Mapping the Battle Against Christian Nationalism

The Henry Luce Foundation has awarded UConn’s Meanings of Democracy Lab $300,000 to chart resistance to Christian nationalism

A wooden cross sits on top of an American flag.


Associate professor of sociology Ruth Braunstein has built her career exploring opposing political forces.  

Ruth Braunstein headshot
Ruth Braunstein is an associate professor of sociology at UConn and the director of the Meanings of Democracy Lab.

Her first book, “Prophets and Patriots: Faith in Democracy Across the Political Divide,” compared a conservative Tea Party chapter with a progressive faith-based group, examining how each understood itself to be “carrying forward the promise of the American democratic project.” Her 2023 op eds in Religion News on House Speaker Mike Johnson and pluralist resistance to Christian nationalism garnered significant public attention for the Meanings of Democracy Lab she directs at UConn. 

Now, Braunstein is taking her work on resistance movements formed in opposition to Christian nationalism to the digital sphere with a $300,000 grant from the Henry Luce Foundation. In addition to maintaining a database of individuals and organizations involved in this resistance movement, her lab will be producing a documentary-style podcast following “some of the strange bedfellows that are involved in this resistance work.” 

The podcast will be supplemented by an interactive web platform which will allow users to explore the full database of resistance efforts and spotlight even more individual stories. 

“It will help people get a sense of what these groups are really doing on the ground, to think critically, to educate themselves about what Christian nationalism is, where it might be showing up in their communities, whether they think it’s problematic and in what ways, and what a different vision of Christianity’s role in American public life might be,” Braunstein says. 

Christian nationalism has maintained roots in American soil since the nation’s founding, and it continues to flourish. 

“Essentially, it’s a mythological story about the United States … that at its founding, the country was perfect, sacred, and created for and by Christians — and that in the years since the founding, the country has slowly fallen away from the original promise of the country,” Braunstein explains. It also includes the idea that “that falling away has been both the fault of persons in the society and attacks by outsiders.” 

The proliferation of this worldview is a source of dismay for many across the political spectrum, including Braunstein herself. Though she notes the country has not always lived up to its pluralistic ideals, she believes these ideals call Americans to create “a democracy where people of all religious faiths and no religious faiths are welcome to live in the way they choose — and not just welcome, but also part of the group of people who get to create that society.” 

The resurgence of Christian nationalism in US politics has received a lot of media airtime, especially its role in violent events like the 2017 Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally and the 2021 Capitol insurrection. But Braunstein urges us to look, instead, toward the quieter coalition-building taking place across the nation as people join forces to combat the spread of this ideology. 

“I noticed that as Christian nationalism was gaining power and influence in American politics, it was also unleashing a wave of resistance,” she says.

That included the “usual suspects” — “liberal religious groups, legal defense groups” — who have been resisting Christian nationalism for decades, “but also included some new actors, including many conservative white Christians who were concerned about what Christian nationalism meant for both American democracy and American Christianity.” 

Her work explores the significance of this resistance for people from all walks of life. Everyone has a stake in determining the influence of Christian nationalism in American public life and policymaking, she says. 

“This really isn’t a partisan battle, either, because there are people in every corner of our politics that have concerns about this for different reasons,” she says, noting the well-documented links between Christian nationalism and racism, misogyny, Islamophobia, and nativism.  

People in churches and faith communities around the country “want to think hard about some of these questions, about their own privilege as white Christians, or their own barriers to inclusion as non-Christians or as non-white Christians. They want to be able to think about what the proper role of religion and Christianity in our politics, our public life, and policymaking is,” Braunstein says. 

“Those are hard conversations to have, but ones that I think are essential, and that the folks who are doing this resistance work are having,” she continues. “I hope that by lifting them up as diverse models for how to do this, other people might better understand how they could do that themselves.” 


Grant funding for this project comes from the Henry Luce Foundation’s Religion and Theology Program, through an initiative seeking to “Advance Public Knowledge on Democracy, Race and Religion in America.” 

The Henry Luce Foundation seeks to deepen knowledge and understanding in pursuit of a more democratic and just world. Established in 1936 by Henry R. Luce, the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Time, Inc., the Luce Foundation advances its mission by nurturing knowledge communities and institutions, fostering dialogue across divides, enriching public discourse, amplifying diverse voices, and investing in leadership development.