Political Religion

"Political Religions" and Theological Distinctions

Werner Ustorf, Birmingham, UK (draft 2004)





A scholar of religious studies is purported to have said once - ironically, I suppose - that the purpose of religion was to prevent us from having even worse fantasies.[1] Whether this referred to statement is apocryphal – as seems likely – it may be asked, nevertheless, is it true? Certainly, if political religions are these worse fantasies, then the statement does indeed make sense.[2] Does this imply, therefore, that we had better stick with the less dangerous fantasy when organising political life? This need not necessarily be so, because there are unquestionably more options open to us. It is my conviction, however, and I am trying to make the case for it in this paper, that there is in any case a particular task required of us, namely to introduce a theological or philosophical distinction between the political, the religious, and the divine.[3] At which point, we find ourselves in the very arena where world-views collide and the debate about political religion itself takes place. How much religion - and what kind of religion - can the West tolerate or, alternatively, does it require for its well-being? If Communism and Fascism, particularly in their worst incarnations - Stalinism and National Socialism - were indeed religious phenomena, as the concept of political religion suggests, [4] then we must also say that this is another major mutation in the interpretation of religion,[5] and that the secularization hypothesis[6] and, more generally, the secular bias of the western academy needs modifying.[7] 


The boundaries between the political and the religious spheres do indeed need to be re-assessed at this time when, as some observers think, the sentiment of "blood and belonging" is again making its presence felt in the political arena,[8] when the secular world-view is losing ground, and religious motivations are re-emerging as a dynamic force in the reconfiguration of the global order and its attendant conflicts.[9] It is no coincidence, I think, that the concept of political religion has been rediscovered in the last two decades. The parameters of religious study correspond to the way things are perceived.[10] I am not claiming that there are any direct historical parallels between now and the 1930s, but there is a certain familial resemblance to be observed in the way that intellectuals react to the unexpected return of religion.


Political religion is not a new term. As a concept of academic inquiry it was developed mainly in the 1930s; and it contains a core experience of modern western history: it is the century-long theological and philosophical struggle to distinguish and, finally, separate the political and the religious domains in the interest of generating individual freedom and liberty. This experience tells us that liberty can only grow when Church and State are fully separated or, alternatively, relate to each other by way of a critical dialogue. This also represents sound theology, part of a tradition that begins with Jesus’ teaching that we render unto Caesar and to God what is appropriately theirs,[11] and continues with Augustin's distinction between civitas Dei and civitas terrena, which Luther, during the Reformation, would confirm in opposition to the enthusiasts, and which had also not been totally forgotten by the 1930s.[12] Political religion, then, is a critical concept, it works like the term syncretism[13] within mission, or like the immune system in medicine: it detects areas of incompatibility. Already, in 1825, John Stuart Mill had used the term "political religion" in a distinctly critical way in order to describe the attempts of "rulers" to mislead their subjects by amalgamating the two spheres.[14] Not to mislead, but to educate the people, had been Rousseau's idea, in 1770, of having his ideal republic based on a civil religion, but there could be no question that his model united political and religious power and that this divinisation of the nation became reality in the French Revolution.[15] In 1793, the editor of the distinguished journal Der Teutsche Merkur, Christoph Martin Wieland, described the French Revolution as "a new political religion", intolerant, violent, and missionary. Finally, Thomas Campanella's utopian civitas solis of 1623 is held together by the ideological glue of a religio politica - and we can never be quite sure whether he is criticizing, condoning or even recommending the political use of religion.[16] All these early usages of the concept were isolated events. But, already, Campanella's and Mill's approaches raise the issue of political religion as a form of manipulation, as well as evaluating the applicability of the term religion. This question is not only still open, it is also compounded by the fact that there is no consensus as to what religion actually is.[17] Other objections to political religion as a research paradigm are that the concept has only a limited power of explanation, and that it assumes a degree of ideological coherence and control that was rarely ever achieved in practice.[18] Less often, another uneasiness is expressed: God is dead, religion is useless - so why should "the completely secular scholar" waste his or her time with a perspective that is more or less atavistic?[19] Such a perspective may have been triggered by the factual decline of the Church in the West, and of that in Europe in particular.[20] But decline is definitely not the general trend in world Christianity: the first and foremost characteristic of the Church in the 20th century is the continuing growth of Christianity in the South, meaning that this largest of all religious communities is now mainly a non-western religion, often Pentecostal or charismatic in orientation or otherwise in some alliance with local culture, and showing features that may be radically different from what it used to be in Europe or North America.[21] This process has been going on for decades, though largely ignored by the academy.[22]


The organizers of the conference for which this paper was written asked me to discuss the relationship between "spiritual" and "political religion". It is an almost impossible task, not just because I am writing from within the Christian tradition, but also because religion in the singular does not exist and any definition touching the substance of a religion is necessarily self-referential.[23] But I am attracted by the concept of political religion. The attraction lies in its iconoclastic value, that is, in its capacity to ask questions about the use of power in our societies, and to alert people to the emergence of false gods.[24] In today’s world, which is full of religion and believing, there is no need to introduce even more religion or spirituality; what matters most is an ability to distinguish between different spiritual phenomena.


This paper has two sections. The first is largely a discussion of the origin of the concept of political religion as it arose in the Christian experience of the 1930s. It is my contention that the primary context for this is to be found in the details of missionary practice, and, following this, I shall introduce materials that have not yet been acknowledged as part of the debate. The second section offers a broadly based review of the term political religion as it is understood today, but highlighted by the discussions that took place in the 1930s. I have selected a number of well-known studies for consideration, such as those undertaken by, among others, Michael Burleigh, Hans Maier and Emilio Gentile and I shall also be looking briefly at the journal Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions. Finally, I shall endeavour to explain my conviction, that political religion is a theological concept or, at least, one with a theological prehistory, and that its theological charge, being neither outmoded nor exhausted, is not the end, but can be the beginning of critical analysis.[25]


1. The 1930s: Political Religions in Christian Experience


The 1930s represents a period during which a change of perception occurred. The term political religion has been used combatively and, as a concept, was designed to criticize the idolization of political rule and the destructive fantasies that, as many observers thought, seemed to draw at least part of their energy from their reconnection with the religious sphere. Thus, it was not just a descriptive term; it was political in orientation and working for change. This is certainly true for the grand theological-historical vista of Eric Voegelin,[26] who is generally accredited with the definition of the concept.[27] Voegelin was steadfast in his opinion that the modern mass movements of Communism and Fascism were religious in origin and both the result and symptom of the modern crisis of western civilization. The crisis consisted in the departure of this civilization from its religious moorings, in the "secularization of the mind" and, theologically, in the "apostasy from God". Overcoming the crisis, meant for Voegelin, working towards a "religious renewal" or, as he later so succinctly put it, to move from "the certainty of untruth" to the "uncertain truth" of God.[28] At the same time, however, he sketched the broad outlines of a more general theory of the relationship between the state and religion, from the Egyptian Pharaoh and "Son of God", Tutankhamun, via certain thought patterns of late antiquity and the heretical movements of medieval Christianity, to Nazism.[29] This theory suggested that the main problem of political religion was its misunderstanding of God's transcendence and the analogical nature of religious symbolic language. Its translation, as it were, into blueprints for immanent historical progress created a new type of religiosity: an inner‑worldly or political religion that tried to put into the reality of this life what revelation had promised for the hereafter.


The programmatic drive of the concept of political religion becomes even more obvious when we turn, as we do now, to a discussion of this term in relation to the field of missiology. This discussion will show that Voegelin's approach has a lot in common with the thinking within contemporary theology and the modern missionary movement. In 1938, the Dutch missiologist Hendrik Kraemer wrote a formidable study for the world conference of the International Missionary Council in Madras. He had this to say with regard to Communism and Fascism:


"In their political and economic aspects they are gigantic efforts, inspired by universalist or nationalist ideas, to master the anarchy of our social and political world. Their particular characteristic, however, is that they are primarily creeds, philosophies of life and religions of an extremely intolerant and absolutist type. They consequently develop mythologies, doctrinal systems, catechisms, "churches", "priests", "prophets", "saints", and "mediators". All the paraphernalia of a full-fledged religion are virtually present. They even make gods - for the race, the ideal communist society, and the State assume a distinctly God-like position. Absolute allegiance to these gods is demanded with religious fervour. Absolute devotion to their service is the ultimate standard of moral life, and releases in many individuals, as all ultimates do, marvellous manifestations of self-sacrifice, discipline and creativeness. These "religions" impetuously claim dominion over life in all its ramifications. They intolerantly persecute other religions that do not subordinate their specific allegiance to the absolute one that is only due to their "god". Tillich justly remarks that the disintegrated masses, sensing the meaninglessness of life, hunger for "new authorities and symbols".[30] The totalitarian systems satisfy this hunger, and millions of men gladly sacrifice their political, economic and spiritual autonomy. If we still need evidence that man, even de-religionized modern man, is a religious and metaphysical animal, here it is."[31]


Kraemer was part of a much wider missiological debate. I will focus here on two important, but largely marginalized voices: Schütz and Ehrenberg. In 1930, the Lutheran churchman and, later, professor of theology, Paul Schütz (1891-1985), published what he called a "religious-political" account of his travels two years earlier to the Near East.[32] He undertook the journey, in 1928, as director of a smaller German mission society, with the intention of inspecting its performance there, including its relief work for the persecuted Armenian Christians, a task the mission had inherited from a US-American agency.[33] His account would cost him, first, his directorship, and, once published, would render his name instantly controversial;[34] and this, for four reasons: 1. he, the mission thinker, advised the western missionary movement to withdraw immediately from the Near East; 2. he described missionary activity as having been secularized and politicized, that is to say, that  it received its life force not from the spiritual, but from its participation in imperialistic projects; 3. he regarded western Christianity as inwardly empty and incompatible with the genuineness of Islam;[35] and 4., as a consequence of the foregoing, he advocated the liberation of Church and mission from their imprisonment in secularized and capitalist rationality.


