The politics of national identity

October 25th, 2016

Religion in nation-building and nation-changing

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Image via Flickr user Quinn DombrowskiThe articles by Rogers Brubaker, Genevieve Zubrzycki, and Muhacit Bilici are all about the religious and secular self, and the religious and secular other, and about the relationship between the secular and the religious in processes of nation building, national rebranding, or nation repositioning. They are also about how nations and religious communities are constructed transnationally and about how that intersects with nation-building and nation-changing processes.

So how do these three analyses fit together and what do they tell us about religion and nationalism?

They are all about how ghosts or religious traces stay within the secular: How Catholicism stays present in Quebec and Christianity stays present in the Netherlands. But what more can we say about these ghosts? When are they bright and frightening, and when are they barely visible? What difference does it make when they are majority or minority? In Zubryzycki’s case, Jews are desirable and undesirable. For some, they are— along with secularists and communists—not fit for national belonging and, for others, they are a part of history that must be rescued because their perceived cosmopolitanism promotes a civic and secular version of the polity. So what would we gain by theorizing the different registers, valences, or traces of the religious in the secular—their visibility, invisibility, their size, the comfort or discomfort they invoke?

October 20th, 2016

American Muslims between legal citizenship and public exclusion

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Image via Flickr user Quinn DombrowskiHate crimes against American Muslims have spiked to their highest levels since the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. While some of the rise is due to recent terrorist attacks, it is also connected with the heated rhetoric of the presidential race. Recent studies have noted that Muslims surpass atheists as the most unpopular group in the United States.

Muslims who are citizens of the state continue to be seen and treated as aliens of the nation. In the current fraught moment, the constitution of Islam as a legitimate American religion remains a fragile process.

October 13th, 2016

Building secularity via religious revival and the “patrimonialization” of religion

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Image via Flickr user Quinn DombrowskiWhile crude secularization theories predicting the end of religion have, in response to strong criticism, been refined to be less ideologically driven, more empirically accurate, and theoretically more robust, in recent years, “secularism,” “secularity,” and “the secular” have in effect supplanted secularization altogether. Secularity is a principle in which the religious and secular spheres are distinct. Religion, in a secular society, is one option among many other ideational systems, identities, affiliations, and activities. Secularism, by contrast, is a political project that aims at instituting secularity—at creating a secular society by socially upholding, culturally enforcing, and legally securing the separation of the religious and secular domains. Building on that literature, my recent works on Poland and Québec focus on the process of becoming secular—on the aesthetic, bodily, social, and legal practices of enacting secular identifications and affiliations. In this approach, secularity is never fully achieved but always in process, and often itself infiltrated by religion. My first point, then, is that in places where religion was (or still is) an ethnonational marker, secularism only signifies in relation to specific national(ist) projects, and as such can only be understood by social scientists when triangulated with religion and nationalism.

How does this play out in the cases I’ve worked on?

October 11th, 2016

A new “Christianist” secularism in Europe

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Image via Flickr user Quinn DombrowskiThroughout much of the world, religion manifestly—and sometimes markedly—informs everyday understandings, cultural representations, and political and legal definitions of nationhood. The paradox I wish to explore, with reference to developments in Northern and Western Europe, is that religion also informs assertively secular understandings and discourses of nationhood—and not simply as their evident target, but as their putative foundation.

The categories “secular” and “religious” have deeply intertwined histories, and the Christian origins of the category “secular” have been amply discussed. My interest here is in the religious dimension of secularism, as a self-conscious, assertive political stance, and secularity, as a characterization of a culture or way of life.

October 4th, 2016

Why do evangelicals vote for Trump?

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Image via Flickr user Quinn DombrowskiThere are various interpretations of Trumpism on offer. Reading it as fascism explains its appeal to the white nationalists of the “alt-right.” Reading it as populism explains its appeal to a white working class fed up with the “Washington establishment.” And reading it as authoritarianism explains its appeal to voters with authoritarian personalities. These interpretations are not necessarily wrong, but they do not explain Trump’s appeal to evangelicals qua evangelicals.

So, let me propose a different interpretation. On this reading, Trumpism is a secular form of religious nationalism. By “religious nationalism,” I mean a form of nationalism that makes religious identity the litmus test of national belonging. By “a secular form of religious nationalism,” I mean one that strips religious identity of its ethical content and transcendental reference. In Trumpism, religion functions mainly as a marker of ethnicity.

October 4th, 2016

The politics of national identity: Introduction

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Image via Flickr user Quinn DombrowskiReligion is increasingly recognized as a defining feature of political life and as a constitutive element of individual and collective identities. The question is no longer whether religion matters, but how. The contributors to this discussion—which began as a session at the American Sociological Association Annual Meeting, co-sponsored by the sections on the Sociology of Religion and Culture—explore this question through the lens of political contestation over national identity.