Nationalism and religion – claims of heritage and authenticity

References to religion and religious heritage play a crucial part in most nationalistic ideologies, with or without the consent of the national religious institutions.  

Studies of religion and nationalism tend to reduce the relationship to a question of the latter making use of the former in the constructions of master narratives based on excluding myths about origin and belonging. The point of departure of this sub-theme is to analyse the inter-dependence between religion and nationalism in highly contextualized cases from South-East Europe, Russia, India and USA  – all having seen nationalistic politics making use of religious heritage as well as this development has provoked counter-arguments in favour of more inclusive religious understandings of national identity. The necessary questions about what institutions claims the authority to define tradition, grounded on what arguments and at whose expense will be taken further into investigations on the responses from religious communities and individual theological thinkers.

This sub-theme intends to analyse religion as part of the broader spectrum of cultural nationalism (Hutchinson) and to initiate discussions about religion and nationalism as part of ideological arguments and rhetoric at institutional level as well as part of social practice and everyday communication (Todorova, Verdery, Duijzings and Brubaker).

Suggested PhD/postdoc projects

A possible postdoc project could investigate the complex relationship between the Russian Orthodox Church and the country's many pronounced nationalistic groups with different agendas on theology, reformation of the institutions and, not the least, identity politics. As an institution, the Church marks its loyalty to the state, but the internal debates go in both more right wing and more progressive directions. This project would analyse a selection of the varying voices within the Church in order to identify the construction of new channels of communication and the development of theological thinking on cultural heritage. Special emphasis would be put on the transnational nationalistic networks where Russian groups play an important part. These networks do not only provide platforms for ideological and economic support, but also a – seemingly contradictory, but very effective – global discourse on cultural uniqueness.

A possible PhD project could focus on the recent development of Hindu nationalism in India and investigate local consequences of a state ideology built on ancient narratives. The use of Hindu symbolism is since decades apparent in the political rhetoric of the ruling BJP, but what has the long-term influence of this exclusionist world-view been on local religious institutions and how has this enforced unity affected the ethnically and diverse Indian sub-continent? What are the consequences for regions with a traditionally mixed population (of Hindus, Sikhs, Jains or Muslims) and how is space made for alternative understandings of shared cultural memories?

Responsible researcher

Catharina Raudvere, professor of the history of religions, has done extensive research on Muslim communities in Bosnia and Turkey and has edited several volumes on identity politics, cultural memory and new religious thinking in South East Europe as well as on Islam and nationalism.