Religion-infused narratives of membership in an age of political populism

Ran Hirschl


A fourth area of research to which Hirschl has devoted significant time over the past couple of years is illiberal constitutionalism, in particular “mixed” constitutional identities that commit simultaneously to liberal and theocratic values, and the rise of religion-infused narratives of membership as part of the ethno-nationalist populism that is awaking worldwide. Specifically, Hirschl investigates the return of “religious talk” in exclusionary “us versus them’” populist discourse and its impact upon the constitutional sphere. His research in that area spans the world, involving gathering of data and exploration of public debates, laws and constitutional court rulings from North America and Europe, as well as from less frequently studied constitutional settings, such as Israel, India, and Malaysia – all of which have undergone major religionization of public and constitutional discourse. A few recent examples that he researches include Israel’s existential deliberation of the new Nationality Law (2018) and the accompanying struggle over “Who is a Jew?” (e.g., family unification case 2012; “Women of the Wall” case 2017) and its implications for the acquisition of citizenship prescribed by Israel’s Law of Return; the Supreme Court of India’s landmark rulings on the status of triple talaq divorce (2017), so-called “cow vigilantism” (2018), the Sabarimala Temple entry dispute (2018), and the Ayodhya temple dispute (2019), as Hindu-based nationalist exclusionary rhetoric is thriving under Narendra Modi and the BJP reign; Pakistan, where the Asia Bibi blasphemy case (2018)—passed on by politicians to the judicial sphere—brought millions of religious fundamentalists to the streets of Lahore, Islamabad, and Karachi; and the extensive judicialization of the status of Islam and Sharia-based law in Malaysia, as evidenced in a series of landmark rulings on certain issues, such as conversion, blasphemy, proselytism, and personal status, or the constitutionality of a ban on non-Muslims using the word “Allah” to refer to God.

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