School of Divinity

The Spirit of Populism: Political Theologies in Polarized Times

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?

Call for papers by 5 April 2019

Considering questions like these, this international and interdisciplinary conference aims to interrogate both the roles of theology in populism and the roles of populism in theology. Situating the interrogation in the interdisciplinary field of political theology, we invite contributions on issues such as

  • uses and abuses of religion(s) in populist politics locally and globally, both on the left and on the right
  • conceptualization of populism in political theologies, including normative proposals
  • significance of theology for legitimizing political positions, such as the identification of nation and religion
  • formulations and functions of the category of the “Judeo-Christian” in left-wing and right-wing rhetoric
  • impact of the theologies of a variety of religious traditions on populist politics, including comparative perspectives
  • changing perception and changing production of the category of religion in populist politics regarding concepts such as “Islamism,” “Christianism,” and “secularism”

Please send your abstracts of no more than 300 words to Ulrich Schmiedel ( and Joshua Ralston ( before 5 April 2019.


  • Elizabeth Shakman Hurd (Northwestern University)
  • Brian Klug (Oxford University)
  • Vincent Lloyd (Villanova University)
  • Mattias Martinson (Uppsala University)
  • Nadia Marzouki (Sciences Po)

Travel bursaries for PhD students

A number of travel bursaries for PhD students will be made available.

Download our poster and call for papers



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The Spirit of Populism: Political Theologies in Polarized Times

Conference, 2-3 September 2019, School of Divinity, New College, Mound Place, Edinburgh

School of Divinity, New College, Mound Place, Edinburgh EH1 2LX