A broad and perhaps underappreciated feature of radical right populism is its simultaneous mobilization of cultural Christianity, on occasion combined with secularism, and women’s (and sometimes LGBT+) rights in a racializing, anti-immigration, and anti-Islamic discourse. Take for example the recent reaction in the USA of Republican Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, who proclaimed on Twitter that ‘I am being attacked by the godless left because I said I’m a proud Christian Nationalist’ and added that she is even being called ‘a Nazi because I proudly love my country and my God’. By the same measure, in Italy, the League (La Lega) chairperson Matteo Salvini has previously maintained publicly his certainty that ‘Madonna will bring us the [political] victory’ and praised in religious conservative media the ‘traditional (heterosexual) family’.
These distill oftentimes national identity into objects whose symbolic religious significance may easily be deciphered by most people, such as the crucifix or the headscarf. These actors engage into a complex process, which revives on the one hand the colonial racializing tropes that oppose white (and necessarily Christian) nations to the uncivilized (and often Muslim) others; on the other hand, it accentuates the cultural aspects of religion, according to which (Christian) heritage trumps religious practice. At the same time, in this process, they project a peculiarly updated image of women, who are now portrayed as equally relevant in society, yet in an ‘ungendered’, essentialist and heteronormative understanding as nearly-perfect complementary to men.
With these empirical examples in mind, we have put together a collection of articles, titled ‘Disentangling radical right populism, gender, and religion’. The collection explores the various overlaps and juxtapositions between religion and gender in what some researchers consider to be the ‘thin’ ideological packaging of radical right populism. Our starting point was represented by an understanding of radical right populist ideological manifestations that combines in various ways strong nativism, authoritarianism and social conservatism, and the opposition between ‘the people’ and ‘the elite’ (together with all those racialized ‘others’). Our ambition has been to foster one of the first systematic critical dialogues between scholarship on gender and populism, and that on religion and populism.
Adopting either a comparative or single case perspective, the contributions to this Special Issue focus on different contexts, which are characterized by different religious manifestations. These are either corresponding discernable polities, such as Sweden, Finland, Austria, Croatia, Italy, Brazil, Turkey, and France, or have more porous contours, such as the digital platforms that transcend them.
From a theoretical perspective, the collection explores a variety of research questions. In addition to detailing how gender and religion are connected in the political and public discourse, which is the main focus of all the articles, one important analytical dimension is related to comparison, and it considers how these overlappings and juxtapositions between religion and gender in radical right populist discourses play out in a variety of contexts. The contributions ask for example, how do they manifest in states with strong secular traditions, such as France, and states in which religion has a prominent political role, like Turkey? Furthermore, what forms do they take in countries with Christian-majorities, and are there any differences or similarities in countries with Muslim-majorities? These aspects are explored in their article by Öztürk, Serdar, and Giritli Nygren. They analyze comparatively the radical right populist parties’ approach to the veil debate in Turkey, France, and Sweden.
Another line of inquiry concerns how, in the context of countries that generally pride themselves to be gender-equal and open societies, gender and religion are deployed in radical right populist discourses to separate the native ‘us’ from migrant ‘others’, who are described in racializing terms and implicitly deemed to be less deserving and less modern than the natives. These issues are analyzed in the article by Norocel and Pettersson. They compare Sweden and Finland and examine how issues of gender and religion are used by radical right populist parties to contour their political agenda.
The collection of articles moves nonetheless beyond analyzing the politicians, parties, and movements that espouse radical right populist ideology. Are there other actors that articulate a radical right and populist discourse? Several contributions answer to this question, shedding light on a variety of actors. For example, Tranfić analyzes in his article the populist discourse of the Catholic Church in Croatia, which is based on anti-communist and nationalist themes that have a specific reverberation in this national context. Focusing on Italy, in turn, Giorgi explores in her contribution the manner in which supporters of radical right populist actors use religion and gender on their Instagram posts, against a background of critique and transformation of religious authority that characterizes contemporary Christianity. Maintaining the focus on digital platforms as an environment for identity construction, Dickey, Spierings, and van Klingeren examine in their article the contours of right-wing LGBTQ+ identities, which establishes homonationalism as a bottom-up phenomenon.
A third analytical dimension concerns the discursive mechanisms and their implications. How radical right populist actors manage to be credible as champions of women’s rights? What are the discursive frames and narratives deployed? Focusing on Austria, Sauer explores in her article the junctions between a biopolitical and a necropolitical discourse, disciplining the religious and secular gendered bodies and constructing other religious bodies as disposable. In turn, Martinez, in her analysis which focuses on Brazil, unpacks the discursive strategy of delegitimizing and attacking feminism while at the same time building a narrative of a pro-women radical right populist political project.
Overall, the contributions collected in this Special Issue flesh out the complex entanglements between gender, religion, and radical right populism, unpacking the connections and providing nuance to the understanding of at times seemingly contradictory stances of radical right populist actors. These contributions show how ‘gender’ is a constitutive element of radical right populist (thin) ideology, and how both gender and religion are combined and incorporated into a discourse flexible enough to be adapted and adjusted to different circumstances, as well as different political contexts across the world.
Blog post by Ov Cristian Norocel Lund University, Sweden and Alberta Giorgi University of Bergamo, Italy
Blog post based on Identities' Special Issue, Disentangling Radical Right Populism, Gender, and Religion, Volume 29, No 4, August 2022.
Read the Identities articles:
Norocel, Ov Cristian & Giorgi, Alberta. Disentangling radical right populism, gender, and religion: an introduction. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2022.2079307
Norocel, Ov Cristian & Pettersson, Katarina. Imbrications of gender and religion in Nordic radical right populism. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2021.1990542 OPEN ACCESS
Sauer, Birgit. Radical right populist debates on female Muslim body-coverings in Austria. Between Biopolitics and Necropolitics. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2022.2071515 OPEN ACCESS
Tranfić, Ivan. Framing ‘gender ideology’: religious populism in the Croatian
Catholic Church. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/
Giorgi, Alberta. Hijack or release? On the heuristic limits of the frame of instrumentalization of religion for discussing the entanglements of populism, religion, and gender. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2021.2002583 OPEN ACCESS
Martinez, Monise. Being a ‘terribly Christian Minister’: populism, gender and anti-feminism in Damares Alves’s ministerial performance. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2022.2037900
Dickey, Briar, Spierings, Niels & van Klingeren, Marijn. Constructing homonationalist identities in relation to religious and LGBTQ+ outgroups: a case study of r/RightWingLGBT. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2022.2054568 OPEN ACCESS
Öztürk, Ebru, Serdar, Ayşe & Nygren, Katarina Giritli. The veil as an object of right-wing populist politics: a comparative perspective of Turkey, Sweden, and France. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2022.2029067 OPEN ACCESS