Interesting as this frontal attack on the inherited missionary ideology may be, my concern is a different one. I want to show that in the late 1920s Paul Schütz formed his concept of political religion[36], first of all, because of his encounter with Islam. The initial experience happened in 1928, somewhere between Cairo and Teheran. Schütz’ experience here is representative of a whole group: it was the Christian missionaries who, when contemplating the stupefying failure of the mission to Islam, felt that their own religion had been seriously tested and found to be wanting. Islam, or more precisely, a particular perception of Islam, became the provocation for Christian renewal. They also thought they had discovered the reason for Christianity's decline: namely, what they saw as the wholesale surrender of the western churches to the powers of the Enlightenment, secularization and political dominance.[37] Theologians, such as the aforementioned Paul Tillich, had already helped with the preparation of this line of thought. In 1925, for example, Tillich presented capitalism as a religious civilization that possessed demonic power and was based on the faith that had developed in a finite world and on the self-sufficiency of human agency. He also hoped, and predicted, that the revolt against capitalist civilization would not be confined to Communism, but would ultimately involve main-line culture, embracing, inter alia, the arts, philosophical discourse and the churches, in a new quest for the ultimate source of life.[38] In a remarkable paper, published in 1931, another important theologian, Karl Barth, defined not only "Americanism", but also Communism, in its Stalinist shape, and Fascism as genuine, but demonic religions, which the Church's missionary task was to stand up to.[39]


This form of critique did not come as a surprise to the missionary movement. When the new discipline of missiology was established at the end of the 19th century, the question of whether western civilization could be a partner for mission was already a critical factor.[40] In the 1920s, the answers given became increasingly negative,[41] and in 1928 the International Missionary Council at its Jerusalem meeting declared secularism to be the main problem for mission and, surprisingly, even contemplated a cooperation between Christian mission and other religions in order to withstand the further advance of what was coming to be regarded more and more as itself another "religion", namely, secular modernity.[42] In other words, there was an established missiological discourse that subjected western liberal culture, and the churches corrupted by their collusion with this culture, to a radical theological critique. The next meeting of the International Missionary Council in Madras, in 1938, where Kraemer delivered his message, can be seen as an attempt to cut off the missionary movement from this new religion.[43] The concept of political religion is therefore an integral part of this missiological discourse in the 1930s. From there, it was absorbed by the churches, turning up, for example, in 1937 at the Oxford Conference (on church, community and state) of the Life and Work branch of the ecumenical movement[44] and, in the same year, in a memorandum issued by the Confessing Church in Württemberg.[45] At the same time, writers, among them poets and novelists, such as T.S. Eliot and Hermann Broch, joined the attempts to rethink the cultural and religious topography of Europe.[46]


In this context, Schütz castigated both the Church and theology for their failure to stand up to the capitalist creed and the dreams of state and international power. His eyes were opened while witnessing the invasion of this new religion into the heartlands of Islam.

On the mission field, he thought he had discovered how this creed had undermined Christianity's credibility, reducing it to a mere supporting ideology. Missionary Christianity was syncretistic, just a shell, inside were the powers from "below", the demons of the Anti-Christ.[47] The imperialistic Weltanschauung, on the other hand, had translated the universal eschatology of Scripture into a political programme, and had itself, as Schütz put it, now become "messianic", transforming imperialism into something sacred, and making democracy "religious" and capitalism "ethical", with the whole flottila of concepts sailing under the protection afforded by the flag of Christianity.[48] Political religion, in Schütz' view, was not pseudo-religion, but a real religion. However, it was not in the service of God the Creator, but rather in that of the created and finite.[49]


In 1932, in explicit continuation of the thoughts expressed in his travelogue, Schütz published a full study of what he then called Secular Religion.[50] The term, often used synonymously with chiliasm and political religion, covers also Nazism and Communism - both seen as consequences of the collapse of a liberal occidental culture that, in turn, is understood to have been caused by the dissolution of faith or its mutation into religion. This is an important distinction. Its main thrust is directed against theology as an accomplice of secular religion and the irruption of the this-worldly into the Church; that is, the main point is the fight against heresy.[51] Secular Religion, during the last two centuries, is for Schütz the religious transgression of the eschatological boundary.[52] Eschatology, however, is the critical knowledge of this boundary. Paradise, the Kingdom of God, and the Resurrection are claimed for Earth by a fallen humankind, outraged at the existence of the boundary, and determined to work towards its own salvation. Secular religion embraces falsity because it is unwilling to wake up to the "true situation" and the "depth of existence"[53], that is, to respect the otherness of God and the hiddenness of Truth, and to accept our aphasia, our speechlessness in these matters. Secular religion, indeed, speaks unhesitatingly of God, Truth, humanity and history, denying that these are purely self-generated images. Secular religion, therefore, is the dialectical amalgamation of reality, which is God's, and reflection or interpretation, which is ours. This amalgamation is sinful because it removes the distance between the two. Ultimately, it makes God an attribute of man, and heaven a place on earth.[54] Secular religion, in the end, is spiritual rebellion against God.[55] But is the status of theology any better than that of religion? In Schütz' view, theology is as sinful as any other human activity. The only way it differs from secular or political religion, or religion as such, is that theology is aware of this. Schütz says pointedly: Scripture and Church are absolutely indefensible, but they do respect the boundary.[56] Theology cannot cross the boundary that separates it from God. Its search for God is only a pointer to what it itself is not.[57] Faith, moreover, gets one even deeper into no man's land, or into what he calls "abandonment without cover".[58] Theology, acknowledging this boundary, turns around and transforms its own thinking. From here, there is no way to return to the positivism of images, holy activism or theo-praxis. Negatively, however, there is the necessary job of unmasking the demonic forces that are active in political religion. This is theology's prophetic role. However, how this non-religious faith was related in fact to the Christian religion, its sacraments, liturgy and all, was less clear.


In 1935, Schütz generalized these ideas in a manuscript entitled Political Religion. An analysis of the origin of decline in history. [59] In it, he radicalized his distinction between faith and religion, removing almost completely the difference between religion and political religion. He claimed that genuine Christianity could be political only in a negative sense, by refusing to acknowledge the divinity of Caesar. The political expression of this refusal was a passive one, operating through suffering, though in the sense of passion and martyrdom. Political religion, in contradistinction, was positively political and only negatively spiritual, in so far as it refused to acknowledge the autonomous sphere of the divine. Its historical legacy was destruction and nihilism, while its violence was born out of necessity, the inevitable outcome of and, at the same time, the panacea for the conflicts that resulted from its religious vision, which demanded the mergers of God and man, of transcendence and immanence, of absoluteness and relativity, and of eternity and history. Political religion was understood to be dialectical by nature: by unifying it divided even its believers, and by building it tore down what was already there; in this way, it contained the recipe for its own destruction. However, for Schütz, there is a much more general sense to it all: political religion is the driving force of history in general; it is the distinctive mark made by humanity in its rebellion against the loss of paradise, and against poverty, suffering and death, it is a quest for a full life now and for redemption in the hereafter, it is the will to power, and, finally, an expression of the sicut deus, of man becoming God in his own man-made religion. The mode of believing is therefore not faith, rather, it is obsession. The parallels with Voegelin are remarkable. But the answer to the question of where all this started is different. "The founder of political religion is the Jewish nation", says Schütz apodictically;[60] the unitary cosmos of "one nation - one state - one God" was invented in Old Israel. The political messianism of the Jews as the chosen people is the archetype of man-made political religion and it holds, in Schütz’ words, "the God of heaven and earth in the narrow captivity of ethnic religion".[61] Political religion ever since has been found virtually everywhere: from the imperial state religion of the Roman Empire to the medieval Church, in Anglicanism, the French Revolution and, then, in the immanentism of the totalitarian movements of the 20th century. After Marx and Nietzsche, and at a time when technology and industrial production were advancing apace, when nations had become masses and persons individuals, Schütz argued that the inner emptiness of the masses and their hunger for certainty did indeed provide political religions with particularly fertile ground. This resulted inevitably in the decline of thought, of ethics, of the life of the soul, and in the destruction of personality. Schütz, like Voegelin, but some years before him, did not see any other way to counteract the political religions than the way envisioned by faith. It meant that eternal life would be present within oneself. This response was not without problems, for such faith could be neither created nor instrumentalized. Faith, in fact, would be defined by Schütz as "God coming to man". In this sense, he could insist that the gospel must be "completely useless".[62]


The structural similarity to Voegelin's approach is undeniable, but there is no evidence that Voegelin had read any of Schütz' writings. It is indeed entirely possible that, after his encounter with Nazism, the Christian sociologist came quite independently to conclusions that paralleled those arrived at by the missiologist after his earlier encounter with Islam. Indirect connections cannot, however, be ruled out, particularly not, as we have seen, in the sort of milieu established by western Christianity. From quite early on, the churches used missionary terminology in order to highlight the religious side of Nazism, speaking frequently about paganism, neo-paganism, about heresy and, interestingly, about the establishment of a new kind of "mohammedism".[63] C.G. Jung wrote in 1939 that Hitler was going to found a new Islam and that the prevailing emotion in Germany was “Islamic, warlike”, adding, “they are all drunk with a wild god.”[64] Already, in 1793, Wieland, in common with others at that time, had made similar comparisons between Islam and the French Revolution.[65]


This link between Islam and various revolutionary cults, which has become an ingrained feature of the contemporary western outlook, deserves more attention. In missiology, it was made explicit in the analysis of National Socialism that Hans Ehrenberg (1883-1958) published in 1941 in the official journal of the International Missionary Council.[66] Ehrenberg's biography is remarkable: a Jew who had converted to Christianity, a professor of philosophy who had become a Lutheran pastor, and, at the time of the analysis, a German refugee in Britain campaigning for the Confessing Church.[67] Equally remarkable is his take on the religious situation. Like Paul Schütz, Ehrenberg was convinced that Christendom had sold its soul to the forces of liberalism and secularization, making the missionary movement little more than the religious dimension of imperialist conquest.[68] Similarly, the way out of the crisis is the recovery of the Christian vision. But, unlike Schütz, Ehrenberg assumed that this recovery would have to take place in a world that was in principle hostile to established religion. All scriptural religions were in crisis, not just Christianity. The global cultural development, in his view, was reaching a post-liberal and post-secular stage, characterized by a configuration of the following three elements: modernization, the return of the archaic, and emancipation. Briefly put, it means this: once the modernist and liberal project collapses, nations or politico-cultural systems make efforts


(1)   to retain and increase the technological gains made by modern civilization;

(2)   to return to a religiously and culturally more authentic or archaic stage: for example, either to return society to its religious roots or perhaps to a pre-Christian, pre-Muslim, pre-Buddhist or even pre-pagan situation, or, where there is no such thing, to invent new religions, constructed along archaic or primal lines that satisfy the emotional needs of "primitive man";

(3)   and directly related to point two, to complete the emancipation from established cultural and religious traditions and, by so doing, to arrive at a post-Christian, post-Muslim or post-pagan level.


