'Nones' in the populist public sphere : non-believing and belonging amongst millennials in Poland and Romania

Bullock, Josh and Herbert, David (2019) 'Nones' in the populist public sphere : non-believing and belonging amongst millennials in Poland and Romania. In: Fragile Europe : 5th Midterm Conference; 02 - 03 Nov 2018, Prague, Czech Republic. (Unpublished)


While religious participation is generally in decline across Europe, especially amongst younger generations, religion has become an important cultural resource for right wing populist political mobilisation in several Central and Eastern European countries, including Poland and Romania. For example, in Poland, a socially conservative nationalist political ideology which claims support from traditional Catholic values informs the governing Law and Justice party, leading to measures to restrict women’s reproductive rights (hence impacting younger women in particular) and free speech concerning Poland’s wartime record. In Romania this influence has been more widely dispersed across the political spectrum since the collapse of the Greater Romania party, but remains influential in public and political discourse. This paper asks, how does this publicization of religion impact on non-believing millennials in Poland and Romania? While survey evidence (WVS) shows the importance of religion and God is in decline especially amongst younger people, still only 2.2% of Romanians and 3.9% of Poles under 30 rated religion as of no importance to them (WVS, 2012), making them a small minority, whilst 45% of Romanians and 17% of Poles considered (WVS, 2006) ‘politicians who don’t believe in God to be unfit for public office’, suggesting the continuing importance of religious conformity for success in public life. The paper draws on three sources to understand the impact of these conditions on young non-believers. First, it draws on surveys of public opinion to situate the phenomenon in broader European and comparative context; second, it examines the rhetoric around atheism and non-belief in populist political discourse, to assess the extent to which this group of religious non-conformists is represented and reacts to this climate; and third, it draws on interviews conducted with non-believing millennials in Poland and Romania in the spring of 2018.

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