Meaning matters: The political language of Islamic populism

Inaya Rakhmani, Vedi Hadiz

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Populism can be understood as a reaction to the adverse effects of neoliberal globalization: growing social inequality and social dislocations that have caused a common sense of alienation among many. The way the reaction is expressed, however, come in fragmented and distinctive ways. Here, we look specifically at the political language of Islamic populism to understand how otherwise diverse sets of social interests can be bound together by forging a particular kind of religiously derived political lexicon. We combine a global and cross-regionally oriented political economy approach to populism with cultural political economy, and show how this political language is shaped, mediated, and mobilized through various media technologies and markets in conjunction with concrete struggles over power and tangible resources. Our focus is on Islamic populism in Indonesia, which we treat in comparative perspective. On the surface, the deployment of religious symbols in electoral competition and public discourses there could be seen as an indicator of ideological contestations within a thriving democracy. However, we suggest that these are mainly being absorbed into the workings of Indonesian capitalism in the interest of already dominant social alliances. In this way, the political language of Islamic populism has posed less of a challenge to established elites than bolstered them. This is made possible by Islamic populism's ability to mobilize an apparently unified, but actually fragmented, ummah (community of believers) in times of intensified conflict.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Palgrave Handbook of Populism
PublisherSpringer International Publishing AG
Number of pages17
ISBN (Print)9783030808037
Publication statusPublished - 15 Nov 2021


  • Cultural political economy
  • Indonesia
  • Islamic populism
  • Political language
  • Populism


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