‘Us v. Them’: the Strategic Use of Religion in Far-right Parties

The Defenders of Europe’s Christianity

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In Western Europe, increasingly fewer people are attending Church. Secularisation has been shaping Europe’s identity since the Enlightenment, creating a barrier between politics and religion. Nevertheless, this barrier has not always been crystal clear, not even nowadays, as religion is a rather popular topic in everyday political news. Radical right parties’ components have been invoking Christianity in their discourses, while hoping to attract voters. This use of religion in politics has been puzzling academic scholars.

There is an ongoing academic debate concerning the appropriate terminology to refer to the far-right. While not all academics agree, the term ‘radical’ is often used in relation to far-right parties. Because it was used by most researchers, I will refer to far-right parties as radical-right parties (RRPs).

The association between Christian voters and RRPs is a common conception. When I first started researching literature, I too, thought that most Christians actually voted for RRPs. These parties in Western Europe have been proclaiming themselves as the defenders of Europe’s Christian identity against Islam. Furthermore, scholars have identified similar traits shared by religion and populism: authoritarianism, ethnocentrism, and prejudice towards immigrants. Many of the populist parties currently dominating Western Europe’s political landscape are radical-right, and so per extension, the latter tend to adopt those populist characteristics common to religion as well.

Does this religious rhetoric of RRPs work? Why? In this article, I will attempt to answer these questions and will look at the debate between scholars who support the so-called ‘vaccine-effect’ theory, which I believe to be the best argument as it is widely supported within the academic community and is most convincing, and those scholars who believe there is no such effect.

But do radical-right parties actually attract Christian voters?

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There seems to be a general consensus among academics that the religious rhetoric of RRPs does not attract religious voters because they support Christian or mainstream parties.

Many scholars who have researched religion in politics have focused on religious practice and attendance, and have shown that people going to church does not automatically result in them voting for RRPs in Western Europe. This religion gap shows that, despite the attempt of Western European parties to promote a Christian self-portrait, Christian voters are not more inclined to vote for them. On the contrary, it seems that many Christian voters are affected by what Arzheimer and Carter have called “vaccine effect“: they are ‘vaccinated’ against RRPs because they tend to vote for Christian Democrats or Conservative parties.

Nonetheless, researcher Weiqian Xia argues that there is not enough evidence to claim that Christianity is ‘immune’ to RRPs. He argues that marginal members in a number of countries do vote for such parties, and that if religious voters weren’t held back by Christian parties, they’d vote for RRPs because of the affinity between authoritarianism and moral conservative values of both Christian voters and RRPs.

These statements are not much supported in the academic world. I found Xia’s analysis interesting, but not fully convincing. Even though he claimed there is a lack of empirical evidence to support the ‘vaccine effect’ theory, Arzheimer and Carter provide a satifying and thorough report of data analysis, which has been tested and backed up by many scholars.

Why then, is the populist tactic not working?

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Because populist RRPs are all about identity and do not include faith and belief in the equation. They are focused on creating an identity group, formed by ‘us’ Christian Europeans, opposed to ‘them’, Islamic people. Along these lines, populist parties talk much more about Islam than Christianity in their speeches, proving that they care more about what is outside the group rather than inside.

Furthermore, despite some similarities, there are big differences between Christianity and RRPs: Christians preach peace, tolerance and believe in sovereignty in the hands of a higher power. Conversely, RRPs believe that sovereignty should only be in the hands of the people. While few argue that anti-immigrant attitudes contribute to Christians’ support for radical right parties in some cases, several scholars have found evidence suggesting that Christian values of tolerance and altruism suppress anti-immigrant sentiments.

The approach taken by the radical right in Western Europe is called ‘othering‘. RRPs’ identity is defined by what distinguishes them from another group, in this case Islam. The other, the immigrant, the Muslim is repeatedly demonised by these parties. It’s more about ‘them’ than it’s about ‘us’. That is the radical-right parties’ Achilles’ heel. They forget about what is truly important to Christian voters: belief.


Though interesting, researching the relationship between religion and RRPs has been challenging because of the limited amount of literature. Nonetheless, in recent years, scholars have started to investigate this topic. It is important to have a better understanding of the ties between religion and politics because we are witnessing a revival of religion in politics, it can disprove common misconceptions and help us to think critically about our political choices. In this regard, in this blog, we provide examples of the use of religion by three far-right parties in different nations: Lega Nord in Italy, Dansk Folkeparti in Denmark, and Rassemblement National in France. In this article, I wanted to share my findings in the hope of sparking at least some curiosity about the topic of religion in politics in you readers!

