We currently live in an age of rising ethno-religious nationalism across the world. From India to the United States, Russia, and numerous European countries we see a particular group within the nation identifying themselves with the state with gusto while simultaneously casting others outside of it—a process that has dangerous results particularly for ethnic and religious minorities. But how should we understand nationalism and its definition?In my recent book Journey into Europe: Islam, Immigration, and Identity (Brookings Institution Press, 2018),I identified a strong ethnic or tribal identity in Europe, whereby the ethnic community of European countries fuses the state with itself and bands together against “outsiders”—people who are not of that ethnicity. These “outsiders,” even if they have been in the country for generations, are seen as foreigners unsuited to be a full part of the nation. This makes it difficult for Muslims in European countries as they are seen as the “other” and not part of the ethno-national community0. Our understanding of European nationalism, as I point out in my study, which went on to shape how nationalism was conceived and interpreted around the world including in South Asia comes from the work of Johann Gottfriedv on Herder (1744–1803), known as the “father of nationalism.” His articulation of the concept of the “Volk,” or people, became fundamentally important to how we understand nationalism.One of the seminal European philosophers who would influence other major figures such as G. W. F. Hegel, Herder originated the concept of the Volksgeist, the unique spirit of a people rooted in their primeval characters, which soon became synonymous with Volk itself. While the concept of the Volk, meaning “people” and linked to the terrain, history, culture, and lineage of the community, had been with the Germanic peoples for centuries, it was only around the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, as the German-dominated Holy Roman Empire was approaching its demise, that the term was further refined and began to acquire its modern connotations of being aggressively linked to blood, soil, music, art, literature, culture, and ultimately ethnic nationalism. Characteristics of Volk and other overlapping definitions of identity were encapsulated by the phrase Blut und Boden, “Blood and Soil,” later appropriated by the Nazis for their malevolent purposes. Herder, a pupil of Immanuel Kant, believed that every ethnic nation of the world had its own unique spirit, its own Volk. Each nation was seen as a plant, with its roots stretching back into history. That each distinct national plant should develop separately was part of God’s plan. For Herder, the world was likened to a garden of Völker, with each plant having its own particular fragrance. When taken as a whole, each nation in its distinctiveness contributed to a beautiful world, a sweet-smelling garden. Like other Germanic scholars, Herder emphasized soil and a link with ethnicity and blood as defining factors in determining both the spirit and identity of the Volk. Herder believed that the essence of the Volk could be seen in its purest form in folk music ,literature, and poetry. From these, Herder wrote, “one can learn the mode of thought of a nationality and its language of feeling.”These poems and songs, often known by the peasantry or people in rural areas, were for Herder “the archives” and “living voice” of each nationality and the “imprints” of its soul.“A poet,” Herder wrote in 1773, “is the creator of the nation around him, he gives them a world to see and has their souls in his hand to lead them to that world.” In keeping with this notion, to discover the spirit of one’s authentic Volk one must eschew reason for emotion. The past, Herder said, can be understood “by feeling one’s way” into it. Herder’s philosophy of the Volk overlapped with Ibn Khaldun’s concept of as abiyyah, or ethnic group cohesiveness, in conceptualizing people living in rural areas and tribal societies as being more authentic in their Volk than people in the cities, whose society, Herder believed, had been diluted and compromised. Herder also praised the traditional code of honor and hospitality of the rural tribes as being preferable to the vague Enlightenment notion of the unity of man, which had currency in the cosmopolitan cities.Herder, a pupil of Immanuel Kant, believed that every ethnic nation of the world had its own unique spirit, its own Volk. Each nation was seen as a plant,with its roots stretching back into history. That each distinct national plant should develop separately was part of God’s planHerder believed that a natural, God-sanctioned state was one with a single nationality and a single Volk. As the historian Pierre James explained, “for [Herder], nation, state, and Volk were virtually synonymous.” The thought of a pluralistic nation-state with different kinds of people living together was intolerable and horrifying. The nation, Herder wrote, is a family:“A kingdom consisting of a single nationality is a family, a well-regulated household. . . founded by nature.” “An empire formed by forcing together a hundred nationalities, and a hundred and fifty provinces,” he said, “is no body politic, but a monstrosity.” Herder was concerned that the Germany of his time had been harmed by the influence of foreign ideas and customs and that it had been subjected to “an imposed foreign civilization.” Herder was especially disparaging of the German tendency to speak foreign languages, particularly Latin and French. The dishonorable desire in a Volk to construct a culture based on foreign influences was an indication, as Herder put it, of “disease, flatulence, abnormal surfeit and approaching death.”The native language, Herder wrote, “is filled with the life and blood of our forefathers.” Herder appealed to the honor of the Germans, arguing, “He that despises the language of his nationality dishonors its most noble public; he becomes the most dangerous murderer of her spirit, of her honor at home and abroad, of her sentiments, of her finer morality and activity.”In the poem “An die Deutschen” (To the Germans), Herder put his sentiments in verse: “And you German alone, returning from abroad,Wouldst greet your motherin French?O spew it out, before your doorSpew out the ugly slime of the SeineSpeak German, O you German!”Herder lamented that the Germans did not seem to know their own folk literature. He desired a national literature that would be specifically and characteristically German and attempted to shame the German nation for not having come up with one: “You have no Shakespeare; have you also no songs of your for bears of which you can boast? . . . Without doubt they have been and still exist; but they are lying under the slime, are unappreciated and despised.”The honoring of ancestors was also fundamental to the exercise of rediscovering and reviving the spirit of the Volk. The Fatherland, as explained by Herder, “has descended from our fathers; it arouses the remembrance of all the meritorious who went before us, and of all the worthy ones whose fathers we shall be.”Herder believed that the key to the Germanre discovery of the authentic Volk and the spirit of the German ancestors lay in the study of the Roman historian Tacitus’s examination of German tribal society, Germania: “Look about you in Germany for the character of the nation, for their particular sound of thought, for the true mood of their language; where are they? Read Tacitus; there you will find their character.”Herder celebrated the bodies of the tribal Germans, describing “their big, strong and beautiful figure, their terribly blue eyes . . . filled with the spirit of moderation and loyalty.” The Germans, Herder wrote, were “a living wall against which the mad fury of Huns, Hungarians, Mongols, and Turks dashed itself to pieces.”The writer is the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University, Washington, DC, and author of Journey into Europe: Islam, Immigration, and IdentityPublished in Daily Times, November 17th 2018.