Political religion
The theory of political religion concerns governmental ideologies whose cultural and spiritual aspect is so strong that it takes an overwhelming hold of peoples lives that can be only considered as religious. In addition to basic forms of politics, like parliament and elections, it also holds an aspect of Sacralization
Sacralization may refer to:* sanctification* Sacralization...

 related to the institutions held within the regime and provides also the inner measures traditionally considered to be a religious territory, such as Ethics
Ethics, also known as moral philosophy, is a branch of philosophy that addresses questions about morality—that is, concepts such as good and evil, right and wrong, virtue and vice, justice and crime, etc.Major branches of ethics include:...

, Values, Symbols, Myths, Rituals
A ritual is a set of actions, performed mainly for their symbolic value. It may be prescribed by a religion or by the traditions of a community. The term usually excludes actions which are arbitrarily chosen by the performers....

 and for example a national Liturgical calendar. State religion
State religion
A state religion is a religious body or creed officially endorsed by the state...

 is a typical form of political religion. Political religions generally vie with existing traditional religions, and try, if possible, to replace or eradicate them. The term was first proposed by the political scientist, Hans Maier.

The term is sometimes treated as synonymous with civil religion
Civil religion
The intended meaning of the term civil religion often varies according to whether one is a sociologist of religion or a professional political commentator...

, but although some scholars use the terms as equivalent, others see a useful distinction, using "civil religion" as something weaker, which functions more as a socially unifying and essentially conservative force, where a political religion is radically transformational, even apocalyptic
An Apocalypse is a disclosure of something hidden from the majority of mankind in an era dominated by falsehood and misconception, i.e. the veil to be lifted. The Apocalypse of John is the Book of Revelation, the last book of the New Testament...


The term is sometimes used outside academia, often with meanings tangential to or opposite to the sociological usage (for example, applying it to a church), with the use intended as a derogatory description of excessive adherence to something political or ideological. Even when used correctly, supporters of an ideology will generally reject the application of the term "political religion". .


The term political religion draws on the aspects of religion which can be found in certain secular ideologies. The scientific schools practicing the study on religious aspects of politics include at least Political science
Political science
Political Science is a social science discipline concerned with the study of the state, government and politics. Aristotle defined it as the study of the state. It deals extensively with the theory and practice of politics, and the analysis of political systems and political behavior...

 (for example William Connolly
William E. Connolly
William E. Connolly is a political theorist known for his work on democracy and pluralism. He is the Krieger-Eisenhower Professor of Political Science at Johns Hopkins University. His 1974 work The Terms of Political Discourse won the 1999 Benjamin Lippincott Award.-Biography:Connolly was raised in...

), Sociology
Sociology is the study of society. It is a social science—a term with which it is sometimes synonymous—which uses various methods of empirical investigation and critical analysis to develop a body of knowledge about human social activity...

 (Christoph Deutschmann
Christoph Deutschmann
Christoph Deutschmann is a German sociologist. He currently holds a professorship at the University of Tübingen....

), History
History is the discovery, collection, organization, and presentation of information about past events. History can also mean the period of time after writing was invented. Scholars who write about history are called historians...

 (Emilio Gentile
Emilio Gentile
Emilio Gentile is an Italian historian specializing in the ideology and culture of fascism. Gentile is considered one of Italy's foremost cultural historians of fascist ideology. He is a student of Renzo De Felice....

), Theology
Theology is the systematic and rational study of religion and its influences and of the nature of religious truths, or the learned profession acquired by completing specialized training in religious studies, usually at a university or school of divinity or seminary.-Definition:Augustine of Hippo...

 (Oliver O'Donovan
Oliver O'Donovan
Oliver O'Donovan FBA FRSE is a scholar in the field of Christian ethics. He has made contributions to political theology, both contemporary and historical.-Life:...

) and Psychology
Psychology is the study of the mind and behavior. Its immediate goal is to understand individuals and groups by both establishing general principles and researching specific cases. For many, the ultimate goal of psychology is to benefit society...