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11 thoughts on “The Defenders of Europe’s Christianity

  1. Overall an interesting post!
    Although the post does not always make for smooth reading, in general it is well-written. In terms of content, it is an interesting topic and angle on it that had not previously occurred to me, meaning I was intrigued. The introduction could maybe have a rhetorical question to help pull the reader in a bit more, but otherwise it was interesting.
    It would, however, be interesting to learn of your opinion following your research, as you did include your preconceptions before the research.
    I presume this is a draft and not quite the finished product and in that light it is of very good quality and I am sure the finished product will be even more exciting!

    1. Hi, sorry, I just noticed I wrongly replied to you in form of a comment and not as a reply. You can find it below. I hope you find it useful and again, sorry for the inconvenient.

  2. Hi Thomas, I’m glad you found the topic interesting. Yes, it is only the first draft, so it definitely requires further work, but thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, they are very helpful. I like the suggestion of the rhetorical question. Thank you for your input, I will definitely take it into account when editing the post.

  3. Nice start of your blog! When I started reading I was not sure how you’d connect your topic to subject of the far right, but you did nicely. The headings you used provided structure, which is nice for the reader. Maybe adding images would be a nice touch? I am looking forward to reading your conclusion.

    1. Hi, thank you for commenting! Thank you for your tip, I did include more, and different, pictures in the end. I hope you’ll find the final post interesting and that you like hpw it is presented. Please feel free to comment and leave suggestions any time!

  4. The topic of your blog entry is very interesting! Indeed, when thinking about right-wing parties, the term “Christianity” pops up sooner or later. We are very interested to see how you will continue with your entry and what you will conclude. As already mentioned in some comments before, your style of writing could be a bit more interesting, to keep the reader interested until the end. However, we know that this is only a draft:) Why do you think do right-wing parties continue to highlight the importance of Christianity, even if this does not help them to get more votes?

    1. Hi, sorry, I answered to your comment and question below, but I wrongly posted it as a comment and not as a reply. I hope you find it useful and again, sorry for the inconvenient.

  5. Hello. First of all, thank you for your comment, it was very helpful in improving my article. I agree with you that the style of writing wasn’t smooth or captivating, but as you said, it was only a first draft. I hope that now, having the full article, you’ll find it more captivating. If not and you have suggestions on how to do so, please feel free to leave a comment!
    Second, your question is very interesting and not at all easy to explain. I would need to do further research about it, as in this article I just assess whether radical-right parties attract Christian voters and why/why not. However, I will attempt to answer to your question with the information I gathered. As mentioned in the article, radical-right parties use Christianity as a tool to create an identity, which is based on the exclusion of other people and groups (most importantly Muslims). J. Schwörer, X. Romero-Vidal (2020), in their article, report empirical data which claims that radical-right parties refer to Islam much more often than to Christianity. This proves that rather than highlighting the importance of Christianity, they focus on demonising Muslims. Therefore, by building this image of themselves, even though they may not attract many Christian voters, they do appeal to other groups of people.
    I hope this provides an answer to your question, at least partly! Anyway, I will leave the link of the article by J. Schwörer, X. Romero-Vidal (2020) and hopefully, now that the article is complete, you’ll understand more of the topic.
    Once again, thank you for your feedback. It is very much appreciated!


  6. What an intriguing topic! Content wise, reading about the fact that there is actually not as much correlation between christianity and far right as I expected was very interesting to me. While the classic conservative parties might still be the more popular choice for religious voters, do you think we could see a shift to more right wing parties, if they manage to create an “us” narrative?

    In terms of formatting and terminology; I really enjoyed the two images that you have used. While being simple, their message is clear and in directly linked to your topic. The only bit of advice I would want to pass onto you is to use a little bit more engaging language, as some fellow readers have also noted. My suggestion would be to use shorter sentences and a little bit colloquial language to make it a bit less formal. 🙂

    1. Hi Tobias, thank you for your comment. I’m glad that overall you appreciated the article. I finilised it and tried to make it more engaging; let me know if it’s better or if you have other suggestions :).
      Furthermore, thank you for your question: it’s quite intriguing! It appears that radical-right parties are being successful in creating the ‘us against them’ narrative. But the flaw is that it doesn’t seem to work on Christian voters. Thus, the question is not much whether there would be a shift if the ‘us’ narrative is created, because this narrative already exists. Rather, if there is the possibility for the Christian electorate to shift and vote for these parties. In this regard, I suggest you read the article by Weiqian Xia, who argues that Christians would vote for radical right parties if there weren’t the Christian democrats or conservatives. However, this is contested by Arzheimer and Carter in their article. I will leave the links to both articles below.
      Personally, I prefer the methodology and argumentation used by Arzheimer and Carter for the reasons I state in my post.
      I’m interested in seeing your point of view on the matter! I hope this reply was helpful and that you enjoy the final post.

      article by Arzheimer and Carter:
      article by Weiqian Xia:

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