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Rise of Christian Nationalism influences political discourse and elections in 2022

Allyson Shortle, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Oklahoma
University of Oklahoma Department of Political Science
Allyson Shortle, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Oklahoma

New research indicates white Christian Nationalism is growing across the United States and having an effect on campaigns and elections. The co-author of a new book explains some of the findings and how the ideology is influencing the political climate heading into the 2022 General Election.


Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider - taking you inside politics, policy and government in Oklahoma. I'm Dick Pryor with Quorum Call publisher Shawn Ashley. Our guest is Dr. Allyson Shortle, associate professor of political science at the University of Oklahoma. She is co-author of the new book, The Everyday Crusade: Christian Nationalism in American Politics. Dr. Shortle, thanks for joining us.

Dr. Allyson Shortle: Thanks for having me.

Shawn Ashley: We want to talk today about your research into political behavior, particularly as we head into the November general election. Based on your research, what is white Christian Nationalism?

Dr. Allyson Shortle: Well, fundamentally, white Christian Nationalism is an ethno-cultural ideology. So that means you have an entire worldview where the way that you define being American, for instance, who counts as American, is through ascriptive features. So, whether you are Christian, whether you're white, whether you're a man or manly, that would be called gendered nationalism. These are all intertwined together, but Christian Nationalism relies heavily on this intersection of defining American identity through a Christian identity. And as all Christian Nationalist scholars have pointed out, that's inseparable from a white Christian identity in particular.

Shawn Ashley: We see this philosophy in politics now, but it's really not new.

Dr. Allyson Shortle: Yeah, that's right. It's been around for quite some time. It is, I guess, something that we would say was fringe before, or at least we certainly thought this was a fringe element for decades, and if looking back to 2004, there was some popular work by Deborah Schildkraut where she identified various definitions, how people defined their American identity. And it was consistently something like 10 to 15% of people agreed that to be a true American, one should be Christian. If we are to ask that question on a survey these days, it's something more like anywhere from 35% to 50% of the population believe this. And if you're looking at the work of people like Philip Gorski and Sam Perry or Andrew Whitehead and Sam Perry, they put that number at around 53% of the American public being sympathetic to white Christian Nationalist ideals.

Dick Pryor: How is white Christian Nationalism playing out in public policy today?

Dr. Allyson Shortle: Well, in numerous ways, I think the most dramatic example of this is through the Supreme Court, sort of legitimating a lot of these white Christian Nationalist ideals which tend to prize Christianity over liberal democratic norms. So, a recent court case allowing essentially a coach to pray at a 50-yard line while sounds like freedom of religion to some, others would say that this is a white Christian Nationalist agenda item, specifically because if a coach prays at a 50-yard line, it is presumed that maybe that would pressure others to do so. And some of those others who might not subscribe to Christianity, freedom of religion would state that anyone who's a non-Christian is allowed to express their religion, and they're also allowed to reject other religious ideals such as Christian ideals.

Dick Pryor: White Christian nationalism is affecting campaigns and elections. Do you have a sense of the strength of this movement here in Oklahoma compared to the rest of the United States?

Dr. Allyson Shortle: Well, in my own research, I've definitely found higher rates of white Christian Nationalism in Oklahoma than other parts of the country. So, using some Oklahoma nonprofit survey collectors through places like Sooner Poll, for instance, I found higher rates than when I run a national poll asking the same metrics of white Christian Nationalism. And not just how you define American identity, but also these particular myths of American religious exceptionalism that people adhere to - that America is God's chosen nation, for instance, America was picked by God to lead all other countries. These are American exceptionalist ideals, but they're also ideals that Christian Nationalists use to maybe speak to other Christian Nationalists without others knowing. Right?

So, the unreligious or maybe people who aren't necessarily Christian but are religious, will hear statements like that and they'll think, “oh, this person's just, you know, very devout and a patriot,” right? They think, “America is great and I think it's great and they just happen to be religious.” But in actuality this is about speaking to other Christian Nationalists and letting them know on the part of the candidate that they will fight for other Christian Nationalists and other devout Christians.

Dick Pryor: As the ideas of this particular movement and philosophy spread, where does that take us in terms of our democracy?

Dr. Allyson Shortle: We do see growing numbers of people who are moderately acceptant of these ideals. So, in my own book, co-authored with Eric McDaniel at University of Texas and Irfan Nooruddin at Georgetown University, we find that this middle category is actually the one that's going up. So, people want to say that this is neutral to have, you know, a moderate amount, but in fact, it means you do subscribe to some of it.

Whereas in 2008, we found the majority of Americans opposed this ideology, that's no longer the case. So, I view this as increasing, but not in the way that you would expect. So not as many radical adherents. I don't think you're going to see as many people who truly get out there and want to, you know, perform political violence. I'm not so sure that's true, but you might view more people being complicit when violence happens, if their team wins, right? If Christians stand to benefit, if white Christians stand to benefit from it.

Dick Pryor: How does this play out in our November elections?

Dr. Allyson Shortle: Well, whenever you see religion insinuated in any sort of legislation, that is the necessary ingredient to catalyze this sort of ideology. So, you're bound to see religious nationalism, Christian Nationalism as an ideology. All of the stuff used by voters in their ultimate decision making. So, I would expect it as long as officials are making sure that religion is centered in their discourse, in their campaign strategies, I would fully expect this to play a part in the electoral outcomes during the election.

Dick Pryor: Dr. Allyson Shortle, associate professor of political science at the University of Oklahoma, thank you.

Dr. Allyson Shortle: Thanks for having me.

Dick Pryor: Dr. Shortle is co-author of The Everyday Crusade: Christian Nationalism in American Politics. And that's Capitol Insider. If you have questions, e-mail them to news@kgou.org or contact us on Twitter @kgounews and @QuorumCallShawn. Until next time, with Shawn Ashley, I'm Dick Pryor.

Dick Pryor has more than 30 years of experience in public service media, having previously served as deputy director, managing editor, news manager, news anchor and host for OETA, Oklahoma’s statewide public TV network. He was named general manager of KGOU Radio in November 2016.
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