Political religion, therefore, varies slightly from case to case due to the cultural, political, religious and other historical factors to which it is reacting. We can observe that Ehrenberg, like other programmatic thinkers before and after him, postulates the existence of two different kinds of religion - one "primitive" and responding to the archaic within us, the other "higher", more reflective and requiring conscious and ethical decisions.[69] Political religion, or better to say, its source of power, is squarely put in the primitive or archaic bracket for it is from there that it gets its "vital force".[70] Ehrenberg tests this scheme by applying it to several contexts: it is important to his scheme that Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam, which he calls "higher" religions, have spiritually conquered older local religions, which he calls "primitive". Depending on circumstances, these older religions may resurface at any time, re-inventing themselves and, therefore, displaying simultaneously archaic and progressive or pre- and post- features. China, for example, does not yet [1941] show the characteristics of the triadic scheme, but Communism has arrived and for the end of the modernization process Ehrenberg predicts that two elements of China's religious tapestry, ancestor veneration and its universal rationalism, might constitute the focal points for a post-modern revolution. India is still in what he calls its "liberal period", and Ehrenberg does not dare to make any prediction. Japan's emperor-worship, however, is the first case of modern totalitarianism and is therefore the "forerunner" of political religions.[71] When, in 1868, Japan did away with the aristocracy and feudalism, which for centuries had been supported by Buddhism, Shinto was resurrected as the religious expression of centralised totalitarianism, seriously damaging its own religious essence in the process. This was possible because this "primitive" religion had survived Buddhism and kept its "primeval ties", meaning that Buddhism was unable to absorb it fully. Ehrenberg's scheme would therefore work well in Japan. Totally different, however, is the situation in Europe and Turkey, as in both cases the "higher" religions had effectively wiped out the older religions. Islam in particular is the religion from which Ehrenberg deduced the categories for his analysis. He saw Islam as syncretistic in origin, and therefore more than capable of absorbing any older tradition.[72] The overlap of political rule and religious order was part of its heritage, meaning that Islam was structurally disposed towards theocracy, and in the post-secular stage, to fascism as well. In Turkey, Ehrenberg finds a totalitarian state that is, in his view, already post-Muslim, and exhibits the triadic structure postulated in his scheme. More importantly, it is, as is the case with Japan, historically anterior to Italian or German fascism. What he calls Nazi religion is interpreted using the template of post-Muslim Islam. Nazi religion combines various elements of religious history, from animism to the monotheistic saviour traditions. It is a tempting religion, for Hitler's words remind the people "of thoughts which they had met elsewhere and had once valued highly."[73] But, religiously, Nazism could not return to a pre-Christian past in the way that Japan could to pre-Buddhist Shinto. The reason is that Germany's religious past, analogous with Attatürk's Turkey, had been completely assimilated by Christianity. Nazism, like Turkish fascism, had to go for option three and invent its own religion; it is a form of post-Christianity or a kind of anti-religion, a heresy or apostasy, a religion of rebellion.[74] It was, in Ehrenberg's view, as dangerous to Christianity in Europe and America as Islam was to the Church in the 8th century and the Turks were to Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries. This historical comparison determines his actual working hypothesis: Nazism, including its fanaticism, totalitarianism, eschatology and holy war mentality, is the new version of the Islamic threat, and that is why he speaks of Nazi Islam and of Hitler not as, say, a second Napoleon, but the "'new Muhammad,' the only prophet of God".[75] The name of this god is, as was to be expected, "the prince of darkness".[76] Such language was also used by Schütz and Voegelin. In those years, it was in fact an international theological idiom, a kind of lingua franca of a radically eschatological approach, perhaps best represented by the Russian existential philosopher Nicolai Berdyaev, who, from his political asylum in Paris, fought a spiritual battle against totalitarianism and the supremacy of society over personality.[77]


Let me recapitulate: I tried to show in this section that from around 1930 the discipline of missiology, strongly influenced by the counter-cultural or eschatological trend in western theology, produced an explicit and critical discourse on political religion. Political religion was a term used by mission theologians and described initially what they saw as the counter-mission of secularism and imperialistic liberalism and Christianity's captivity to it. The concept drew on missionary experience outside the West, particularly that surrounding the encounter with Islam. When Communism and Fascism threatened the life of the Church, the concept of political religion was extended to them. There were various attempts to conceptualize the term, but it would not be far off the mark to say that, generally, what we have are theological theories, capable of supporting further layers of theory based on historical or anthropological and other assumptions. The churches and the ecumenical movement saw Europe increasingly as a post-Christian area, that is, as a missiological problem, and they modified their approach accordingly. At the same time, the concept entered the social sciences and the humanities, where, however, the term developed a life of its own.


One question is still open and needs to be answered in this section: what did the missiological usage of the concept achieve in those years? Schütz' denunciation of western liberalism and, in 1935, his attack on Judaism, which he claimed as the inventor of political religion,[78] was, on the one hand, rather unhelpful in a situation when both traditions, and the people belonging to them, were being persecuted in Nazi Germany. On the other hand, his and other approaches, such as Kraemer's or Ehrenberg's, provided Christianity, in particular the ecumenical and missionary movements, with a diagnostic device that was capable of identifying the animating forces of the time with immense discernment. This is evident with all these theological theories, including Voegelin's. It is also clear that they all suggested that any response to the crisis of the West must come out of faith. What the Christian faith would look like after the marriage of Church, State, and capitalism had ended in a difficult divorce, and after the catastrophe of the political religions, was, and is, a difficult and, perhaps even, an open question. Most theologians are better at working negatively, that is as iconoclasts. It would not be an unfair generalisation to say that none of these approaches suggested a "programme" or a recipe of how to avoid the regression to political religions. Instead, they introduced a fundamental or a prophetic distinction between God and World, or, in the words of Berdyaev, between the Christian idea of the Kingdom of God as an "eschatological consciousness" and the "idolizing of historical sanctities", whatever their names.[79] What they talked about was a deep and comprehensive approach to reality. Reality and realism, whether these cognate topics were being addressed by Schütz, Kraemer and Ehrenberg, or Tillich, or Emil Brunner and Voegelin, relate to God.[80] It is in light of this reality that the contours of the historical realities become visible, including the falsity of political religions. What all these eminent thinkers were talking about was a profound, deeply personal encounter with divine reality, not simply a clash with doctrine, the Church or yesterday's piety. All the theologians I have mentioned were in fact rather difficult for the Church. Schütz described the function of the Church by comparing it to a candle: it shines by consuming its life.[81] This was not what the ecclesiastics wanted to here. Neither did the encounter supply them with powerful knowledge about God. God remained a mystery, but one with which it was necessary to be in communion.[82] This communion, moreover, and quite explicitly, did not lead to certainty in matters of belief, nor did it remove any personal doubts. The encounter was of a rather more disturbing nature, dismissing any dreams of making one's peace with the world and with God. In brief, the real achievement was the public and international dissemination of a critical theological distinction between God, religious order, and political rule. It demolished what the adherents of political religions craved most: certainty. This achievement was never quite lost in the ecumenical movement, though it must be said that the term political religion was.[83]


2. Political Religion and Today's Scholars


The explicit Christian setting and terminology of Voegelin's approach, along with that of the theologians, and its inherent eschatological drive and quest for transcendence, raise of course the question of whether "political religion" as a model of historical explanation is sufficiently descriptive, and distinguishable, from "political theology".[84] Raymond Aron had in the 1940s already shown that it is possible to criticize political religions from a liberal point of view, as an attempt – already essayed by John Stuart Mill in 1825 - at undoing the separation of the political and the religious.[85] I will illustrate the problem by way of reference to some aspects of the debate that has arisen in recent years in Germany, particularly in reaction to publications by the Egyptologist Jan Assmann of Heidelberg University.[86] Assmann objects to those interpretations of Voegelin's approach that conclude that the Enlightenment was ultimately responsible for Nazism and Communism. In Political Rule and Religious Order Assmann redefined the term "political theology" by reference to Voegelin’s work and, more importantly, to Carl Schmitt's famous dictum of 1922 that "all succinct terms of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological terms."[87] Seen from the vantage point of Old Egypt, however, it becomes clear for Assmann that all succinct terms of theology "are theologized political terms".[88] This implies that the process of secularization, which had a primary role in the creation of the modern world, has a prehistory in which processes of theologization took place - a historical transition in which central aspects of political life were claimed for religion. Put more simply: "what modernity moved from heaven down to earth, in a previous era had been lifted from earth up to heaven."[89] This implies, further, that neither the theological nor the secular are primordially given - they are both events of history.[90] The theologization of the political, Assmann claims (like Schütz before him), was "invented in Israel". It led to the "Mosaic distinction",[91] namely a counter-religion or a location of iconoclastic absoluteness from where other (usually polytheistic) traditions and religions could be condemned as idolatry, heathendom or superstition; a location from where it became possible to engage in self-reflection and a determination of what is "true". This distinction between true and false, however, also introduced a tremendous potential for violence, because the ability to differentiate between political enemies and enemies of the truth could be lost.[92] The real significance for our discussion lies in the claim that the origin of violence is not only to be found in post-secular fantasy, with its hunger for experience, identity and certainty, and its greedy search for the vital sources of the self, but that it is part and parcel of the monotheistic revolution, or of the theologization of the political. Since Assmann distinguishes this potentially harmful type as "secondary” religion from another, allegedly more tolerant type of religion, which he calls "primary", and which he declares to be part of human existence as such, it comes as no surprise that his critics accuse him of misrepresenting Christianity.[93]


Anyone who has looked into the polytheistic or so-called primal religions will be less than impressed by their historical record.[94] Nevertheless, Assmann's position is that the secularization process was an event in history, just as the process of theologization had been. This necessarily forces the debate about political religion to paint its pictures on a canvass that is broader than any that would be required to accommodate a theory of apostasy. According to Assmann, any redefinition of the relationship between political rule and religious order must exhaust fully the historical space that the tension between the two processes of theologization and of secularization are opening up.[95] In the light of the contributions of Schütz and Ehrenberg, I would add that the need for the making of history and creative thinking is even greater, as our "space" is not just a line between the two end-points of theologization and secularization, but is defined as a triangle with God as the point of reference.


