Events

Past Event

Populist Power, Faith and Precarity in Europe

July 8, 2019 - July 9, 2019
9:00 AM - 4:45 PM

Day 1: Friday, November 8th

9:00 – 9:15 AM Opening Remarks – Nadia Urbinati, Columbia University & IRCPL organizing team

9:15 – 10:45 AM
Panel 1 – Discussant: Nadia Urbinati, Columbia University

Jose Casanova, Georgetown University
“Holy/Unholy Alliance” of the Moscow Patriarchate, American Evangelicals, and the Catholic Right

Richard Amesbury, Arizona State University
Constructing “Religion,” Performing “The People”

10:45 – 11:00 AM Coffee Break

11:00 – 12:30 PM
Panel 2 – Discussant: K. Soraya Batmanghelichi, University of Oslo 

Donatella Campus, University of Bologna
Celebrity as an Asset for Populism: How Populist Leaders Use Celebrity Politics

Nonna Mayer, Sciences Po
Precariousness Feeds Abstention More Than Populism

12:30 – 1:30 PM Lunch Break

1:30 – 3:00 PM
Panel 3 – Discussant: Alain Dieckhoff, Sciences Po 

Sindre Bangstad, KIFO, Institute for Church, Religion, and Worldview Research
Norwegian Populism, Religion and the Idea of “Nordic Exceptionalism”

Aamir Mufti, UCLA
The New Pariah: Between Citizen and (Colonial) Subject

3:00 – 3:15 PM Coffee Break

3:15 – 4:45 PM
Panel 4 – Discussant: Sami Al-Daghistani, Norwegian School of Theology, Religion and Society and Middle East Institute, Columbia University

Jacques Rupnik, Sciences Po
Varieties of Nationalist Populism in East-Central Europe

Marko Vekovic, University of Belgrade
Right-wing Populism and Religion: Recent Evidences from Post-Milošević Serbia

4:45 – 5:30 PM
Roundtable – Bjørn Olav Utvik, University of Oslo

Day 2: Saturday, November 9th

9:30 – 11 AM
Panel 5 – Moderated by Stathis Gourgouris, Columbia University

Luka Lisjak, Central European University, Vienna
Sovereignty, Memory, Liminality. The Intellectual Challenges to the “End of History” Narratives in Populist Movements in East Central Europe and in Spain

Yannis Stavrakakis, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki
Euro-centric Liberal Anti-populism: Deconstructing an Anti-democratic Stereotype

11 – 11:15 AM Coffee Break

11:15 – 12:45 PM
Panel 6 – Moderated by Erin Wilson, University of Groningen 

Andreas Kalyvas, The New School for Social Research
Whose Crisis? Which Democracy? Notes on the Current Political Conjuncture

Sarah de Lange, University of Amsterdam
The Populist Radical Right and Academic Freedom: Promoting Pluralism or Constraining Academic Freedom?

12:45 – 2 PM Lunch Break

2 – 3:30 PM
Panel 7 – Moderated by Joakim Parslow, University of Oslo

Neni Panourgia, Columbia University
Lapsing to the Right: The Insidious Mythology about “Left Populism”

Paul Blokker, University of Bologna
Populist Understandings of the Law

3:30 – 3:45 PM Coffee Break

3:45 – 4:45 PM Roundtable – Nadia Urbinati, Columbia University

 

Abstracts

Jose Casanova, Georgetown University
“Holy/Unholy Alliance” of the Moscow Patriarchate, American Evangelicals, and the Catholic Right

This paper will examine the “Holy/Unholy Alliance” of the Moscow Patriarchate, American Evangelicals, and the Catholic Right to organize populist nativist movements throughout Europe (East and West) into a transnational European “Moral Majority” in defense of “Christian” traditional family values against the liberalism, secularism, multiculturalism, feminism, and “gender ideology” of the European Union.

