Penn State Penn State: College of the Liberal Arts

The McCourtney Institute for Democracy



Our events bring thought-provoking conversations about democracy to the Penn State community and beyond. All events are free and open to anyone. Professional recordings by C-NET will be posted to our  YouTube channel following each event.

Populism and Religion: A Transactional Alliance? 

Cas Mudde

Friday, October 20, 4:00 p.m. EDT
Foster Auditorium, Paterno Library

Populism and religion have a long relationship, not least in the US. The great Populist orator of the early 20th century, William Jennings Bryan, was a deeply religious man, who always infused his populism with his Christianity.  Today, authoritarian leaders still combine populism with virtually every major religion across the global – for example, Jair Bolsonaro and Christianity in Brazil, Aryeh Deri (Shas) and Judaism in Israel, Narendra Modi and Hinduism in India, and Recep Tayyip Erdogan with Islam in Turkey. Still, the relationship between populism and religion is complex, in theory and practice, and in most cases politicians use one of the two transactionally. Most (right-wing) populists are more patriotic than pious, although some are (or pretend to be) both, politicizing religion rather than religionizing politics.  

Cas Mudde is the Stanley Wade Shelton UGAF Professor in the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Georgia and a Professor II in the Center for Research on Extremism (C-REX) at the University of Oslo. His research aims to address the question: how can liberal democracies defend themselves against political challenges without undermining their core values? 

Mudde’s lecture is the keynote lecture for the Populism, Piety, and Patriotism conference, an event that will bring scholars from around the world to Penn State to discuss the connections between religion and anti-democratic actions and behavior.

Women, Life, Freedom: Nasrin’s Fight for Human Rights and Equality in Iran

Nasrin documentary screening

Wednesday, October 25, 7:00 p.m. EDT
The State Theatre
Screening Tickets

2023 Brown Democracy Medal Ceremony

Thursday, October 26, 4:00 p.m. EDT
Foster Auditorium, Paterno Library

Nasrin Sotoudeh is an Iranian lawyer and human rights activist who has been called “Iran’s Nelson Mandela.” Sotoudeh is a longtime opponent of the death penalty, advocate of improving imprisonment health conditions, and an activist dedicated to fighting for the rights of women, children, religious and ethnic minorities, journalists and artists, and those facing execution.  

For this important work, she is the recipient of the 2023 Brown Democracy Medal, marking the award’s 10th year. She is also the subject of the 2020 documentary “Nasrin,” by filmmakers Jeff Kaufman and Marcia S. Ross. Kaufman and Ross will accept the Brown Democracy Medal on Sotoudeh’s behalf on October 26 at 4:00 p.m. in Paterno Library’s Foster Auditorium.  

Staying Real: The War on Truth and How to Win It 

Jonathan Rauch

Tuesday, November 14 5:00 p.m. EST
110 Business Building

Trolls. Disinformation. Canceling. Conspiracy theories. If America’s grasp on reality seems to be under attack, that’s because it is. Epistemic warfare—the use of powerful psychological manipulations to divide, distract, and disorient our society—has come into its own in the 21st century as never before.  

In this dramatically illustrated talk, the author of The Constitution of Knowledge: A Defense of Truth explains the goals and tactics of the war on truth. He shows who’s behind it and how it works. Most important, he reveals the inner workings and hidden strengths of our precious Constitution of Knowledge—and how to capitalize on them to fight back. 

Jonathan Rauch is a contributing writer at The Atlantic and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.