Related to, but different from this debate is Michael Burleigh's study The Third Reich. A New History. [96] Burleigh (now Lexington, Virginia) sees the concepts of political religion and totalitarianism as compatible, but the research paradigm that he applies is derived mainly from political religion and it is the "metaphysical motives behind the Nazi project" that are stressed, though this characteristic is shown to be the case in some sections of the study rather more than in others. Nazi religion, on the one hand, is pure manipulation, while, on the other, it is a genuine but misguided sentiment. Burleigh describes it as a dangerous fantasy of redemption, and it is this religion, and not what he calls "conventional religion", that "sank a drillhead into a deep-seated reservoir of existential anxiety".[97] Conventional Christianity - understandably - does not feature prominently, though some individuals, such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, are well covered. In fact, there is not much reflection on the difference between fantasies and religion.[98] Nevertheless, most thinking people would endorse Burleigh's conclusion that the slowness and tediousness of political pragmatism, as represented by the western democracies, is preferable to apocalyptic rage, "'quick-fix' leaps to happiness" or some destructive "ideological fantasy" (the last two words of the volume). Burleigh's study is a robust defence of the western way of life - and political religion is something that just does not belong there. However, liberal democracy and the free market, like all forms of political rule and economic order, have their symbolic systems, for, they are, after all, competing traditions; or, when seen from some corners of the Third World, dangerous ideologies. Eric Hobsbawm has reminded us that the global economy regards quite a number of poor countries as economically uninteresting and irrelevant. It might so regard any poor minority in any country. He also thinks that in the same way that those currents of inter-war resentment generated fascism, so the religio-political protests of the Third World and the hunger for identity and certainty in a disintegrating world are now the soil in which dangerous political forces can grow.[99] A huge chunk of the world's population has gained very little, if anything, from modernization and the global economy. The theological and missionary discourse of the 1930s reminds us that liberal democracy and secularization are not in any sense a simple antidote to political religions, for, they are also involved in their genesis. In other words, political religion as a concept must be something more than an expression of the definitional powers of agnostic-liberal discourse.


A different picture begins to unfold when we look at Hans Maier's contribution to the debate. Maier, who from 1970 to 1986 was minister for culture and education in Bavaria and is now emeritus professor of Christian worldview in Munich, may be as politically conservative as Burleigh, but there is a big difference in so far as Maier is firmly located in the Catholic tradition. From this, he draws on Christian doctrine and history, carefully exploring - with Augustine, as it were - the distinction between vera religio and political religion. Maier started using the concept of political religion in the early 1990s[100] and was in charge of an international research project on totalitarianism and political religions (1992-2002) that resulted in three major volumes.[101] As these volumes have a composite nature, I will first look at Maier's own contributions, before analysing how far, if at all,  the results of the research project confirm his position. Maier's usage of the concept of political religion is theological throughout. He says that within the European or western context political religions are attempts at turning the wheel of history backwards and returning to a time when State and Church were one. Such a return to antiquity, however, can only be done through a radical break with Christianity. For the Christian, no political order post Christum natum is entitled to present itself as absolute, sacred, or infinite - in brief, to call itself God without being God. If the political order does so, conjuring up a false reality, it becomes demonic.[102] Maier has put forward this line of argument in all his contributions to the discussion.[103] Not everyone agreed. The historian Hans Mommsen (emeritus professor of modern history, Bochum) argues that "reaching into the theological treasure chest", as he calls it, and invoking "evil", does not and cannot explain anything. For the demonic is not a term conducive to constructive political analysis. His main argument against the usage of political religion as a concept is that it represents the retrospective application of Christian categories, which are essentially non-analytical, to the new, modern phenomenon of totalitarianism.[104] I will return to this critique later.


The primary theological distinction that is operative in Maier's thinking is the basis for all further or secondary distinctions. The next important step he takes is to declare that the totalitarian dictatorships of the 20th century were part not just of the political, but also of the religious history of Europe. Making use of the more comprehensive meaning of the term religion, which embraced the experience of the fascinosum, numinosum, and tremendum,[105] political religion becomes a legitimate object for religious inquiry. Maier acknowledges that totalitarian leadership was hostile to established religion and interested in manipulating the religious sentiments of the masses; however, he argues


(1)   that there were reasons why dictators were able to behave as they did, namely because of the inroads secularization had made into main-line culture, and,

(2)   that the religious response of the now religiously illiterate masses was genuinely religious, though on a level of a re-emerging "archaic religiosity".[106]


It is quite interesting that the resulting three volumes of the ten-year research project in no way offer simple confirmation of this grand narrative. To be sure, there are advocates and critics of the concept of political religion and those sitting on the fence, as it were,[107] but more important is that there is also a plurality of distinctly different approaches. There is general agreement that totalitarian rule generated ideological and symbolic forms that are reminiscent of religion, even that there were impressarios of political cults, but there is no consensus as to the validity of the concept of political religion. Mommsen, for example, is only prepared to speak of National Socialism as a "simulated political religion", meaning that Nazism never possessed a genuine religious, ideological or political vision, but was, rather, parasitic to and destructive of all these areas. National Socialism was seriously lacking in substance and therefore incapable of creative thinking; all it did was to consume and destroy what previous generations had achieved, after which its own destruction became unavoidable. The formative and novel drive in Nazism, that which distinguished it from the völkisch nationalism of the far right, was in Mommsen's view not religion, but arbitrariness and actionism.[108] Juan Linz, emeritus professor of political science at Yale University, wrote a very broad comparative analysis of fascism and non-democratic regimes for the third of the volumes edited by Maier. Unlike Mommsen, Linz acknowledges the presence of political religion in some areas of National Socialism, but more importantly, he also uses other explanatory models, and with regard to the additional cases of fascist rule he does not employ the concept at all.[109] The crux of this concept is most clearly expressed by Mathias Behrens, a co-worker of Hans Maier’s. Behrens analyses the various concepts of religion that may underly the term political religion and comes to two conclusions:


(1)   The "reduced" understanding of religion, which is an understanding following, for example, Rudolf Otto and Mircea Eliade, is capable indeed of showing political religion to be the absolutizing of a finite reality. But it does not help us to determine whether we are dealing with religion or not. The question remains unanswerable.

(2)   Only a philosophical or theological preconception is able to supply us with the sort of critical toolbox that is needed in order to define religion and distinguish between its different forms. This preconception, at least in the European case, is that God is both the ground of our being and the transcendent other.[110] 


In the light of this preconception, it is clear that for Behrens political religions are not religions in the strict sense, as they lack that core characteristic of the genuine article, the desire to orientate their adherents towards God. But they do address the search for transcendence. That is, they try to fill the gap that the receding religion has left, and to satisfy, for a while at least, the fantasy. In other words, political religions are not religious at all, they are absolutist ideologies working in the sphere vacated by religion. This is an argument that is often made and the consistency of which is acknowledged even by scholars such as the political scientist Emilio Gentile (Rome), who, however, has no doubts about the religious nature of political religion, despite its inherent fragility.[111] In fact, his definition of religion does indeed follow that which Otto and Eliade suggested.


In his study on The Sacralization of Politics in Fascist Italy, he opts for a cautious acknowledgement of the sincerity of the phenomenon, recognizing that "even the absurd and the inhuman" can arouse faith and belief.[112] The task of the researcher is to analyse rationally that which seems to be irrational. This means looking from the inside at the symbolic universe of fascism and acknowledging that political religions do in some ways address fundamental issues of value and meaning and that, in so doing, they deal with questions the previous religion had left behind.[113] For Gentile, the rise of secular religion or the various degrees of the sacralization of politics, namely the process by which a political movement confers a sacred status on an earthly entity (such as the nation, the race, or the revolution), has to be seen in conjunction with the religious and cultural history of the modern West, in particular the recession of Christianity and the advance of secular culture. Whether this is part of a more general spiritual crisis of "modern man" (assuming that the religious factor survives secularization and the death of traditional religion), is considered by Gentile to be a genuine question.[114] In any case, he does speak of the historical reality, and, indeed, the force of the "collective needs" of a society thirsting for faith and security in a time of crisis, and also of the "not-yet-dried-up" currents and passions of religious or cultural memories.[115] His educated guess is that there is a continuity of the "sacred" in public life, though it may, among other things, migrate and also mutate into political mass movements. The secular religions of the last two hundred years, therefore, are expressions of the search for, and the reconstruction of, unity and coherence within the purview of cultural, political, social, and religious life, though on a distinctly non-Christian basis - political religions are missionary, they explicitly try to replace the older religion in the collective mind and to establish a new order. In this view, Italian fascism was the first European experiment since the French Revolution that sought to institutionalize a new civic religion.[116] The terminology or taxonomy[117] applied by Gentile is varied (stretching from national religion, to secular, lay, civic, civil, and political religion or, in Italy's case, fascism) because, depending on the context at any given time, the degree to which the sacred was present in politics could be said to exist on a sort of sliding-scale, stretching from the patriotic religion of nationalism to the deliberately post-humanitarian and absolutist fascist religions. In "open" societies, such as liberal democracies - and where we have mechanisms for defending individual liberty -  sacralization may assume the shape of a civil religion, whereas in "closed" societies, such as dictatorships, the much more dangerous form of a political religion may occur.[118] Western society, to go a bit further than Gentile himself does, is not immune in principle to the return of religion as sacralized politics, because the collision of collective needs and secularization is prone to the generation of disturbances.


