Conservative Christianity and religious politics in the UK link graph

[The abstract for a paper now accepted for the Resaw conference in Amsterdam in June of this year, The Web That Was]

Scholars of conservative Protestant Christianity have known for many years of various correlations between conservatism in doctrine and particular stances on a number of key political issues. Most visible in the USA, these correlations have involved issues of personal morality that are connected with the law, such as abortion or the rights of gay and lesbian people.

Less often scrutinised has been the engagement of conservative Protestants with issues of biblical interpretation that have political and cultural consequences: climate change, creationism and the interpretation of biblical prophecy in relation to current politics (including the state of Israel) and the end of the world (Sweetnam, 2019). Scholars of right-wing politics in general have also often noted a further correlation between some varieties of conservative Christianity and a generalised sympathy for the politics of the right. In the UK, scholars have examined in particular Christian attitudes to the European Union and to concerns about the place of Islam in public life (Smith and Woodhead, 2018; Atherstone, 2019)

However, although each of these correlations has been observed singly, rather less is known about the degree to which the same individuals or groups have engaged with several or all of these issues as a package. It is also the case that rather less attention has been paid to the distinctive configuration of these concerns in nations other than the USA.

This paper examines the online interrelations between evangelical churches in the UK and the constellation of other organisations online, religious and not, that concern themselves with issues of prophetic interpretation, the eschatological significance of Israel, climate change denial, euroscepticism, and the supposed threat of Islam to the nature of ‘Christian Britain’. It examines the extent to which individual churches engage with these various issues singly, as opposed to jointly. It also investigates the extent to which some issues are more prominent than others in British evangelicalism, by an analysis of the relative weight of links to some organisations in comparison to others.

It does so by means of two publicly available link graph datasets. The first is provided by the British Library and is derived from the holdings of the .uk ccTLD in the Internet Archive for the period 1996-2013; the second is the worldwide link graph derived from a Common Crawl corpus from 2012 by scholars at the University of Mannheim.

Since this latter dataset has (to the best of my knowledge) so far not been utilised at all by scholars of the humanities, I also reflect on the methodological challenges it presents, and the difficulties of commensuration between data derived under different conditions by different organisations.

The method used is a development of that used in previous studies, notably Webster (2017) and so far unpublished work on creationism in the UK.

A. Atherstone (2019), ‘Evangelicals and Islam’ in Atherstone and Jones (eds), The Routledge Research Companion to the History of Evangelicalism (Abingdon: Routledge).
G. Smith and L. Woodhead (2018), ‘Religion and Brexit: populism and the Church of England’, Religion, State and Society, 46:3, 206-223.
M. Sweetnam (2019), ‘Evangelicals and the end of the world’ in Atherstone and Jones (eds), The Routledge Research Companion to the History of Evangelicalism (Abingdon: Routledge).
P. Webster (2017), ‘Religious discourse in the archived Web: Rowan Williams, archbishop of Canterbury and the sharia law controversy of 2008’ in Brugger and Schroeder (eds), The Web as History (London:UCL Press).

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