Findings & Footnotes

■  The Muslim World devotes its current (Winter) issue to social welfare efforts among Muslim individuals, organizations, and countries, often comparing them to their Western counterparts. That there are different forms of charity and giving in Islam, some more obligatory and “religious” than others, complicates the issue. Some organizations chafe at the “Islamic” title applied to their job missions and descriptions, while others highlight their religious identity, acknowledging that they are part of a global order directed by Western institutions and arguing that Islam provides a blueprint for progress, peace, and prosperity. An interesting case of the former position can be found in an article that discusses a relief organization in Syria that insists that it is not Islamic even though it is made up of Muslims and uses Islamic practices in several ways. Other articles in this issue include an examination of how the concepts of Islamic charity (or zakat) are embedded in the market economy even as there are attempts to provide alternatives centered on community and neighborliness, and a study of how nationalism and the state mobilize religious and financial resources to promote their own causes in the cases of Pakistan and Iran. For more information on this issue, visit:


■ The Flag and the Cross (Oxford University Press, $21.95), by Philip Gorski and Samuel Perry, represents a succinct and impassioned liberal critique of “white Christian nationalism,” even though that much-used term will still be contested by some critics even by the end of the book. The book is a blend of history, sociology, and political philosophy, with some theology added in, explaining how white Christian nationalism has been an ever-present force in America’s past and present. They locate this movement in the different guises of Puritanism, the social Darwinism of Protestant liberalism, the Confederacy, the fundamentalism of the mid-twentieth century, and later the religious right, “Christian libertarianism” and the Tea Pary, all leading up to the MAGA devotees gathered around Donald Trump. In fact, Trump’s “MAGA narrative can be understood as a semi-secularized version of white Christian nationalism’s deep story.” All these expressions share the tendency of extolling America as a Christian nation guided and maintained by white Christians (mainly men), often to the exclusion of “others,” whether they be blacks, Native Americans, immigrants, or socialists. Rather than 1776 or even 1619, the sociologists argue that it was around 1690 when “racism, apocalypticism, and nationalism first fused into a deep story.” This is where the “white” in white Christian nationalism comes to dominate the nationalist and religious parts of the equation.

Even though this smooth historical narrative of a chameleon-like movement may be criticized by historians, on the empirical level, the book makes a less controversial case that there does exist something like Christian nationalism today. Gorski and Perry make little attempt to understand the movement and its proponents through qualitative research, but they marshal enough survey data to show that there is a sizable population of Americans who fit into their framework, sharing beliefs in a Christian America supported by federal laws, the importance of religious freedom, and the principle that religious symbols should be displayed in public. But given that in their survey data, black conservative Protestants score closer to white evangelicals on the Christian nationalism score than to black liberal Protestants, why do Gorski and Perry put so much emphasis on the white component of this movement? The authors explain this by arguing that whites identifying with Christian nationalism are more likely than those blacks identifying with it to link to a host of other cultural issues, such as gun rights, anti-immigration, feelings of religious discrimination, and free-market capitalism.

Throughout the book, white Christian nationalists are often portrayed as powerful and united protagonists who are pushing their agenda of a (culturally rather than theologically) white Christian America. Even the rise of the closely associated Christian right is seen as originating in the attempt to retain white hegemony. They assign little significance to the role of the culture wars and how they have been fought aggressively on both sides of the political spectrum (at least since the 1960s), as progressives and conservatives interact with and react to each other in complex and sometimes unpredictable ways. For instance, if support for “partisan gerrymandering” is “highly correlated” with white Christian nationalism, how do they interpret cases of progressive gerrymandering? Gorski and Perry don’t say. They conclude their book in dire terms, viewing white Christian nationalists post-Trump as growing increasingly messianic (in view of how some supporters view a return of a Trump presidency in 2024 in religious terms), violent (as previewed by the rioting on January 6), and anti-democratic or even authoritarian. As a democratic remedy, they call for a “popular front stretching from democratic socialists such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders not only to classical liberals such as Bill Kristol and David French but also to cosmopolitan #NeverTrump evangelicals like Russell Moore, Beth Moore, or Tim Keller,” though they add that for any such coalition to work, progressives would have to discard much of their animus to religion.