Populism and the Crisis of American Methodism


  • Anton Jäger KU Leuven




Populism, American Methodism, American People's Party


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.


Metrics Loading ...




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