The contributions discussed in this section relate almost exclusively to the European history of the 20th century.[119] The journal Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions, founded in the year 2000, represents a deliberate attempt to widen the perspective across the boundaries of time and place, following directions laid down by Eric Voegelin and Norman Cohn.[120] In the initial editorial, Robert Mallett stated that all attempts of amalgamating politics and salvation were a legitimate object for analysis, those of the past and the present, and even the "potential totalitarian tyrannies" of the future.[121] Concerning the West, Mallett conceded that neo-fascist movements were still an issue, but they represented rather "the detritus of twentieth-century political religions". The "considerable potential for future authoritarian excess", Mallett expected to find somewhere else, "in particular in China, India, the Middle East and Russia". The editorial, therefore, identified future dangers as coming, as it were, from the outside, and gave Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions a dual identity: on the one hand, a forum of scholarly inquiry and, on the other, a function for the defence of liberal democracy. The point of the journal is indeed, as Mallett said, "to learn the harsh lessons meted out by the various political ideologies." This dual identity forces the journal to go beyond case studies, challenging as they may be, and to address two major issues: one is the discussion of the conceptual questions that arise from the globalization of concepts such as totalitarianism and political religions, and the other is the inquiry into the connections that may exist between global inequality and the politics of salvation. A rough statistical overview shows that the journal has performed quite well as regards the first matter.[122] 




Religion is back in the market, there can be no doubt. Every school of thought that stands in the tradition of the Enlightenment has to think about what to do with the unresolved question of God or ultimate reality, without abandoning knowledge or returning to religious naïveté. It is a surprising fact that theologians who opposed the Third Reich and revealed the falsity of its claims also used the word religion to describe the sacralization of Nazi politics. The idea of the vera religio could have required a different terminology, such as ideology or, at best, pseudo-religion. However, Barth, Schütz and Ehrenberg spoke deliberately of secular, political or Nazi religion.[123] The explanation I would venture is this: in the 1930s, after the catastrophe of the First World War, with its shameful picture of a compromised, blood-stained Church, the term religion was no longer sacrosanct, but had become rather ambiguous within theological thinking. While sociology and religious studies widened and expanded or, more precisely, emancipated their terminology from theology, a critical minority within theology and mission had become suspicious of the new anthropocentrism in the humanities and of the emphasis on human experience. Dialectical theologians such as Karl Barth, innovative thinkers like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, but also Schütz and Ehrenberg, shared the Enlightenment's critique of religion - they had perhaps less illusions as to the reliability of religious behaviour than enlightened humanists such as Jan Assmann. What they advocated instead was a radical theological distinction which left - metaphorically speaking, on the one side, that is, the only side there could be - God or reality, and, as it were, on the other, religion and political religion. The latter two were very different, indeed, but belonged to the same basic category, namely the self-constructed human world - be it Heimat or nightmare. We could in fact state that the sacralization of political rule replaces religion or that one is much different from the other, but we can not say that the one is the real thing and the other the fake. The real thing is God. Secularization occurred within our religious world, whether Heimat or nightmare, and, in the view of these theologians, rightly so. From this perspective, there is no problem in applying religious categories to the phenomena associated with the sacralization of politics. Political religion, now, as it was then, is a useful device of critical distinction. Problems do arise, however, when a normative understanding of religion, such as the notion of vera religio, is used when applying the concept. Burleigh, a defender of the concept of political religions, and Mommsen, one of its sharpest critics, both apply an implicit version of the vera religio schema. Implicit, because Burleigh regards Nazi ideology as "amoral claptrap",[124] believing liberal democracy to be the real religion; whereas Mommsen, in the name of some unknown faith, does not wish to "upgrade" Nazi ideology by calling it religious.[125] All the scholars I have mentioned seem to agree that a central part of the cultural knowledge we have acquired over the centuries is that political order must not be sacralized. Political order can be achieved and changed pragmatically as a result of the processes of consensus and negotiation. But the condition for this – or, at least, the caveat - is, as the critics of political religion in the 1930s have shown, that a further type of knowledge is available: that of the distinction between the penultimate and the ultimate. Such a distinction does not define, but rather point to what is real or ultimate - in my vocabulary: to God. However, theological language does not need to be privileged as long as other dictionaries, such as that of philosophy, address this distinction. It is my contention that such a further type of knowledge is conducive to the preservation of learning and memory, resistant to the regression into archaic illusions, and, also, sufficiently critical and realistic not to be too impressed by the fascinosum of salvation politics. It is vital that the distinction between the penultimate and the ultimate is remembered in western society, particularly in the academy.


[1] I heard this story first on the 18th of March 2004 in a lecture given by the Oxford academic Dr. Emmanuele Ottolenghi, at Birmingham University ("Israel's Religious and Secular Divide: is there space for dialogue?"; paper given in the Cadbury Lectures 2004 on "Religion, Politics and Conflict in the Contemporary World"). I favour this concept, for it is rather forgiving, and light-years away from the vera religio concept that is used so much, and often so uncritically.


[2] Many studies of political religion today reserve the term for the phenomenon of Europe's totalitarian regimes of the 20th century. Part of the phenomenon then is secularization (see further below); i.e. its setting in cultures that were previously, Christian in character. More or less distinct from related conceptual approaches that focus on such phenomena as nationalism, totalitarianism or modern dictatorship, and in some tension with the tenets of the secularization hypothesis, the paradigm of political religion is used to illuminate better what other approaches have such difficulty in explaining: the unquestionable popular support and devotion for political programmes that were intensely violent and plainly irrational. Political religion, as a concept, explains the force behind the psycho-social dispositions and political mechanisms of totalitarian rule as quasi-religious in character. It detects mythologies and liturgies, sacred texts and doctrines, orthodoxies and heresies, holy wars and inquisition. An even wider interpretation of this concept takes us beyond the limitations of Europe in the 20th century. Accordingly, political religion is a trans-historical and trans-religious or trans-cultural conceptual device to explore, in principle at least, all attempts to amalgamate politics and salvation. This raises much wider questions: do political religions require a secular context in which to develop? Are human beings essentially religious and do they have a propensity to choose disastrous political-religious options when traditional religions or institutionalized secularism are no longer attractive? Are political religions specifically the underside of secular modernity or a universal phenomenon in the pathology of religions?


[3] I am aware that the discipline of philosophy is also fully able to make such distinctions. A philosophical treatment of our subject area is e.g. John E. Smith's Quasi-Religions. Humanism, Marxism and Nationalism, London: Macmillan, 1994. Smith occupied the Clark Chair of Philosophy at Yale until his retirement (1991). His study points to the historical connection between what he calls "the secular void" (8f.) and the rise of quasi-religions. Being a philosopher, he is quite explicit in his assumptions about human nature: different from the historical religious traditions and the quasi-religions is "the human religious need" (10). This need, and this is the crux, can be served in different ways. Smith distinguishes between "religions proper" (traditional scriptural religions such as Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism - tribal or primal religions are not mentioned) and "quasi-religions" by insisting upon the following observation: proper religions are responses to the sacred or the transcendent - and their respective Ultimate can be nothing finite; quasi-religions do also offer a supreme object, but their ultimate is finite and conditioned (1f., 7f., 121-123). They are religions because they perform some of the functions associated with "proper" religions, but they are quasi only, because their ultimates are subject to corruption and idolatry. It is interesting that a philosopher uses terms taken from the Judeo-Christian tradition such as "idolatry", "idols", "demonic distortions" and, on the other side, "unmasking", "prophetic criticism" or "truly divine love, beauty and creativity" (121, 132, 134) in order to qualify this distinction even further. In fact, Smith is indebted to Paul Tillich, even in the choice of the term "quasi-religions", cp. Tillich's "The Significance of the History of Religions for the Systematic Theologian" (1965, Tillich's last paper), in: J.C. Brauer (ed.), The Future of Religions. Paul Tillich, New York: Harper&Row, 1966, 80-94, here 90.


[4] An up-to-date bibliography of political religion as a concept and as an object of research is contained in Maier III and Schmiechen-Ackermann (see below). Some of the following major publications I will discuss as we go along, most of them in the second part of this paper: Emilio Gentile, The Sacralization of Politics in fascist Italy [1993], Cambridge/Mass.: Harvard UP, 1996; Michael Ley and Julius H. Schoeps (eds.), Der Nationalsozialismus als politische Religion, Bodenheim b. Mainz: Philo, 1997; Hans Maier, Politische Religionen. Die totalitären Regime und das Christentum, Freiburg: Herder, 1995; idem (ed.), Wege in die Gewalt. Die modernen politischen Religionen, Frankfurt am Main: Fischer, 2000; idem (ed.), Totalitarismus und Politische Religionen. Konzepte des Diktaturvergleichs. Three vols. [vol. 2 ed. together with M. Schäfer], Paderborn: F. Schöningh, 1996, 1997, 2003; Michael Burleigh, The Third Reich. A New History, London: Macmillan, 2000; Detlef Schmiechen-Ackermann, Diktaturen im Vergleich, Darmstadt: Wiss. Buchgesellschaft, 2002. Finally, there is the journal Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions, ed. by M. Burleigh [2000-2003], R. Mallett and E. Gentile [from 2002], Frank Cass Publishers, 2000 ff. (three issues per year; new publisher in 2004).


