Zombie Nationalism: The Sexual Politics of White Evangelical Christian Nihilism

In Atalia Omer & Joshua Lupo (eds.), Religion, Populism, and Modernity: Confronting White Christian Nationalism and Racism. University of Notre Dame Press. pp. 51-99 (2023)
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Despite their purported demographic and institutional decline, White evangelical voters were instrumental in the election of Donald Trump in 2016, and even more so in his 2020 loss. The story of Trump’s electoral successes among Christian voters in the last two elections is in large part the story of religious nationalism—and White Christian nationalism in particular—because Trump personifies the convergence of nationalism-infused forms of messianism and apocalypticism intrinsic to White evangelicalism, which culminate in QAnon cultic ideology. However, these same ethnoreligious/nationalist patterns and logics extend much further back than Trump’s insurgent candidacy. This chapter traces the recurring, resurgent patterns of “zombie nationalism” among White evangelical Christians in the United States over the last half century that emerged in response to periods of significant societal change and certain recurring sociopolitical issues. In particular, alongside established elective affinities around ethnicity (whiteness) and religion (Christianity), this chapter makes the case for incorporating gender and sexual politics as key factors in the articulation and legitimation of religious nationalism in the United States. White Christian nationalism tends to reemerge as a salient political force during periods of rapid social change and diversification, driven by racialized religious grievances symptomatic of Nietzsche’s concept of ressentiment, or the paradoxical internalization and reprojection of a person’s or group’s perceived endangerment, victimhood, and/or suffering, in order to gain power. Drawing on examples of marriage equality and reproductive rights, this chapter demonstrates how an understanding of sexual politics is key to both apprehending and breaking the cyclical reanimation of White Christian nationalism. Escaping the nihilistic impulses driving these cycles will require White evangelicals to develop new hermeneutical tools capable of transforming the exclusionary patterns of racism, ethnocentrism, heteronormativity, and patriarchy that fuel the engine of ressentiment animating zombie nationalism.

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Jason Springs
University of Notre Dame


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