Religious nationalism is the relationship of nationalism to a particular religious belief, dogma, or affiliation. This relationship can be broken down into two aspects: the politicization of religion and the influence of religion on politics.
In the former aspect, a shared religion can be seen to contribute to a sense of national unity, a common bond among the citizens of the nation. Another political aspect of religion is the support of a national identity, similar to a shared ethnicity, language, or culture. The influence of religion on politics is more ideological, where current interpretations of religious ideas inspire political activism and action; for example, laws are passed to foster stricter religious adherence.
Ideologically-driven religious nationalism may not necessarily be targeted against other religions per se, but can be articulated in response to modernity and, in particular, secular nationalism. Indeed, religious nationalism may articulate itself as the binary of secular nationalism. Nation-states whose boundaries and borders are relatively recent or that have experienced colonialism may be more prone to religious nationalism, which may stand as a more authentic or “traditional” rendering of identity. Thus, there was a global rise of religious nationalism in the wake of the end of the cold war, but also as postcolonial politics (facing considerable developmental challenges, but also dealing with the reality of colonially-defined, and therefore somewhat artificial, borders) became challenged. In such a scenario, appealing to a national sense of Islamic identity, as in the cases of Pakistan and Indonesia, may serve to override regional tensions.
The danger is that when the state derives political legitimacy from adherence to religious doctrines, this may leave an opening to overtly religious elements, institutions, and leaders, making the appeals to religion more ‘authentic’ by bringing more explicitly theological interpretations to political life. Thus, appeals to religion as a marker of ethnicity creates an opening for more strident and ideological interpretations of religious nationalism.
Many ethnic and cultural nationalisms include religious aspects, but as a marker of group identity, rather than the intrinsic motivation for nationalist claims.
Buddhist Nationalism is mainly prevalent and influential in the countries like Sri Lanka and Myanmar.
- Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism is a political ideology which combines a focus upon Sinhalese culture and ethnicity with an emphasis upon Theravada Buddhism, which is the majority belief system of the Sinhalese in Sri Lanka.
- The Patriotic association of Myanmar and 969 movements have the goal to organise and protect the Burman people and their Buddhist religion, which are influenced by the Buddhist Nationalism in Myanmar.
Christian nationalists focus more on internal politics, such as passing laws that reflect their view of Christianity. In the United States, Christian nationalism tends to be conservative. Distinctive radicalized forms of religious nationalism or clerical nationalism (clero-nationalism or clerico-nationalism) were emerging on the far-right of the political spectrum in various European countries specially during the interwar period in the first half of 20th century.
- In Poland, nationalism was always characterized by loyalty to the Roman Catholic Church. Groups like the National Revival of Poland use slogans like Wielka Polska Katolicka (Great Catholic Poland) and protest vigorously against legalization of gay marriage and abortion. Conservative religious groups connected with Radio Maryja are often accused of harboring nationalist and antisemitic attitudes.
- Religious nationalism characterized by communal adherence to Eastern Orthodoxy and national Orthodox Churches is found in many states of Eastern Europe and in the Russian Federation.
Given the extensive linguistic, religious, and ethnic diversity of the Indian population, nationalism in India in general does not fall within the purview of a solitary variant of nationalism. Indians may identify with their nation on account of civic, cultural, or third-world nationalism. Some commentators have expressed the idea that in modern India, a contemporary form of Hindu nationalism, or Hindutva, has been endorsed by the Bharatiya Janata Party and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. The Hindu nationalism however is more of a cultural nationalism called as “Hindu polity” than actual religious nationalism.
Pakistani nationalism is very closely associated with Muslim heritage, the religion of Islam, and pan-Islamism, as described in Two-nation theory. It also refers to the consciousness and expression of religious and ethnic influences that help mould the national consciousness.
Religious Zionism is an ideology that combines Zionism and Orthodox Judaism. Before the establishment of the State of Israel, Religious Zionists were mainly observant Jews who supported Zionist efforts to rebuild a Jewish state in the Land of Israel. After the Six-Day War, and the capture of the West Bank, a territory referred to in Jewish, Biblical terms as Judea and Samaria, right-wing components of the Religious Zionist movement became integrated with Israeli nationalism and evolved into Neo-Zionism, whose ideology revolves around three pillars: the Land of Israel, the People of Israel, and the Torah of Israel.
Other religious movements and nationalism
In the Korean peninsula the Donghak movement and its leader, Choe Je-u, were inspired by Korean Catholic missionaries. However, they condemned the ‘Western learning’ preached by missionaries and contrasted it with the indigenous ‘Eastern learning’. They started a rebellion in 1894 in Jeolla province in southwestern Korea. The rebellion was eventually crushed by Chinese and Japanese troops, resulting in 300,000 fatalities. It is comparable to the millenarian Taiping revolution led by Hong Xiuquan, who was also inspired by Catholic missionaries. The Donghak movement served as a template for the later Daejonggyo and Jeungsan-gyo movements, as well as for other religious nationalist movements. The Buddhist-influenced Daejonggyo movement financed guerillas in Manchuria during Japanese colonial rule of both Korea and Manchuria. The North Korean state ideology, Juche, is sometimes classified as a religion in the United States Department of State’s human rights reports.