[5] Another mutation is the term "civil religion", which, since the 1960s (Robert N. Bellah), is used to describe certain public phenomena in democratic states ruled by a constitution; in America, for example, some presidencies from George Washington on have been analysed in terms of civil religion. Cp. Richard V. Pierard and Robert D. Linder, Civil Religion and the Presidency, Grand Rapids: Academy Books, 1988. As to the study of individual religiosity, the spectrum has been considerably expanded since Rudolf Otto published his The Idea of the Holy in 1917 (Engl. edition London and New York: Oxford UP, 1925). Recently, the term implicit religion has been introduced with a view to explaining secular life in terms of a conceptual toolbox provided by religious studies. Cp. Edward I. Bailey, Implicit Religion in Contemporary Society, Kampen: Kok Pharos, 1997.


[6] Cp. H. McLeod and W. Ustorf (eds.), The Decline of Christendom in Western Europe, 1750-2000, Cambridge: CUP, 2003; in particular the Introduction by McLeod; also H. McLeod, Secularisation in Western Europe 1848-1914, London: Macmillan, 2000. It is a rather broad, but fair generalization to say that secularization (following Durkheim and Weber) is a teleological concept: sketching a future world that is free from the Church or religion in general.


[7] The secular bias of the western academy leaves little room for religion, it works on the basis of what Jeff Cox called “the presumption of marginality”. Jeffrey Cox, Imperial Fault Lines. Christianity and Colonial Power in India, 1818-1940, Stanford CA: Stanford UP, 2002, 8. Changing this bias requires more than just satisfying our enlightened curiosity as to why the modern secular mind was so quick to wrap the mantle of the sacred around irrational fantasies.


[8] Cp. Michael Ignatieff, Blood & Belonging. Journeys into the New Nationalism, London: Vintage, 1994. Like Ignatieff now, in whose book the term religion is hardly mentioned at all, at an earlier stage Carlton Hayes used the term "nationalism" to analyse the driving forces of his time. "Integral nationalism" in particular is the term that describes what others called totalitarianism or political religion; cp. his Essays on Nationalism, New York: Macmillan, 1928, and his The Historical Evolution of Modern Nationalism, New York: Macmillan, 1931. It is indeed one of the challenges to the political religion paradigm that the concept of nationalism is able to cover the same or, at least, parts of the same ground.


[9] Cp. Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, (1996) London: Touchstone, 1998.


[10] In1884, that is about the same time the business world started thinking in terms of "world economy" and the "world market" and just a few years before Christian strategists began to speak of the "evangelization of the world in this generation", the Encyclopedia Britannica Vol. 20 (1884), 358-371, adopted the new term "world religion". Like the more established concept of "universal religion", the new term referred to its supranational and interracial aspects, but distinctively and additionally, it expressed a missionary determination to conquer and rule the world. Given that Buddhism was regarded as atheist and Islam a mere appendix to Christianity, it was perhaps implied that the victor would be Christianity. Only a few years later, at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893, Swami Vivekananda presented the main religion of India not just as a further contender, but as consonant with the Enlightenment's critique of religious coercion and dogmatism. In this perspective, Hinduism offered everything the West expected of an ideal religion. And it was not "foreign" either: this Hinduism was declared to be the original religion of the Europeans, to which they were now invited to return. Vivekananda's speeches are documented e.g. in J.H. Barrows (ed.), The World's Parliament of Religions. An Illustrated and Popular Story, 2 vols., Chicago 1893.


[11] Mk 12: 13-17.


[12] The theological impossibility of having a political theology was shown by Erik Peterson, Der Monotheismus als politisches Problem, Leipzig 1935. This study is discussed by Jan Assmann, Herrschaft und Heil, Frankfurt am Main: Fischer, 2002, 21 f.; and by Maier, Politische Religionen, 60; and idem, Totalitarismus, III, 369. Peterson's thesis was that the doctrine of Trinity disabled the mutual relationship between other-worldly and this-worldly order, because Trinity could not be represented on the political level. For Peterson, political theology was possible only within Judaism and paganism (of antiquity).


[13] Cp. Charles Steward and Rosalind Shaw (eds.), Syncretism - Anti-Syncretism. The Politics of Religious Synthesis, London and New York: Routledge, 1994. The very notions of syncretism and political religion presuppose an alternative view, perhaps a norm, in any case a situation where things are not mixed but clearly distinguishable. Experience shows also that the syncretists are usually the others.


[14] April edition of the Westm. Review, p. 291, according to The Compact Oxford English Dictionary, London: BCA, second ed., 1993, 1379/32.


[15] Cp. Gentile, Sacralization, 2.


[16] Cp. H.O. Seitschek, Frühe Verwendungen des Begriffs 'Politische Religion': Campanella, Clasen, Wieland, in Maier, Totalitarismus, III, 109-120.


[17] The theologian Paul Tillich (influenced e.g. by Rudolf Otto), in his battle against dialectical theology (religions as futile human attempts to reach God) on the one hand and secularism (religions as illusion) on the other, created the often-quoted term "ultimate concern", cp. for example his Christianity and the Encounter of the World Religions, New York and London: Columbia UP, 1963, 4f. He had worked together with Mircea Eliade in Chicago and became convinced, towards the end of his life, that "the universality of a religious statement does not lie in an all-embracing abstraction which would destroy religion as such, but it lies in the depths of every concrete religion. Above all it lies in the openness to spiritual freedom both from one's own foundation and for one's own foundation." Cp. his The Significance of the History of Religions, in: Brauer, The Future of Religions, 94. Cryptic as these remarks are, there can be no doubt that Tillich was on his way to saying that individual religions were gateways to something else - the vision of the divine.


[18] See the overview by Schmiechen-Ackermann, Diktaturen im Vergleich, 49-55, 146.


[19] Philippe Burin, Die politischen Religionen: Das Mythologisch-Symbolische in einer säkularisierten Welt, in: Ley and Schoeps (eds.), Der Nationalsozialismus als politische Religion, 168-185, here 168.


[20] Cp. H. McLeod and W. Ustorf (eds.), The Decline of Christendom in Western Europe; Callum Brown, The Death of Christian Britain. Understanding Secularisation 1800-2000, London: Routledge, 2001; Steve Bruce, God is Dead: secularization in the West, Oxford: Blackwell, 2002; Grace Davie, Religion in Modern Europe: A Memory Mutates,Oxford: OUP, 2002; Robin Gill, The 'Empty' Church Revisited, Ashgate, 2003.


[21] Cp. Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom. The Coming of Global Christianity, New York: OUP, 2002.


[22] Local Christian movements that were independent from western missions were already underway in the period of colonialism, and were initially regarded with great suspicion by western missiologists, seeing them as pathological or, at best, syncretistic phenomena of prophetic protest, and by western social scientists as "colonial heresies", nativism, messianism, movements of acculturation or cults of salvation and so on, all interpreted as indigenous reactions to the cultural disintegration caused by colonial oppression and modernization. Rarely did these explanations ever consider the possibility that at least some of these movements may have been genuinely religious, that is, based on the encounter with the divine. The literature on this is numerous. Some of the "classical" texts are B. Malinowski, The Dynamics of Culture Change, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1945; B. G. M. Sundkler, Bantu Prophets in South Africa, London 1948; P. M. Worsley, The Trumpet Shall Sound. A Study of "Cargo" Cults in Melanesia, London 1957; V. Lanternari, The Religions of the Oppressed, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1963; see also my Afrikanische Initiative. Das aktive Leiden des Propheten Simon Kimbangu, Frankfurt am Main: P. Lang, 1975. Since decolonization, the number of such movements has risen geometrically, particularly in Africa, the new heartland of Christianity; cp. Allan Anderson, African Reformation. African Initiated Christianity in the 20th Century, Trenton/NJ: Africa World Press, 2001. See also his essays "The Rise of Pentecostalism" and "The Non-Western Protestant World", in: A. E. McGrath and D. C. Marks (eds.), The Blackwell Companion to Protestantism, Malden/MA and Oxford: Blackwell, 2004, 439-452 and 468-482.


[23] See note 17. Sociology, political science and, to some degree, historical studies try to get around the problem by applying an allegedly non-biased and non-denominational understanding of the term - usually focusing on function. This focus, however, does not appear to be non-biased in the eye of the believer!


[24] Cp. David Bosch, Believing in the Future. Toward a Missiology of Western Culture, Valley Forge: Trinity Press, 1995, 33 f. I write as a theologian, a missiologist, to be precise. A missiologist is somebody reflecting the profound learning process Christianity has gone through and is still going through when crossing the boundaries to religion and modernity. Part of this learning process is the insight that it is necessary to act with solidarity in the face of rapidly increasing poverty and inequality. Cp. John May, After Pluralism. Towards an Interreligious Ethic, Münster: Lit Verlag, 2000, 5. John May has also discussed the issue of violence and religion, see his Transcendence and Violence. The Encounter of Buddhist, Christian, and Primal Traditions, New York: Continuum, 2003.


[25] A draft of this paper had been critically read by Prof. Rainer Hering, archivist and scholar of modern history in Hamburg, and by Dr. Graeme Smith (Birmingham), editor of the journal Political Theology. With both of them I have been engaged in a discussion on political religion that has extended over two years. I am grateful to both of them. All errors and shortcomings are, of course, mine.


[26] Eric Voegelin, Die politischen Religionen [Vienna, 1938], ed. by Peter J. Opitz, Munich: Fink, 1993 [2nd ed. 1996]. Cp. also Michael Ley, Heinrich Neisser, Gilbert Weiss (eds.), Politische Religion? Politik, Religion und Anthropologie im Werk von Eric Voegelin, München 2003. Voegelin's analysis coincided with the arrival of National Socialism in Austria. After the War, Voegelin refined his theory and terminology. I refer here to the concept of 1938, acknowledging, where necessary, his later insights. In recalling Voegelin's approach one re-enters the debate about the legitimacy and location of religion and rationality or faith and Enlightenment in public or political life.