Richard Amesbury, Arizona State University
Constructing “Religion,” Performing “The People”

Recent years have witnessed the rise in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere of right-wing political movements – commonly dubbed “populisms” – that purport to speak in the name of distinctive “peoples” under threat from above/ within by feckless “elites” and from below/outside by Muslims and non-white immigrants. These movements are notable for, inter alia, the distinctive ways they deploy language about religion. In the introductory chapter of Saving the People, Nadia Marzouki and Duncan McDonnell contend that “the populist use of religion is much more about ‘belonging’ than ‘belief.’” But “religion” – as deployed in these endeavors – is not simply a sociological category: if not about “belief” per se, it is implicated nevertheless in political-theological debates about authority, sovereignty, and the sacred. This paper argues that the significance of religious language in these political debates is only secondarily a matter of its strategic deployment for purposes of demarcating and defending otherwise arbitrary and historically contingent societal boundaries. Rather, I contend that what is at stake is the question of sovereignty – that is, of final political authority. Through a comparison of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party with evangelical forms of populism in the United States, I argue that the category of religion, which historically has been constructed monotheistically, provides the discursive framework within which sovereignty is conferred on specific “peoples.”

Donatella Campus, University of Bologna
Celebrity as an Asset for Populism: How Populist Leaders Use Celebrity Politics

The paper will explore the theoretical nexus between populist leadership and the process of celebritization of politics. Drawing on the ample and interdisciplinary literature on the political celebrity (by Liesbet Van Zoonen, John Street, Mark Wheeler, Antoine Lilti, etc.), I will analyze the core meaning of such a notion and will highlight what conceptual bases may be relevant to the image-building of populist leaders. The paper will also compare the concept of political celebrity with the definition of charisma and with the model of the ‘strong leader.’ It will discuss the implications of those similarities and differences for contemporary populism in terms of the relationship leader-follower. Finally, the paper will proceed with distinguishing among different forms of political celebrity and shedding light on the prevailing trends. Basing on the analysis of some selected cases of European leaders, it will argue that, in fact, the constellation of populist leaders offers a variety of types of political ‘stars.’ Such diverse typologies may be regarded as functional to the individual characteristics of the leader (biography, background, gender) but also to the nature and ideology of the party or movement. 

Nonna Mayer, Sciences Po
Precariousness Feeds Abstention and Protest more than Support for Populist Parties 

Drawing from two electoral surveys conducted in France after the presidential election of 2017, this paper analyses the political impact of social insecurity. Using a multidimensional indicator of “precariousness” that combines measures of economic hardship and social and cultural isolation, it shows that the main effect of precariousness is not to increase support for populist parties but to turn away from the polls, silencing the most deprived, of which more than half did not vote in the last presidential election. Among voters, social precariousness increases votes for the populist radical right (Marine Le Pen) and to a lesser degree for the populist radical left (Jean-Luc Mélenchon). The effect resists when controlling for other socio-demographic variables but it disappears when one controls for attitudes and has even a slight negative effect on support for the radical left candidate. But social insecurity can fuel other non-conventional types of political participation, such as the Yellow Vests protest that started in the fall of 2018. 

Sindre Bangstad, KIFO, Institute for Church, Religion, and Worldview Research
Norwegian Populism, Religion and the Idea of “Nordic Exceptionalism”

