Right-wing populists across many western countries have markedly intensified their references to Christianity in recent years. However, Christian communities’ reactions to such developments often vary significantly, ranging from disproportionate support in some countries to outspoken opposition in others. This paper explores the role of structural factors, and in particular of Church–State relations, in accounting for some of these differences. Specifically, this article explores how Church–State relations in Germany and the United States have produced different incentives and opportunity structures for faith leaders when facing right-wing populism. Based on quantitative studies, survey data, and 31 in-depth elite interviews, this research suggests that whereas Germany’s system of “benevolent neutrality” encourages highly centralised churches whose leaders perceive themselves as integral part and defenders of the current system, and are therefore both willing
to create social taboos against right-wing populism, America’s “Wall of separation” favours a de-centralised religious marketplace, in which church leaders are more prone to agree with populists’ anti-elitist rhetoric, and face higher costs and barriers against publicly condemning right-wing populism. Taking such structural factors into greater account when analysing Christian responses to right-wing populism is central to understanding current and future dynamics between politics and religion in western democracies.
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