. A political religion often occupies the same ethical, psychological and sociological space as a traditional religion, and as a result it often displaces or co-opts existing religious organizations and beliefs. The most central definition of a political religion is the Sacralization
Sacralization may refer to:* sanctification* Sacralization...

 of politics, for example an overwhelming religious feeling when serving one`s country, as in the case of the Founding Fathers
Founding Fathers of the United States
The Founding Fathers of the United States of America were political leaders and statesmen who participated in the American Revolution by signing the United States Declaration of Independence, taking part in the American Revolutionary War, establishing the United States Constitution, or by some...

. Typically a political religion is considered to be secular
Secularity is the state of being separate from religion.For instance, eating and bathing may be regarded as examples of secular activities, because there may not be anything inherently religious about them...

, but more radical forms of it are also Transcendental .

The first scholars to use the concept of political religion (or synonyms such as "secular religion", "lay religion" or "public religion") were Protestant and Catholic intellectuals and theologians, such as Luigi Sturzo, Adolf Keller, Paul Tillich
Paul Tillich
Paul Johannes Tillich was a German-American theologian and Christian existentialist philosopher. Tillich was one of the most influential Protestant theologians of the 20th century...

, Gerhard
Leibholz, Waldemar Gurian, Eric Voegelin
Eric Voegelin
Eric Voegelin, born Erich Hermann Wilhelm Vögelin, was a German-born American political philosopher. He was born in Cologne, then Imperial Germany, and educated in political science at the University of Vienna. He became a teacher and then an associate professor of political science at the...

, Raymond Aron
Raymond Aron
Raymond-Claude-Ferdinand Aron was a French philosopher, sociologist, journalist and political scientist.He is best known for his 1955 book The Opium of the Intellectuals, the title of which inverts Karl Marx's claim that religion was the opium of the people -- in contrast, Aron argued that in...

 and Walter Benjamin
Walter Benjamin
Walter Bendix Schönflies Benjamin was a German-Jewish intellectual, who functioned variously as a literary critic, philosopher, sociologist, translator, radio broadcaster and essayist...

.http://www.world-religions.info/showproduct/082621245X/ They saw it as a response to the existential void and Nihilism
Nihilism is the philosophical doctrine suggesting the negation of one or more putatively meaningful aspects of life. Most commonly, nihilism is presented in the form of existential nihilism which argues that life is without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value...

 caused by modernity
Modernity typically refers to a post-traditional, post-medieval historical period, one marked by the move from feudalism toward capitalism, industrialization, secularization, rationalization, the nation-state and its constituent institutions and forms of surveillance...

, mass society
Mass society
Mass society is a description associated with society in the modern, industrial era. "Guided by the structural-functional approach and drawing on the ideas of Tönnies, Durkheim, and Weber, understands modernity as the emergence of a mass society...

 and the rise of a bureaucratic state, and in political religions "the rebellion against the religion of God" reached its climax. They also described them as ‘pseudo-religions’, ‘substitute religions’, ‘surrogate religions’, ‘religions manipulated by man’ and ‘anti-religions’.http://taylorandfrancis.metapress.com/index/G64R8725253516Q7.pdf The secularization of the twentieth century had created a spiritual void which could be filled by an ideology claiming also a hold on ethical and identitetical matters as well, making the political religions based on totalitarianism, universalism and messianic missions (such as Manifest Destiny
Manifest Destiny
Manifest Destiny was the 19th century American belief that the United States was destined to expand across the continent. It was used by Democrat-Republicans in the 1840s to justify the war with Mexico; the concept was denounced by Whigs, and fell into disuse after the mid-19th century.Advocates of...

) possible.

Typical aspects

Key qualities often (not all are always strongly present) shared by religion (particularly cult
The word cult in current popular usage usually refers to a group whose beliefs or practices are considered abnormal or bizarre. The word originally denoted a system of ritual practices...

s) and political religion include
  • Structural
    • differentiation between self and other, and demonisation of other (in theistic religion, the differentiation usually depends on adherence to certain dogmas and social behaviours; in political religion, differentiation may be on grounds such as nationality, social attitudes, or membership in "enemy" political parties, instead)
    • a transcendent leadership, either with messianic
      A messiah is a redeemer figure expected or foretold in one form or another by a religion. Slightly more widely, a messiah is any redeemer figure. Messianic beliefs or theories generally relate to eschatological improvement of the state of humanity or the world, in other words the World to...

       tendencies or as a divine manifestation, often a charismatic figurehead;
    • organisational structures based on a type of religion, such as strong, monotheistic hierarchy or a Laissez-faire
      In economics, laissez-faire describes an environment in which transactions between private parties are free from state intervention, including restrictive regulations, taxes, tariffs and enforced monopolies....

       system of divine omnipotent providence;
    • the control of education, in order to ensure the security, continuation and the veneration of the existing system.

