Apocalyptic Politics

Last week during the CMRC seminar, we examined the theme of apocalyptic time. We read Philip Gorski’s “Why Evangelicals Voted for Trump:  A Critical Cultural Sociology” and revisited Walter Benjamin’s “Theses on the Philosophy of History.” The conversation was influenced by current events in the U.S. and focused on white evangelicals, the deployment of religion in U.S. politics, and American democracy. Below are some reflections on the readings and discussion.

In our discussion this week, we expressed our frustration with how Gorski (and many others) flattens Christianity in his attempt to make sense of religious voters. In reality, the current conjuncture should be teaching us about how Christianity, and other religions, are understood and practiced in a myriad of ways. The goal for scholars and journalists is really to ask how is Christianity being deployed/engaged/understood in particular situations, and how does this map onto other contemporary and historical configurations of Christianity. For example, what does “good vs evil” mean to Trump, to Trump’s evangelical supporters, to Trump’s Catholic supporters, to Biden, and to Biden’s spectrum of religious and non-religious supporters? How do these varying definitions interact with one another? Also on this note, a brief shout out to this podcast extra from On the Media where Michael O’Loughlin from America suggests some more productive questions that should be put to new Supreme Court nominee Barrett about her faith and its role in her judicial decision making.

–– Rachel van der Merwe

Having read Gorski’s American Covenant, it is difficult for me to read his article without recognizing his larger argument in favor of revitalizing American civil religion to restore a moral center in the United States. He begins to develop this argument in his article, but it becomes fully formed in his 2017 monograph. I also struggle with the “how did this happen” genre that flooded journalistic and academic discourse following the 2016 election (of which Gorski’s article is a part). These authors (myself included) rightfully looked to history to contextualize 2016, but we also failed to look beyond the unwieldily category of “white evangelicals” (a reoccurring pattern every 4 years). For instance, we should also examine how the moralizing of democracy and civility re-centers a universalized white, Protestantism within Enlightenment thinking. How are our conceptions of democracy, the Republic, and civility embedded within an exclusionary moral framework?

–– D. Ashley Campbell

During this present apocalyptic breakdown of official American democracy, I’ve been tinkering at the edges for how we can reconstruct different kinds of democracies in online spaces. I can’t tell whether it’s necessary or irrelevant, but it’s fun and distracting. This past week, I published a preprint on the concept of “effective voice” with data scientist Seth Frey, plus an essay with political scientist David Stasavage on lessons from ancient democracies for online communities.

–– Nathan Schneider