Is Right-wing Populism a Phenomenon of Religious Dissent? The Cases of the Lega and the Rassemblement National
Keywords:Right-wing populism, religious dissent, Catholicism, LGBT rights, France, Italy
The current global political landscape is increasingly marked by the growth of right-wing populist parties. Although this party family has been the subject of a bourgeoning scholarship, the role played by religion in shaping its ideology is still an under-researched topic. Drawing on the qualitative context analysis of a large database of newspaper articles, electoral manifestos, and parties’ documents, this article studies the influence of religion on the political platforms of the Lega Nord (LN – recently rebranded just Lega) in Italy and the Front National (recently renamed Rassemblement National – RN) in France since the early 1980s. Our aim is twofold. Firstly, we would like to describe the role of religious values in the different political phases of the life of these parties. Secondly, we wish to assess whether and to which extent the appropriation of religion by these parties can be considered a phenomenon of religious dissent. Our analysis focuses on LGBT+ rights, a policy field that tends to bear the imprint of religion norms. Past studies have noted that right-wing populist parties support not only a nativist idea of citizenship, which prompts anti-immigrants and anti-Islamic stances, but also conservative interpretations of Christian values in terms of family issues and gender roles. In the last three decades, European right-wing populist parties have partly revised their positions on these issues. While some of them have strengthened or made only marginal changes to their religiously-inspired moral conservatism, others have shown new openings on gender equality and LGBT+ rights.