[27] Voegelin offered a political theory from a Christian perspective, though it must be said that the interwar years were awash with similar attempts to extend the religious terminology to phenomena outside the established religions. In fact Lucie Varga in 1937, Frederick A. Voigt in 1938, and, later, Raymond Aron also used the term. It is also clear that this period in time generated quite a number of apocalyptic or doomsday scenarios, all united in their contempt for the present. O. Spengler's Der Untergang des Abendlandes, two vols., München: Beck, 1918 and 1922, is only the upper level of a popular trend. The background to these early attempts is given in Maier, Totalitarismus, III, 93 ff. and 129-177. Much earlier, as we will see, was its usage in missiology (not mentioned in Maier's volumes).


[28]The driving force behind the crisis, Voegelin thinks, is the avoidance of the question of truth: the escape into guaranteed existential certainty or, put the other way round, the dissatisfaction with uncertainty. Cp. Voegelin, Der Gottesmord. Zur Genese und Gestalt der modernen politischen Gnosis, ed. by Peter J. Opitz, Munich: Fink, 1999, 105‑128.


[29] Some critics felt that Voegelin simply blamed modern western culture and the Enlightenment for Nazism and Communism. See further below the contribution of Jan Assmann; also the discussion of Voegelin's approach in Maier, Totalitarismus, III, 129-149.


[30] The systematic theologian Paul Tillich in his The Religious Situation (German 1926; Engl. 1932; I am using the edition New York: Meridian Books, 1960) and his Die Sozialistische Entscheidung, Potsdam: A. Protte, 1933. Tillich is discussed as one of the formative thinkers in the area of political religions in Maier, Totalitarismus, III, 83 ff. and 378.


[31] The Christian Message in a Non-Christian World, London: Edinburgh House Press, 1938, 15.


[32] Zwischen Nil und Kaukasus. Ein Reisebericht zur religionspolitischen Lage im Orient, Munich; I have used the 4th edition, Moers: Brendow, 1991 (preface by Hans F. Bürki), which also contains Schütz' introduction for the 3rd edition of 1953 (Kassel).


[33] The Dr. Lepsius-Deutsche Orient-Mission. About Schütz, see H.-W. Gensichen in Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, ed. by G. H. Anderson, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998, 605; also Gensichen's apologetic "Zur Orient- und Missionserfahrung von Paul Schütz", in: Zeitschrift für Missionswissenschaft und Religionswissenschaft 77 (1993), 152-159. A critical biography still needs to be written. First steps are Rudolf Kremers' Paul Schütz - Auf der Suche nach der Wirklichkeit, Moers: Brendow, 1989, and shorter, but more critical pieces by Rainer Hering; e.g. his “Der Theologe Paul Schütz im ‘Dritten Reich’”, in: Mitteilungen des Oberhessischen Geschichtsvereins, new series 84 (1999), 1-39, and his "Das Judentum bei Paul Schütz", in Jahrbuch der Hessischen Kirchengeschichtlichen Vereinigung 52 (2001), 143-165. This important publication uses, among other primary materials, an unpublished manuscript by Schütz on political religion (see notes below).


[34] Cp. the counter-publication written by Siegfied Knak, a leading member of the German Missionary Council and sympathizer of Nazism, Zwischen Nil und Tafelbai. Eine Studie über Evangelium, Volkstum und Zivilisation, am Beispiel der Missionsprobleme unter den Bantu, Berlin: Heimatdienst, 1931. Schütz deepened his criticism in his essay "Der politisch-religiöse Synkretismus und seine Entstehung aus dem Geist der Renaissance", in: Orient und Occident 5 (1931), 1 ff., and in his book Säkulare Religion, Tübingen 1932 (printed version of his Habilitationsschrift, see below).


[35] "Wir sind restlos am Ende."; Zwischen Nil und Kaukasus, 175. Also: "In Europa aber wird auf allem Gassen Christus tot gesagt, während noch draußen die Mission (oder die Aufklärung?!) die Götzendämmerung der Heidenwelt ankündigt." Ibid., 213. It is interesting to compare this view to F.F. Coppola's film Apocalypse Now, where it falls to Colonel Kurz to contemplate the western loss of naïveté.


[36] The 1930 edition of the book does not in fact use the term, though the revised edition (1953) does. However, the concept is already there in 1930, even though the term used then is "religious politics", along with its derivates.


[37] Everywhere in Christendom they detected decadence or even heresy and apostasy. Schütz speaks of  "Abfall"; Zwischen Nil und Kaukasus, 59.


[38] Cp. his The Religious Situation.


[39] Karl Barth, Fragen and das Christentum, in: Zofinger Centralblatt, December 1931; reprinted in idem, Theologische Fragen und Antworten, (Gesammelte Vorträge, vol. III: 1927-1943), Zürich: Theol. Verlag, 1957, 93-99. I have been alerted to this by Kristian Hungar, emeritus professor in Heidelberg's theological faculty. Hungar is currently working on related issues, and I have used his unpublished paper (2004) on Theologische Diagnose des Nationalsozialismus: Karl Barth.


[40] Cp. W. Ustorf, German Missiology and Anti-Americanism, in: Mission Studies VI/1, no. 11 (1989), 23-34.


[41] Cp. for example the missiologist Heinrich Frick's condemnation of capitalism and imperialism in his book Die Evangelische Mission, Bonn and Leipzig, 1922, 104 and 352 ff. It is also true, however, that Frick after having been to America, changed his mind.


[42] Cp. Rufus M. Jones, Secular Civilization and the Christian Task, in: Report of the Jerusalem Meeting of the International Missionary Council, Vol. I, London: OUP, 1928, 284-338. Discussion in W. Ustorf, Sailing on the Next Tide. Missions, Missiology, and the Third Reich, Frankfurt am Main: P. Lang, 2000,  97 f.


[43] This is best expressed in the already mentioned book by Hendrik Kraemer, The Christian Message in a Non-Christian World. The general trend here is very different from the Laymen's Inquiry into foreign missions that the philosopher William Hocking edited in 1932, and which followed a pluralist line. Cp. Re-Thinking Missions, A Laymen's Inquiry After One Hundred Years, New York: Harper & Brothers, 1932.


[44] Cp. here my Sailing on the Next Tide, 113-128. Two publications are of particular interest here: Joe Oldham's The Resurrection of Christendom, London/New York: Sheldon/MacMillan, 1940 (The Christian News-Letter Book, No. 1), and George Bell's Christianity and World Order, Harmondsworth/New York: Penguin, 1940. Oldham, a leading thinker of the International Missionary Council, had organised the Oxford Conference. Bell, Bishop of Chichester and leading ecumenist, was perhaps the best-informed defender of the Confessing Church. Both agreed, though to various degrees, that Christianity, through its accommodation with mainline culture, was also co-responsible for the crisis. The two books represent programmes to recapture the modern runaway culture for Christianity, before fascism or other forms of religious totalitarianism could overrun them.


[45] Kirche oder Sekte, April 1937. This anonymous text offers a concise description of National Socialism as a "political religion" (religion "in the full sense"). Nazi religion is presented as a "state-church", different from and in no need of the "pseudo-religion" of Hauer's neopaganism, engaged in a "hidden religious war" against the Christian tradition and well described in its absolutist claims. Extracts in Klaus Behnken (ed.), Deutschland-Berichte der Sozialdemokratischen Partei Deutschlands 1934-1940, Salzhausen: P. Nettelbeck, Frankfurt am Main: Zweitausendeins, 1980, vol. 4 (1937), 494-499. It is interesting that Burleigh quotes this text without acknowledging that it was written by theologians (cp. The Third Reich, 252 f.).


[46] Hans Maier's Totalitarismus, vol. III, contains a useful bio-bibliographical dictionary of interpreters of totalitarianism (327-383).


[47] Zwischen Nil und Kaukasus, 141 f., 212.


[48] Zwischen Nil und Kaukasus, 76, 100 ff. In fact Schütz also regards Communism as a "religion" and, since "race" is explicitly mentioned as one of the expressions of the "God of the World", Nazism also (141, 242).


[49] Zwischen Nil und Kaukasus, 247, 253.


[50] Säkulare Religion. Eine Studie über ihre Erscheinung in der Gegenwart und ihre Idee bei Schleiermacher und Blumhardt d.J., Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1932, VIII + 224 pp. The main part of the text was in fact his Habilitation (second doctorate) at the University of Giessen (1930).


[51] Säkulare Religion, 15, 30, 218, 222. Schütz develops a complex argument according to which main trends in philosophy and theology (beginning with the humanism of the Renaissance; Schleiermacher, Pietism and religious socialism included), church life (missionary activism, spreading of sects) and capitalist expansion (imperialism) are actually expressions of secular religion. "Mammonism" is criticized according to Max Weber. The Church is criticized for having lost its spiritual substance and, in Europe at least, being a class church, defending the social interest of the pettybourgeoisie.


[52] Säkulare Religion, VI.


[53] Säkulare Religion, 11-12.


[54] Säkulare Religion, 8-10, 39.


[55] Säkulare Religion, 40.


[56] In fact, this is a riposte to Schleiermacher: "Schrift und Kirche haben in ihrer schlechthinnigen Unhaltbarkeit gerade darin Halt, daß in ihnen die Rechtfertigung der Schranke ist." Säkulare Religion, 216.


[57] Using an analogy, Schütz says that theology is like Uranus: its oscillations point to the hidden rhythm of Neptune; Säkulare Religion, 42.


[58] Säkulare Religion, 224.


[59] Die politische Religion. Eine Untersuchung über den Ursprung des Verfalls in der Geschichte. This unpublished, type-written manuscript has 63 pages, a preface by Schütz (by hand, 1975) and two appendices: Das hugenottische Leiden im deutschen Raum (14 pp., hand-written) and Der protestantische Mensch und der preußische Staatsgedanke (5 pp., type-written). It is briefly discussed by Rainer Hering, "Das Judentum bei Paul Schütz", 143 f.; but it has not been consulted by Schütz' biographer, Rudolf Kremers. The manuscript is available at Staatsarchiv Hamburg, 622-1 Familie Paul Schütz, 248. I am grateful to Prof. Hering for having made a photocopy available to me.