After forty years in the political wilderness, the Norwegian populist right-wing Progress Party (FrP) in 2013 became the first populist right-wing party in any Nordic country to enter the government. It did so courtesy of an alliance with the Norwegian Conservative Party (Høyre), dating back to ca. 2009. Founded on an anti-taxation and anti-bureacratic party, the Anders Langes Party (ALP) by a Norwegian political maverick and libertarian supporter of the racist regime of apartheid in South Africa in 1973, the Progress Party’s electoral breakthrough in 1987 was based on the party’s transformation into an anti-immigrant welfarist party which instrumentalized Islamophobia in Norway. The fact that it was in the Nordic countries (Denmark and Norway, and belatedly also Finland and Sweden), which has the most advanced welfare states in the world, comparatively low levels of socio-economic inequalities and precarity, and low levels of unemployment that populist right-wing parties first gained decisive influence on government policies and rhetoric, suggest that an explanation of the rise of the populist right in these countries must be centered on cultural rather than economic factors. Surveys (HL-Centre 2012, 2017) suggest that anti-Muslim sentiment and conspiratorial ideas about Islam and Muslims are widespread in Norway. In international media and academic accounts of Norway and the Nordic countries, the idea of a Norwegian and Nordic ‘exceptionalism’ is widespread. This idea is also a central feature of Norwegian and Nordic self-understandings. It has numerous facets, but include the idea of a specifically Norwegian and Nordic ‘exceptionalism’ when it comes to racism and colonialism. But in this presentation, I will argue that Norway and the Nordics are far from ‘exceptional’ in this regard, and that the rise of the far- and populist right in Norway and the Nordic countries have a lot to do with rising levels of socio-economic inequality and precarity under conditions of state-orchestrated neoliberalism, an increasing racialization of poverty, the mainstreaming of far-right ideas and rhetoric by mainstream political parties right and left, the Europe-wide ongoing crises of legitimacy for social democratic forces, and the rise of a ‘Christianist secularism’ and exclusivist nationalism which renders Muslims as perennial ‘outsiders’ to national imaginaries.

Aamir Mufti, UCLA
The New Pariah: Between Citizen and (Colonial) Subject

This paper argues that the contemporary conditions of migrant experience in Europe call for a revision of Hannah Arendt’s notion of the pariah in European society. Unlike the earlier historical situation referenced in Arendt’s concept—namely, the post-Enlightenment reinscription of Jews in Europe as an alien (sometimes even “Asiatic”) population, whose hallmark in the post-World War I era was their minority status and consequent loss of “the right to have rights”—these new pariahs are produced primarily (though not exclusively) from immigrant populations originating in the former zones of imperial influence of the various European powers. The concept of pariah must be refashioned in interaction with the concept of colonial society and made adequate to the contemporary social and cultural geography of minority, and migrant and refugee, experience in Europe. Reconfigured in this way, the pariah may be as much a figure of continuity as discontinuity in European history across the radical rupture that we usually take the Holocaust to be.

Jacques Rupnik, CERI, Sciences Po
Thirty Years After: Populist Seizure and Illiberal Democracy in East-Central Europe 

The paper will reflect on the three decades since the fall of communism in Central and Eastern Europe. Initially new governments in the region embraced (uncritically) all pillars of the “Western” liberal order: parliamentary democracy and free trade, open borders and the idea of an “open society.” Moderate political parties in government and mainstream media helped forge a consensus on institutions of liberal democracy, religious neutrality and European integration. Three decades later the reverse trend is under way. Under fire are “porous” borders, liberal democracy, cosmopolitan culture, and bureaucratic EU detached from ordinary citizens. Some of the inspiration for this shift comes from Donald Trump and Brexit, but politicians in ECE are no longer imitating Western narratives; increasingly they see themselves as trendsetters imposing their anti-liberal views on the entire continent. The shift in the EU policy on refugees is a good example here. All this implies the rise of symbolic politics traditionally associated with nationalism, anti-Semitism and racism, but now recycled through social media in the form of fake news and post-truth. Another implication is the raise of hybrid regimes, which formally hold elections and referenda, but erode constitutional constraints on the executive powers. There are specific features of nationalist populism in ECE, but the phenomenon should be understood in a transeuropean framework. 

