News

Coming Soon: Profiles in Resistance

Well, that’s a wrap on Fall 2023. This semester has flown by, but the Pluralist Resistance to Christian Nationalism team here at the Meanings of Democracy Lab has gotten a huge amount of work done, and we are looking forward to sharing more with you in the coming months.

In addition to our work compiling a database of organizations resisting Christian Nationalism in the US today and developing a Pluralist Resistance Syllabus for interested readers, each member of the research team has selected one organization to be the subject of a profile focusing specifically on their efforts to resist CN.

We will be rolling out these Profiles in Resistance in the new year, and hope you will follow along as we do so. In the meantime, please be in touch with suggestions of other organizations or leaders whose work we should be following.


Speaker Mike Johnson and the Influence of Christian Nationalism

Graphic: Kojo Aurelien; Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Last month, Representative Mike Johnson of Louisiana replaced Kevin McCarthy as Speaker of the House of Representatives, making him third in line to the Presidency. Since his election, experts have weighed in on the role religion plays in the Speaker’s life and political views, and his embrace of many ideas associated with White Christian Nationalism.

Last week, Meanings of Democracy Lab Director Dr. Ruth Braunstein contributed to this conversation with a focus on the Speaker’s longtime concerns about Christian persecution, and how a mounting sense of embattlement has contributed to the radicalization of many white evangelical Christians in the US.

Mike Johnson embodies evangelicals’ embattlement strategy. It may be backfiring, by Ruth Braunstein

Interested in learning more? We’ve curated 10 additional articles featuring experts on religion and politics diving deeper into who Johnson is and why this matters. (more…)


The Pluralist Resistance Syllabus

As our team begins its work to build a comprehensive database of the groups and leaders combatting (White) Christian Nationalism, we have compiled a list of books that are part of this effort. Some of these have been written by groups and leaders engaged in this work. Others are referenced in public discussions about the dangers of WCN for American democracy and Christianity. Finally, others are academic texts that expand our understanding of the history and current nature of WCN in the US. 

NOTE: This is a working document, and we invite you to submit suggestions for additions to Dr. Ruth Braunstein at ruth.braunstein@uconn.edu.


The Syllabus

(Alphabetical by author last name – last update: December 31, 2023)

Alberta, Tim. 2023. The Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory: American Evangelicals in an Age of Extremism. Harper.

Brockschmidt, Annika. 2021. Amerikas Gotteskrieger: Wie Die Religiöse Rechtedie Demokratie Gefährdet. Originalausgabe ed. Hamburg: Rowohlt Taschenbuch Verlag.

Braunstein, Ruth. 2017. Prophets and Patriots: Faith in Democracy Across the Political Divide. Oakland, California: University of California Press.

Butler, Anthea D. 2021. White Evangelical Racism. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press. 

Cooper-White, Pamela. 2022. The Psychology of Christian Nationalism: Why People are Drawn in and how to Talk Across the Divide. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press. (more…)


Who is the Pluralist Resistance? Criteria for inclusion

This semester our team is starting to build a comprehensive database of the groups and leaders working to combat (White) Christian Nationalism. We call this loosely defined set of groups and leaders the Pluralist Resistance.

We define this field broadly, recognizing that this work is happening across numerous institutional fields; across party lines; across religious, racial and other social divides; and from the local to the transnational level.

Nonetheless, in an effort to create some boundaries around the field, we have identified five criteria for inclusion. Efforts need to fulfill at least one in order to be considered part of this field. (more…)


Christian nationalists have provoked a pluralist resistance

Meanings of Democracy Lab Director, Dr. Ruth Braunstein, has published a new essay at Religion News Service arguing that though the resurgence of Christian Nationalism in American politics has rightfully raised public concern, there is another, relatively untold, side of this story: The most recent rise of Christian nationalism has ignited a wave of resistance. 

According to PRRI, Americans who have heard of Christian nationalism are twice as likely to hold a negative than a positive view of the term. These Americans also reject the specific ideas associated with the ideology. Indeed, the 3 in 10 Americans that PRRI found who align with Christian nationalism to some degree are opposed by nearly the same percentage (29%) who completely reject the ideas associated with Christian nationalism. Another 39% is skeptical.

Most importantly, these Americans are joining a growing movement I call the pluralist resistance. They are taking action through a diverse set of organizations that each tackles a different dimension of Christian nationalism’s influence.

(more…)


Work with us in Fall 2023!