  • Belief
    • a coherent belief system for imposing symbolic meaning on the external world, with an emphasis on security through faith in the system;
    • an intolerance of other ideologies of the same type
    • a degree of utopianism
    • the belief that the ideology is in some way natural or obvious, so that (at least for certain groups of people) those who reject it are in some way "blind"
    • a genuine desire on the part of individuals to convert others to the cause
    • a willingness to place ends over means - in particular, a willingness to use violence and fraud
    • fatalism - a belief that the ideology will inevitably triumph in the end

Not all of these aspects are present in any one political religion; this is only a list of some common aspects.

Suppression of religious beliefs

Political religions vie with existing religions, and try, if possible, to replace or eradicate them. Loyalty to other entities, such as a church or a deity are often seen to interfere with loyalty to the political religion. The authority of potential religious leaders also presents a threat to the authority of the political religion. As a result, some or all religious sects are either suppressed or banned. An existing sect may be converted into a state religion
State religion
A state religion is a religious body or creed officially endorsed by the state...

, but dogma and personnel may be modified to suit the needs of the party or state.

Juan Linz
Juan Linz
Juan José Linz is a Spanish sociologist and political scientist. He is Sterling Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Yale University and an honorary member of the Scientific Council at the Juan March Institute...

 has posited the friendly form of separation of church and state as the counterpole of political religion but describes the hostile form of separation of church and state as moving toward political religion as found in totalitarianism.

Absolute loyalty

Loyalty is faithfulness or a devotion to a person, country, group, or cause There are many aspects to...

 to the state or political party and acceptance of the government/party ideology is paramount. Dissenters may be expelled, ostracized, discriminated against, imprisoned, "re-educated", or killed. Loyalty oath
Loyalty oath
A loyalty oath is an oath of loyalty to an organization, institution, or state of which an individual is a member.In this context, a loyalty oath is distinct from pledge or oath of allegiance...

s or membership in a dominant (or sole) political party may be required for employment, government services, or simply as routine. Criticism of the government may be a serious crime. Enforcements range from ostracism from one's neighbors to execution. In a fundamental political religion you are either with the system or against the system.
othetical threat or whichever rival party or group it deems to be the most "demonic".

Cult of personality

A political religion often elevates its leaders to near-godlike status. Displays of leaders in the form of posters or statues may be mandated in public areas and even private homes. Children may be required to learn the state's version of the leaders' biographies in school. The Leaders might be taken as messianic figures, who among the chanting crowds can promise miraculous things which seem impossible for people to reach without the current saviour.http://www.abovetopsecret.com/forum/thread408734/pg1

Italian fascism

According to Emilio Gentile
Emilio Gentile
Emilio Gentile is an Italian historian specializing in the ideology and culture of fascism. Gentile is considered one of Italy's foremost cultural historians of fascist ideology. He is a student of Renzo De Felice....

, "Fascism was the first and prime instance of a modern political religion." "This religion sacralized the state and assigned it the primary educational task of transforming the mentality, the character, and the customs of Italians. The aim was to create a 'new man,' a believer in and an observing member of the cult of Fascism."

"The argument [that fascism was a ‘political religion’] tends to involve three main claims: i) that fascism was characterized by a religious form, particularly in terms of language and ritual; ii) that fascism was a sacralized form of totalitarianism, which legitimized violence in defence of the nation and regeneration of a fascist 'new man'; and iii) that fascism took on many of the functions of religion for a broad swathe of society."