Marko Veković, University of Belgrade
Right-wing Populism and Religion: Recent Evidences from Post-Milošević Serbia

This paper explores the relationship between right-wing populism and religion in post-Milošević Serbia, and offers a qualitative analysis of the dominant right-wing populist parties in Serbia (most importantly Dveri, founded in 1999 as a Christian right-wing youth organization which became a parliamentary group in 2016, as well as Serbian Radical Party and Justice and Reconciliation Party) and how their political ideologies, goals and objectives are religiously framed. Therefore, a specific question which this paper will tackle is how right-wing political parties in Serbia use dominant religions – Orthodox Christianity and Islam – to frame their political ideologies, goals and objectives? My hypothesis is that, although in some cases there is no direct institutional link with a specific religious community, the political ideologies, goals and objectives of right-wing political parties in Serbia are religiously framed in post-Milošević Serbia. In order to test this hypothesis, I will employ content and discourse analysis by examining official programs, declarations and announcements of the right-wing political parties in Serbia, and semi-structured interview with highly ranked representative of these parties. 

Luka Lisjak, Central European University, Vienna
Sovereignty, Memory, Liminality. The Intellectual Challenges to the “End of History” Narratives in Populist Movements in East Central Europe and in Spain

There is a widespread perception that contemporary left wing and right wing populisms share certain features – such as the juxtaposition of the “people” to the “elites”, the invocation of the popular will against the procedural minutiae of deliberative democracy, the discursive vindication of a silenced majority, or the “synecdochal tendency” to equate these movements’ electorate with the demos as a whole –, while diverging in other key aspects (the attitude towards emancipatory movements, inclusivity, the economic vs. ethnic framing of the political struggle etc.). Without directly challenging these categorizations, I intend to show that the intellectual productions associated with contemporary European populist movements share common features that transcend the division between left-wing and right-wing. On the basis of examples from East Central Europe (particularly Poland and Hungary) and Spain, I will show that a wide array of political movements usually associated with populism, as well as those whose traits pose a challenge to prevalent taxonomies of populism (like the Catalan independence movement or the “indignados” phenomenon in Spain) have been shaped by comparable intellectual critiques of the liberal political order. Proceeding from a methodology of intellectual history, I will focus on the intellectual production and public discussions that preceded the emergence of populist movements in the aforementioned countries, identifying comparable conceptual and theoretical innovations in the framing of the temporality and political legitimacy of the democratic transitions, and assessing the differences in their crystallization into coherent political proposals and discourses. Rather than stressing the similarity of divergent modes of contemporary European populist politics, my aim is to ponder on the importance of longue durée traditions in the history of political thought, and their role in the configuration of comparable critiques of liberalism. 

Yannis Stavrakakis, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki
Euro-centric Liberal Anti-populism: Deconstructing an Anti-democratic Stereotype

Populism is currently hotly debated in politics, journalism and academia. Nevertheless, most current debates tend to reproduce obsolete myths and stereotypes that often misperceive the specificity of populist politics, ignore its (ambivalent) relationship to democracy and orchestrate its unconditional demonisation. This paper will provide a genealogy of liberal anti-populism focusing on its American matrix in modernisation theories of the 1950s and 1960s and on its European versions, which tend to equate populism with the far right. It will be argued that what underlies many of these approaches is an idealisation of liberal democracy (especially in the problematic post-democratic orientation it currently follows) and certain anti-democratic stereotypes that need to be urgently deconstructed since they seem to threaten directly the democratic basis of “popular sovereignty.”

Andreas Kalyvas, The New School for Social Research
Whose Crisis? Which Democracy? Notes on the Current Political Conjuncture

The paper seeks to interrogate the widespread thesis about a general crisis of democracy manifested in the form of a populist challenge to the liberal constitutional order. This critical intervention consists of four steps. The first, introduces the concept of post-democracy in order to question some of the underlying and often unthematized political assumptions and normative premises that overdetermine the ‘crisis-of-democracy’ thesis. The second step displaces the question of populism with the problem of the radicalization of the political right and subsumes the former to the latter to the degree that the rise of the radical right designates the most significant and enduring feature of the current political conjuncture. Thirdly, this decisive development is situated within the broader context of a profound but still ongoing and incomplete historical transformation, namely the authoritarian and nationalist mutation of the oligarchic structures of the neo-liberal post-democratic state. Finally, the last section of the paper considers the question of whether the most effective response to the present situation might and/or should entail a radicalization of the left and in light of this possibility I conclude with some preliminary thoughts about what such a radicalization could today mean in strategic and tactical terms.