Are you interested in working with the Meanings of Democracy Lab? During Fall 2023, we are seeking Research Assistants to work on two different projects: 

Mapping the Pluralist Resistance to Christian Nationalism:
– RAs on this team will assist Dr. Braunstein with the development of a database of groups and leaders working to combat Christian Nationalism in the United States.
– Tasks will include research online and using social media; collecting publicly available data on nonprofit organizations (e.g., IRS Form 990s); maintaining detailed records in a spreadsheet; and working to develop public-facing op-eds and reports based on the research. 
– This team does not require previous research experience, and may be interesting for students interested in politics, religion, and academic research.
The Moral Meanings of Taxpaying:  
– RAs on this team will assist Dr. Braunstein with tasks related to the publication of a new book, as well as several related articles.
– Tasks will include factchecking, standardizing footnotes and references, and working to develop public-facing op-eds and reports based on the research. 
– This team will be most interesting for students who wish to work in publishing, writing, or academic research. 
 
In addition, the Lab is looking for two interns, who will also be part of these teams:
Book Publishing Intern: This person will be part of the Moral Meanings of Taxpaying team, and will have primary responsibility for work related to Dr. Braunstein’s book manuscript. This opportunity would be ideal for someone wishing to gain work experience in the publishing field
 
Social Media Intern: This person will manage the Lab’s social media accounts in consultation with Dr. Braunstein. This person could also work as a member on one of the research teams. This opportunity would be ideal for someone wishing to gain work experience in the digital marketing and communications field. 
 
The positions are open to rising sophomores, juniors and seniors. Preferred GPA is 3.6 or higher. Students from any campus are welcome to apply. Work will primarily be conducted virtually, though if students are based at Stamford there may be some in-person work. Students will receive three units of 3000-level directed research credit. 
To help us evaluate how good a fit you would be for each of these positions, please fill out an application form at: https://forms.gle/JzFgBTFghtN4ZY4j8. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact Dr. Braunstein at ruth.braunstein@uconn.edu.

Introducing our Fall 2022 Team

This Fall, the Meanings of Democracy Lab welcomes a new cohort of Undergraduate Research Assistants!

Gloria Dickson 

Harrison Hua 

Brianna Monte

The team brings a diverse mix of research skills and interests, and will be sharing the results of their work together throughout the semester through the Lab’s website and social media channels, so stay tuned!

Several big questions animate how Americans engage in civic and political life: Who counts as a “real” American? What is required of a “good” citizen? Is American democracy flourishing or floundering? In today’s deeply polarized America, the answers to these questions depend on who you ask, but the ways that different people answer them matter for us all.

The Meanings of Democracy Lab engages students and partners in collaborative research on and discussion about the contested moral and cultural foundations of American democratic life. Current projects focus on the moral meanings of taxpaying (particularly in relation to debates over taxpayer funding for abortion) and battles over the roles of race and religion in American identity and history.

If you are interested in participating in or collaborating with the Meanings of Democracy Lab, email Dr. Ruth Braunstein at ruth.braunstein@uconn.edu.


This entry was posted in News.

Lab featured in UConn Today

UConn Today has written an article featuring the Meanings of Democracy Lab and its director Dr. Ruth Braunstein, with commentary from winners of the Meanings of America Contest and Dr. Susan Herbst. Check it out!

Screenshot of UConn Today article


This entry was posted in News.

Nicholas Xenophontos discusses “Meanings of America”

Who gets to define what “America” means? Politicians get a lot of air time. We wanted to hear what “the people” think. So in Fall 2021, we launched a contest asking UConn students to tell us what “America” means to them. We received a diverse array of responses in the form of short essays, creative writing, poetry, photography, and other forms of original artwork, from students across UConn’s schools and campuses. Of these, eight winners rose to the top based on their originality, creativity, and quality.

View the video below to hear First Place Prize winner Nicholas Xenophontos read his essay and discuss his inspiration for this work.  

“Meanings of America”
by Nicholas Xenophontos
CLAS, Sociology and Math
Class of 2023

Let us renounce stars, stripes, and eagles, for America is meaningless and in that fact we have our greatest strength. Albeit a maddening and confusing claim, it is nevertheless true that the defining trait of our sovereign nation is its lack of definition. This does not disavow any claims that we, as a people, hold certain traits or meanings as wholly American. After all, we are America the free, the brave, and the just, and in our shared belief of these principles we bring them into reality. However, we fail to recognize the consequences of these values’ existence, and how our creation of American meanings ultimately destroy themselves. 

Consider: America is free, thus you are free. You can vote and run for office when eligible. You can live wherever, eat whatever, and work however you desire. You can do anything. However, America is free, thus your neighbor is free too. They can vote and run for office when eligible, even if that means voting for or creating policies that make you less eligible. Or perhaps your neighbor is your landlord, bodega owner, or boss, with the freedom to set your rent, prices, or wages. They are free enough to trap you financially, so that even with the freedom to buy carrots, your wallet will demand you always buy the cheaper produce. Hence, America is free, but you are merely dreaming of freedom, just as you are of carrots. You can do anything, but you will only do some things. 

