Saving the People

How Populists Hijack Religion

Edited by
September 2016 9781849045209 288pp
September 2016 9781849045162 288pp
EU Customers


Western democracies are experiencing a new wave of right-wing populism that seeks to mobilise religion for its own ends. With chapters on the United States, Britain, France, Italy, Austria, the Netherlands, Poland and Israel, Saving the People asks how populist movements have used religion for their own ends and how church leaders react to them. The authors contend that religion is more about belonging than belief for populists, with religious identities and traditions being deployed to define who can and cannot be part of ‘the people’. This in turn helps many populists to claim that native Christian communities are being threatened by a creeping and highly aggressive process of Islamisation, with Muslims becoming a key ‘enemy of the people’. While Church elites generally condemn this instrumental use of religions, populists take little heed, presenting themselves as the true saviours of the people. The policy implications of this phenomenon are significant, which makes this book all the more timely and relevant to current debate.

Table of contents

Introduction: Populism and Religion — Nadia Marzouki and Duncan McDonnell

  1. The Lega Nord — Duncan McDonnell
  1. The ‘Religious Conversion’ of the Austrian Populist Radical Right — Leila Hadj-Abdou
  1. Populism and Islam in Switzerland — Oscar Mazzoleni
  1. Using Faith to Exclude — Stijn van Kessel
  1. The French National Front — Olivier Roy
  1. Religion and Populism in Britain — Timothy Peace
  1. Defenders of the Cross — Ben Stanley
  1. ‘The God of Hungarians’ — Zoltán Ádám and András Bozóki
  1. The Tea Party and Religion — Nadia Marzouki
  1. ‘We Are Also the (Chosen) People, You Are Not’ — Dani Filc
  1. Beyond Populism — Olivier Roy


‘Impressive … the volume makes for illuminating, perceptive, and enjoyable—if rather depressing—reading. … Saving the People demonstrates how the recent populist conversion to religion is nothing of the kind, but, rather, a cynical appropriation of Christian identity for narrowly political and, usually, morally ugly purposes’ — The Church Times

‘Explore[s] the ways in which rightwing populism links into religion … The result is an overview of the far-right’s growing web, highlighting the differences but also, strikingly and more worryingly, the similarities and interconnections between those parties.’ — Financial Times

‘Edited books rarely cohere well, but in this collection of essays Marzouki, McDonnell and Roy have brought together a set of voices that sing in unison … a clear argument runs through the essays and the book adds a new facet to our grasp of far-right politics … Taken as a whole, the book’s point that Christianity is window-dressing for anti-Muslim populism is important and new enough to be worth the read.’ — Literary Review

‘Vox Populi, Vox Dei? In the increasingly saturated market of populism books, Saving the People addresses one of the few important black spots: the relationship between religion and populism. A must-read for anyone interested in politics in contemporary western democracies.’ — Cas Mudde, School of Public and International Affairs at University of Georgia and Center for Research on Extremism at University of Oslo

‘Compelling and hugely ambitious, this book should be read by everyone’.— Muslim World Book Review

‘This book explores the relationship of right-wing populism with religion. It shows how these parties have “hijacked” religion, using it not as a set of belief but as an identity marker, to strengthen the border between “us” and “them”. And in eight of the ten cases studied, Islam is the target. A major and challenging contribution to the understanding of Western populism.’ — Nonna Mayer, Research Director at CNRS, Centre d’études européennes de Sciences Po.


Olivier Roy is Professor at the European University Institute in Florence. Six of his highly acclaimed books on religion and politics are published by Hurst, including Globalised Islam; Jihad and Death; Holy Ignorance; and Is Europe Christian?

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