Demographic Winter

My university is celebrating “Intercontinental Week.” This is the poster I see as I walk across campus:

The first time I saw the poster, I blinked because for a second I thought I was seeing this image:

Demographic Winter is a documentary produced by a trio of Mormon filmmakers to support the work of the World Congress of Families, a American-based organization that describes itself as “an international network of pro-family organizations, scholars, leaders and people of goodwill from more than 60 countries that seek to restore the natural family as the fundamental social unit.” The documentary’s argument, supported by interviews with scholars associated with the WCF, is that falling birthrates, especially in developed nations, are precipitating a demographic crisis where we’ll have large aging populations without enough younger people to support them or replenish the population. This picture of the future contrasts, of course, with fears about global overpopulation–fears that the film asserts reflect a fundamental misapprehension of what’s really happening. The subtext is that people need to return to the pro-natal values that have been eroded, since the 1960s, by a rise in women working outside the home, the sexual revolution, liberalized divorce laws, and inaccurate beliefs about overpopulation (which the filmmakers regard as something approaching a conspiracy).

At the 2011 annual meeting of the American Studies Association, I sat on a panel with two colleagues, Sandra Garner and Rita Trimble, that analyzed Demographic Winter and two other documentaries by the same filmmakers. I said that this film exemplifies what legal scholars Doris Buss and Didi Herman call the “globalization” and “intellectualization” of Christian right politics. Like the WCF, whose work it supports, Demographic Winter represents the coming together of conservative evangelicals, Catholics, Mormons, Jews, and Muslims to create an interreligious pro-family movement that seeks to influence policy in the United Nations and around the world. Whether you applaud this movement or deplore it, it’s an important development in global politics. In my own work, I call this kind of interreligious collaboration “conservative pluralism.” Some of those who advocate this kind of collaboration call it “ecumenical jihad.”

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