"Among committed [Nazi] believers, a mythic world of eternally strong heroes, demons, fire and sword - in a word, the fantasy world of the nursery - displaced reality." Heinrich Himmler
Heinrich Himmler
Heinrich Luitpold Himmler was Reichsführer of the SS, a military commander, and a leading member of the Nazi Party. As Chief of the German Police and the Minister of the Interior from 1943, Himmler oversaw all internal and external police and security forces, including the Gestapo...

 was fascinated by the occult, and sought to turn the SS into the basis of an official state cult.


Klaus-Georg Riegel, in his article "Marxism-Leninism as a political religion", said "Lenin's utopian design of a revolutionary community of virtuosi as a typical political religion of an intelligentsia longing for an inner-worldly salvation, a socialist paradise without exploitation and alienation, to be implanted in the Russian backward society at the outskirts of the industrialised and modernised Western Europe."

North Korea

The North Korean government has promulgated Juche
Juche or Chuch'e is a Korean word usually translated as "self-reliance." In the Democratic People's Republic of Korea , "Juche" refers specifically to a political thesis of Kim Il-sung, the Juche Idea, that identifies the Korean masses as the masters of the country's development...

 as a political alternative to traditional religion. The doctrine advocates a strong nationalist propaganda basis and is fundamentally opposed to Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

 and Buddhism
Buddhism is a religion and philosophy encompassing a variety of traditions, beliefs and practices, largely based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as the Buddha . The Buddha lived and taught in the northeastern Indian subcontinent some time between the 6th and 4th...

, the two largest religions on the Korean peninsula. Juche theoreticians have, however, incorporated religious ideas into the state ideology. According to government figures, Juche is the largest political religion in North Korea
North Korea
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea , , is a country in East Asia, occupying the northern half of the Korean Peninsula. Its capital and largest city is Pyongyang. The Korean Demilitarized Zone serves as the buffer zone between North Korea and South Korea...

. The public practice of all other religions is overseen and subject to heavy surveillance by the state.


During the long rule of president Saparmurat Niyazov
Saparmurat Niyazov
Saparmurat Atayevich Niyazov; , was a Turkmen politician who served as President of Turkmenistan from 2 November 1990 until his death in 2006...

 large pictures and statues of him could be seen in public places in Turkmenistan
Turkmenistan , formerly also known as Turkmenia is one of the Turkic states in Central Asia. Until 1991, it was a constituent republic of the Soviet Union, the Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic . Turkmenistan is one of the six independent Turkic states...

. In an interview with the television news program "60 Minutes", Niyazov said the people of Turkmenistan placed them there voluntarily because they love him so much, and that he did not originally want them there. In addition, he granted himself the title "Türkmenbaşy", meaning "Leader of all Ethnic Turkmens" in the Turkmen language
Turkmen language
Turkmen is the national language of Turkmenistan...

. A book purportedly authored by Niyazov, Ruhnama
Ruhnama , is a book written by Saparmurat Niyazov, late President for Life of Turkmenistan, combining spiritual/moral guidance, autobiography and revisionist history, much of it is of dubious or disputed factuality and accuracy. The text includes many stories and poems, including those by Sufi poet...

("Book of the Soul") was required reading in educational institutions and was often displayed and treated with the same respect as the Qur'an
The Quran , also transliterated Qur'an, Koran, Alcoran, Qur’ān, Coran, Kuran, and al-Qur’ān, is the central religious text of Islam, which Muslims consider the verbatim word of God . It is regarded widely as the finest piece of literature in the Arabic language...

. The study of Ruhnama in the academic system was scaled down but to some extent continued after Niyazov's death (in 2006), as of 2008.

See also

  • History of political Islam in Iran
  • Civil religion
    Civil religion
    The intended meaning of the term civil religion often varies according to whether one is a sociologist of religion or a professional political commentator...

  • Statolatry
    Statolatry, which combines idolatry with the state, first appeared in Giovanni Gentile's Doctrine of Fascism, published in 1931 under Mussolini's name...

  • State atheism
    State atheism
    State atheism is the official "promotion of atheism" by a government, sometimes combined with active suppression of religious freedom and practice...

  • American civil religion
    American civil religion
    American civil religion is a term coined by sociologist Robert Bellah in 1967. The article in which the term is coined, "Civil Religion in America", sparked one of the most controversial debates in United States sociology. Soon after the paper was published, the topic became the major focus at...

External links

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