The Spirit of Populism

Is populism on the rise? Across the political spectrum, populism is considered a catch-all category to be critiqued.

Is populism on the rise? Across the political spectrum, populism is considered a catch-all category to be critiqued: describing something as populist and dismissing something as populist go hand in hand. But theological justifications of populism, such as the identification of Christianity with Europe, resonate with mainstream political positions that are articulated and accepted in the public square.

The critique of populism parallels and points to a critique of the role of theology in politics. This critique can come either as a rejection of the politicization of theology (presupposing that genuine theology ought to be non-political) or as a rejection of the theologization of politics (presupposing that genuine politics ought to be non-theological). What runs through these critiques is the assumption that claims to theology cause the populist polarization of the public square. Is populism yet another resurrection of Carl Schmitt? Whether populism is interpreted as an authentic account of religion or as an inauthentic appropriation of religion for political ends, it needs to be carefully examined and critically explored. Does theology in politics automatically lead to populism? Does populism automatically lead to theology in politics? What indeed is the role of political theologies in polarized times?


Download the full programme here

Monday, 2 September, 2019

09:00 – 09:30              Registration

09:30 – 10:00              Welcome – Joshua Ralston & Ulrich Schmiedel (Edinburgh)

10:00 – 11:00              Liz Fekete (Institute of Race Relations): Enemy Images, Culture Wars and Far-Right Political Terror in Europe

11:00 – 11:15              Break

11:15 – 12:45              Populism and Nationalism

  • Mariëtta D.C. van der Tol (Cambridge): The ‘Christian Nation’ in Protestant Political Thought: Old Wine in New Bottles
  • Doug Gay (Glasgow): Discipling Populism and Nationalism – A Theopolitical Alternative to Denial or Demonising
  • Jonathan Chaplin (Cambridge): A Political Theology of ‘The People’: Enlisting Classical Concepts for Contemporary Critique

12:45 – 13:45              Lunch

13:45 – 15:15              Populism and Europeanism

  • Lukas Meyer (Munich): The God of the Populists and a Theology of Europe
  • Hannah M. Strømmen (Chichester): Scriptures and Scripts of Populism: On Populist Reading Practices
  • Joseph Sverker (Stockholm): Confessing Christ in a ‘Christian Europe’

15:15 – 15:45              Coffee/Tea

15:45 – 16:45              Brian Klug (Oxford): ‘If I forget Thee, O Jerusalem’: Zionism and the Politics of Collective Memory

16:45 – 17:00              Break

 17:00 – 18:00              Adrienne Dengerink Chaplin (London): Radicalisation and Reconciliation: The Role of Art in Times of Theopolitical Conflict (including tour of the exhibition ‘Art, Conflict & Remembering: The Murals of the Bogside Artists)

18:00 – 19:00              Reception


Tuesday, 3 September

09:15 – 10:15              Vincent Lloyd (Villanova): Anger: A Secularized Theological Concept

10:15 – 10:30              Coffee/Tea

10:30 – 12:00              Populism and Liberalism

  • Johanna Gustafson Lundberg (Lund): Populism as Political Theology? Reframing Secular/Religious Divisions in Polarized Times
  • Tommy Lynch (Chichester): ‘Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not after you’: Populism, Political Theology and the Limits of Liberalism
  • Hans-Martien ten Napel (Leiden): The Revival of (Christian) Political Theology

12:00 – 12:15              Break

12:15 – 13:30              Populism and Christianism

  • Marie Gayte and Blandine Chelini-Pont (Toulon): Donald Trump’s Religious Enablers: Their Tools and Their Goals
  • Igor Solunac (The Soul of Europe):Populism in the Balkans

13:30 – 14:30              Lunch

14:30 – 15:30              Mattias Martinson (Uppsala): Populism, Christianity, and the Role of the Theologian

15:30 – 16:00              Coffee/Tea

16:00 – 17:30              Populism and Liberationism

  • Esther McIntosh (York St John): Christian Populism: Donald Trump, Brexit and the Effects of Misogyny
  • J Andrew Calloway (San Diego): The Spirit of Black Theology from Within the Black Populace
  • Ludger Viefhus-Bailey (LeMoynes): Querying Populism by Queering Chantal Mouffe: Understanding Hetero-Patriarchal Populism

17:30 – 17:45              Break

17:45 – 18:45              Elizabeth Shakman Hurd (Northwestern): Political Theologies of American Exceptionalism

 18:45 – 19:00              Goodbye – Joshua Ralston & Ulrich Schmiedel (Edinburgh)


This conference is sponsored by the Centre for Theology and Public Issuesand the Christian-Muslim Studies Network with support from the Henry Luce Foundation.