Populism and the Crisis of American Methodism

Authors

  • Anton Jäger KU Leuven

DOI:

https://doi.org/10.33182/ijor.v3i1.1862

Keywords:

Populism, American Methodism, American People's Party

Abstract

A rich literature on ‘populism’ and ‘religion’ has flourished in the preceding decade. Following a now consensual vision of ‘populism’ as ‘anti-pluralism’, scholars such as Cas Mudde, Daniel Steinmetz-Jenkins, and Duncan McDonnell have homed in on how populists weaponize religious themes and live off the decline of organized religiosity. This paper revisits these theses through a re-examination of the first self-declared populist movement in history, the American People’s Party of the late nineteenth century and two of its most prominent political personalities – Georgia Populist Thomas E. Watson and Boston radical Benjamin O. Flower. Both Watson and Flower were convinced Methodists all their lives and saw Populist farming associations in the 1890s as a natural extension of previous church networks. After the movement’s defeat in 1896, however, both remodulated their Methodism for specific ends: anti-Catholicism, opposition to Protestant missionary efforts, anti-vaccination sentiment and, in case of Watson, aggressive anti-Semitism. Rather than seeing these instances as deviations from a populist creed, this paper investigates how Flower and Watson’s Populism saw the crisis of American Methodism as part of a broader republican decline, and how this insight can inform contemporary discussion on the interrelation between populism, pluralism, democracy, and religion.

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Published

2022-06-01

How to Cite

Jäger, A. (2022). Populism and the Crisis of American Methodism . International Journal of Religion, 3(1), 49–61. https://doi.org/10.33182/ijor.v3i1.1862

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Articles