clear and resonant boundaries between the real “people”, a corrupt “elite”, and a threatening minority “other.” This process also involves an intimate dialogue with history, where populist politics reframes the memory of the national in closer connection with religious belonging. We conclude that, by focusing primarily on Western populisms, much prior research has obscured the variegated ways that religion gets articulated across the East-West divide by 21st century populist movements.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 43. Religion, Nationalism, and Populism