 

Sarah de Lange, University of Amsterdam
The Populist Radical Right and Academic Freedom: Promoting Pluralism or Constraining Academic Freedom?

Across the world populist radical right parties are increasingly focusing on (higher) education as an area for political reform. In many countries they have launched hotlines to report teachers (e.g. Germany, France, Israel, Netherland), and in countries in which they are in power they have defunded particular university programs, seized control over the appointment of deans and presidents, and introduced disciplinary measures against critical university staff (e.g. Brazil, Hungary, Poland). This paper examines these developments and critically evaluates the populist radical right claim that these measures are taken to reduce left-wing bias in the higher education system. It answers the following questions:

  • How do the ideas of the populist radical right with respect to high education fit their broader agenda that centers on authoritarianism, nativism and populism? 

  • What kind of policy proposals do populist radical right parties formulate when it comes to higher education? 

  • What kind of policy proposals are implemented when populist radical right parties assume office? 

  • Are there differences in the implementation in policies between populist radical right parties that have an absolute majority and populist radical right parties that are part of a governing coalition? 

  • How can similarities and differences in the policy proposals and their implementation be explained? 

  • Are they the result of variations in national context (e.g. educational, party and political systems) or are they the result of more general differences between countries and parties (e.g. institutionalization of liberal democracy, share of lower educated voters in populist radical right electorate)?

Neni Panourgia, Columbia University
Lapsing to the Right: The Insidious Mythology about “Left Populism”

In this paper I will argue against the possibility or desirability of a Left Populism on the following grounds:

  • The notion of “left populism” succumbs to the ideology of the “two extremes”, “very fine people on both sides” as Donald Trump put it.

  • “Left populism” does not take into account the fact that populism is a priori nativist, excluding, thus, the possibility of inclusion of non-native politics.

  • The proposition, intended as an intervention in practiced politics, does not take into account the youth as a political force.

  • There is no left analogy to the anti-immigrant, religion- and race-based politics of right-wing populism. An inclusive politics cannot be imagined as a populist politics, there can be no Golden Dawn of the Left.

Based on these positions I will argue that the notion of Left Populism cannot be anything other than a position that can be articulated only from the Right.

Paul Blokker, University of Bologna
Populist Understandings of the Law

The paper starts from a socio-legal perspective which understands law as an intrinsic part of modern society, and the observation that modern societies have witnessed significant processos of juridification of society. On the basis of these observations, the main argument in the paper regards forms of critique present in populist understandings of the law, in which the juridification of society and the omnipresence of the law are criticized. In this, the paper will explore relation of populism to long-standing conservative narratives on liberal democracy and analyze the distinctive legal telos of populism. Rightwing forms of populism need to be understood as anti-liberal projects and as a conservative reaction to the liberal-legalist domination of modern democracy. If understood in this manner, it becomes possible to analyse populism as a distinctive political project that mobilizes anti-liberal, conservative forces in society and to elucidate populist rhetoric and practice as attempts to dismantle liberal-constitutional institutions in the name of a conservative, illiberal project. The paper discusses, first, a number of theoretical critiques of liberalism, including a critique against judicial activism, a critique of the excessive and dominant role of law in society (‘legal fundamentalism’), a critique against the liberal project of human rights, and a critique against external interference into national legal affairs. 

 

This conference is organized by the Institute for Religion, Culture and Public Life at Columbia University. 
Project partners: Columbia Global Centers | Paris
Columbia University – Alliance Program 
University of Oslo – Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages 
University of Groningen – Centre for Religion, Conflict, and Globalization 
Sciences Po – Centre for International Studies and Research (CERI)