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Dieckhoff, Alain. Portier, Philippe. “Journal of Religion in Europe Volume 16 Issue 2: Special Issue: Populism and Religion, Edited by Alain Dieckhoff and Philippe Portier (2023).” n.d. Brill.


Populism is on the rise, as are academic studies on populism. However, already in 1969, in their seminal work Populism: Its Meanings and National Charateristics, Ernest Gellner and Ghita Ionescu wrote: “There can, at present, be no doubt about the importance of populism. But no one is quite clear what it is. As a doctrine or as a movement, it is quite elusive and protean” (italics in original).1 More recently, Rogers Brubaker asked “Why populism?” stressing that populism is certainly a contested concept, but at the end of the day a useful conceptual tool for seizing the core element of the populist repertoire, that is, “the claim to speak and act in the name of the people.”2 This claim is based on an overexploitation of the term“people.”“Just as authoritarianism emerges due to an abuse of authority, there is populism when one uses and abuses the word ‘people,’ pronounced as if the referent were sacred.”3 This sacralization of the people is at the heart of populism’s specific political style. Given this overemphasis on the “pure people,” almost deified, set in opposition to the “corrupt elite,”4 always demonized, it is all the more puzzling that the relations between populism and religion were not, for a long time, studied in detail.

The Illiberalism Studies Program studies the different faces of illiberal politics and thought in today’s world, taking into account the diversity of their cultural context, their intellectual genealogy, the sociology of their popular support, and their implications on the international scene.