Consider: America is brave, thus you are brave. You have the courage to be yourself and pursue your Dream. You have the strength to cry when sad, laugh when happy, and swear when angry. You do not hold back. However, America is brave, thus your guardian is brave too. They have the courage to be themself and pursue their Dream, even if that means keeping you and your aspirations grounded. Or perhaps your guardian is your advisor, teacher, or religious leader, with the bravery to force you to stifle your tears, smiles, or language. They are brave enough to make sure you hold your tongue, so that even with the bravery to curse at failure, your heart will demand you remain reserved. Hence, America is brave, yet you are merely dreaming of bravery, just as you are of sobbing. You do not hold back, but you will manage expectations.

Consider: America is just, thus you are just. You know your morals and always support that which is right. You know what it means to be good, what it means to be evil, and how to tell them apart. You know all truths. However, America is just, thus, your sibling is just too. They know their morals and always support that which is right, even if that means supporting what you know is wrong. Or perhaps your sibling is your police, judge, or local activist, with the justice to enforce good, condemn evil, and debate the differences. They are just enough to build laws, so that even with the justice to know such laws are wrong, your mind will demand you accept them. Hence, America is just, yet you are merely dreaming of justice, just as you are for fair laws. You know all truths, but you cannot understand others’ truths. 

Try any core pillar of American identity and you will find hypocrisy, redundancy, and irony. Our entire history is one of betrayal to any of our intrinsic merits, starting with the colonial destruction of the Natives’ society, land, and culture, leading into a scarred and bloodied past far too extensive, with wounds which still ooze today and keep us locked in false sanctimony. So, though we may have meaning in theory, in practice America is meaningless. Yet this is no weakness, as it frees us of any nationalistic chains. If we only realize that any meanings we conjure are but illusions, we can forgo the burden of continuing any “American legacy” and instead focus on building our future how we want. 

Consider: America is meaningless, thus you are meaningless. You can define what being American means to you and follow that meaning unabated. You can be free, brave, or just, but if you so choose you can also be humble, bashful, or kind. And, America is meaningless, thus your fellow Americans are meaningless. They can define what being American means to them and follow that meaning unabated, without interfering and interference from you. They can be humble, bashful or kind, but if they so choose they can also be free, brave, or just. This is our future, if we collectively abandon a strict definition of what it means to be American. This is our future, if we allow each of us to find meaning in America however we wish. This is our future: a nation full of potential, but to meet our potential requires the full nation.


Srivani Agnihotram discusses “America”

Who gets to define what “America” means? Politicians get a lot of air time. We wanted to hear what “the people” think. So in Fall 2021, we launched a contest asking UConn students to tell us what “America” means to them. We received a diverse array of responses in the form of short essays, creative writing, poetry, photography, and other forms of original artwork, from students across UConn’s schools and campuses. Of these, eight winners rose to the top based on their originality, creativity, and quality.

View the video below to hear Honorable Mention winner Srivani Agnihotram read her poem “America,” and discuss her inspiration for this work.  

AMERICA
by Srivani Agnihotram
CLAS, Physiology and Neurobiology
Class of 2023

America.
The Land of the Free,
The Home of the Brave,
The Melting Pot of diversity,
Where there’s Liberty and Justice for All. 

America.
Opportunities at your doorstep,
Anyone can thrive,
You just have to try…HARDER,
Why are you so stressed? 

America.
It’s an achievable goal.
If you’re not at the top,
Then you’re lazy as hell.
Is this what “your people” taught you to be?
Go back to your country – you’re not welcome here. 

America.
Access to education,
Kids hopping on school buses while parents peep through windows.
The white mother says “go have some fun!”
The black mother says “if you see a gun, run.” 

America.
Equality and peace at our foundation,
Are these really what govern our country?
White privilege muffles the cries of minorities.
What’s the point of a protest if you can’t HEAR me? 

America.
Monopoly, monopoly, monopoly.
Oh, you found something good? Let me do you a favor.
I’ll take
these off your hands,
And you can just buy from me, okay? 

America.
“If you go out like that, you’re asking for it.”
“Honestly, it’s your fault for being unconscious.”
“Why couldn’t you say no? It’s not that hard.”
Another death. Suicide. Rape. Murder.

America,
When does this end?
I thought I could thrive here, but I’M DYING
Of laughter
Because you couldn’t uphold what my ancestors thought you were all along.
You’re a con, a fake, I can’t trust you at all.
I depended on you for my family’s success,
But you just give me a downfall.
I’m too far down to pick myself up. You’ve crushed me past my limits.
I’ve had it. I’m done.
But I can’t let go.
You’re toxic, I’m toxic. I have what I need here.
You need me for diversity – I need you for opportunity.
Even though you’ve made me cry and bleed,
I come back to this land grateful for what I’ve seen
And explored.
You’ve given me strength to fight for my rights.
To embrace who I am, and show the world my might.
America, instead of burning me down to blacken,
Try lifting me up and see what happens.