[60] It is clear that on this background the distinctiveness of Jesus Christ could be painted in much brighter colours. In a footnote, written by hand in 1975, Schütz affirms this position: "Eher will ich Israel Unrecht tun, als zum Verräter an Jesus Christus werden." He then makes the rather unhistorical claim that the post-war "philo-semitic psycho-terror" was the exact mirror image of "Hitler's anti-semitic psycho-terror" and was to be resisted; Die politische Religion, 14.


[61] Die politische Religion, 16.


[62] Die politische Religion, 56-63.


[63] Cp. the discussion in my Sailing on the Next Tide, 36 f. and 117.


[64] The Collected Works of C.G. Jung, vol. 10: Civilization in Transition, Princeton 1970, 281; quoted after Weisbrod, Fundamentalist Violence, 499.


[65] Cp. Maier, Totalitarismus, vol. III, 120. M. Burleigh quotes Alexis de Tocqueville in this sense, cp. his Political Religion and Social Evil, in: Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions, III,2 (Autumn 2002), 1-60, here 5.


[66] The Nazi Religion and the Christian Mission, in: International Review of Missions 30 (1941), 363-373. I am also using his Autobiography of a German Pastor, London: SCM, 1943.


[67] About Ehrenberg cp. Ulrike Lange, Ehrenberg, in: Metzler Lexikon Christlicher Denker, ed. by M. Vinzent, Stuttgart: Metzler, 2000, 224. Lange has also written a monograph about Ehrenberg’s thought structures, cp. her Constancy and Change. Hans Ehrenberg’s three-dimensional methodology and the ‘Jewish Question’ (1932-1954), PhD thesis Birmingham UK, 2004. The official biography is Günter Brakelmann, Hans Ehrenberg. Vol. 1: Leben, Denken und Wirken, 1883-1932, vol. 2: Widerstand, Verfolgung, Emigration, 1933-1939, Waltrop: Spenner, 1997 and 1999.


[68] The Nazi Religion and the Christian Mission, 363. In passing we may note that Schütz and Ehrenberg anticipated to some degree the critique of Christian mission that would later come from non-western thinkers; cp. K.M. Panikkar, Asia and Western Dominance, London: Allen&Unwin, 1953; Frantz Fanon, Les damnés de la terre, Paris: Maspero, 1961.


[69] The Nazi Religion and the Christian Mission, 366.


[70] The Nazi Religion and the Christian Mission, 369. It is interesting that around the same time, in the Congo, the Flemish Franciscan missionary Placide Tempels discovered the "force vitale" to be the driving power of his Bantu Philosophy (1945/46, Engl. edition Paris: Présence Africaine, 1959).


[71] The Nazi Religion and the Christian Mission, 364, 366. Concerning the Japanese case cp. Min-Soo Rhee, Nihonteki Kirisutokyo in the Meiji Era, 1868-1912: The Tenno-Oriented Christianity, PhD thesis Birmingham UK, 2001. Interestingly, Emilio Gentile, in his Sacralization, 14, quotes one of the ancestors of Italian fascism, Enrico Corradini, who in 1904 developed his ideas of creating a new, secular religion with explicit reference to the Japanese model.


[72] The Nazi Religion and the Christian Mission, 369f.


[73] Autobiography, 96.


[74] The Nazi Religion and the Christian Mission, 367, 370.


[75] Also "neo-Islam", cp. Autobiography, 132.


[76] The Nazi Religion and the Christian Mission, 372.


[77] Cp. his The Destiny of Man, [1931] London: G. Bles, 1937; and his Slavery and Freedom, [1939] New York: Ch. Scribner's Sons, 1944. There is also a direct link between Schütz and Berdyaev because both (together with Fritz Lieb) edited 1929-34 the journal Orient und Occident.


[78] Though it is fair to say that the manuscript of 1935 was never published.


[79] Berdyaev, Slavery and Freedom, 18. Cp. also, though in an even more openly mystical language, P. Schütz, Zwischen Nil und Kaukasus, 262.


[80] Paul Tillich started in 1927 to talk about realism, see his bibliography in Walter Leibrecht (ed.), Religion and Culture. Essays in Honour of Paul Tillich, New York: Harper & Brothers, 1959, 367-396. The biographer of Paul Schütz, Rudolf Kremers, chose The Search for Reality as the subtitle for his study. Biblical Realism was the terminus technicus in Kraemer's The Christian Message.


[81] Zwischen Nil und Kaukasus, 263. Ehrenberg, in his The Nazi Religion and Christian Mission (372 f.) developed similar ideas; among them, the view that Christian mission was now completely on its own, without any protectors, and determined to attack any pre-Christian legacies as well as the post-Christian heresies - everywhere on the globe. Interestingly, the Christian experience came to be very different from this discourse of the 1930s: around the world, the Christian absorption of culture and religion is celebrated, technically a syncretistic process, though the accepted jargon calls it "inculturation". Cp. James Scherer and Stephen Bevans (eds.), New Directions in Mission and Evangelization 3: Faith and Culture, Mary Knoll, New York: Orbis, 1999.


[82] Berdyaev, The Beginning & the End, [1947], New York: Harper & Brothers, 1952, 155. He describes this encounter as a disruptive event, as an irruption into commonplace daily life. This communion would inevitably lead to a critique of the historical sanctities.


[83] The General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, Willem Visser't Hooft, in 1959 wrote that Christian mission between 1800 and 1950 was little more than the repetition in religious language of modern western civilization. The new era of "Post-Christendom" represented "the great epoch of liberation" of the churches from their imprisonment by colonialist mentalities, capitalist culture, and pseudo-religious ideologies; cp. his The Significance of the Asian Churches in the Ecumenical Movement, in: The Ecumenical Review, 11 (1959), 365-376. The implications of this for the churches are fundamental: almost all the Christians of the South are caught up in a deep and long re-assessment of the relationship between faith, culture, and political power. Cp. for a general view, Virginia Fabella and R. S. Sugirtharajah (eds.), Dictionary of Third World Theologies, Maryknoll, New York: Orbis, 2000.


[84] See Hans‑Christof Kraus, Eric Voegelin redivivus? Politische Wissenschaft als Politische Theologie, in: Michael Ley and Julius H. Schoeps, Nationalsozialismus, 74‑88.


[85] Aron spoke of religions séculières. Cp. Markus Hutter, Totalitarismus und säkulare Religionen. Zur Frühgeschichte totalitarismuskritischer Begriffs- und Theoriebildung in Großbritannien, Bonn 1999.


[86] Cp. in particular, Jan Assmann's attack on Voegelin in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (3rd June 1994, p. 10 "Der Sonderweg des christlichen Abendlandes"); also his Moses the Egyptian. The Memory of Egypt in Western Monotheism, Cambridge/Mass.: HUP, 1997; idem, Herrschaft und Heil. Politische Theologie in Altägypten, Israel und Europa, Frankfurt/M.: Fischer, 2002; see also e.g. the controversy between Assmann and Gerhard Kaiser in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of 2nd Nov. 2000 and 28th December 2000; Kaiser extended his critique in his essay "War der Exodus ein Sündenfall?", in: Zeitschrift für Theologie und Kirche 98 (2001), 1-24. Translations are mine.


[87] C. Schmitt, Politische Theologie. Vier Kapitel zur Lehre von der Souveränität, 2nd ed. Berlin 1934, 49, quoted after Assmann, Herrschaft und Heil, 20 (where, however, the quote is incorrect). Though Voegelin and Schmitt drew contrasting practical and religious conclusions, Voegelin in opposition and Schmitt in support of Nazism's capture of the religious domain, both were united in their analysis that the secular form of modernity had no legitimacy, represented a corrupt way of development, and that political rule had to be reconnected with the divine. This is why Assmann does not distinguish between political theology and political religion, rejecting both positions and suggested rather that they should be complemented and enriched by turning Schmitt's theory on its head.


[88] Herrschaft und Heil, 29.


[89] Herrschaft und Heil, 12.


[90] Following Sigmund Freud, Assmann locates the actual point of this historical transition in Tutankhamun's, monotheistic revolution, which was quickly forgotten in Egypt, but survived in biblical memory, namely not in the historical, but in the mnemonic figure of Moses; cp. Moses the Egyptian (1997).


[91] Moses the Egyptian, 17 ff. And 24 ff.


[92] Assmann detects the propensity for violence in all three Abrahamic religions, though he concedes that Judaism in its history was least involved in becoming violent. Understanding the origin of violence in modern mass movements is indeed at the heart of the debate about political religion. Bernd Weisbrod argues that the characteristics of political religions are acts of extreme violence (“epiphany”) and that these acts themselves (not the belief-system or the ideology) are the “religious” or transcendent or charismatic element. Political or fundamentalist violence is meant to generate or re-appropriate certainty. See his “Fundamentalist Violence: political violence and political religion in modern conflict”, in: International Social Science Journal 54 (2002), 499-508. Interesting as this idea is, there is no reason to assume that violence is equal to transcendence or certainty.


[93] Herrschaft und Heil, 30. Assmann stands also accused of offering too little historical evidence for his claims and, finally, that his approach is polytheistic or even plainly "syncretistic"; see G. Kaiser, War der Exodus der Sündenfall?, 22. It is interesting that Kaiser is not a theologian, but a historian of literature. See also Fritz Stolz, Wesen und Funktion von Monotheismus, in: Evangelische Theologie 61 (2001), 172-189. The recent debate of primal religious experience was originally located within missiology. Cp. Theo Sundermeier, The Meaning of Tribal Religions for the History of Religion. Primary Religious Experience, in: Scriptura 10 (1992), 1-9; and idem, Was ist Religion?, Gütersloh: Chr. Kaiser, 1999, 34-42; Andrew F. Walls, Primal Religious Traditions in Today's World, in: idem, The Missionary Movement in Christian History, New York and Edinburgh 1996, 119-139; Anton Wessels, Europe. Was it ever really Christian?, London 1994; W. Ustorf, Championing the Dead: a Reflection on Funeral Theologies and 'Primal' Religion, in: Implicit Religion, Vol. 3 (2000), No 1, 51-61.


[94] The distinction between primary and secondary forms of religion is problematic indeed, not just because all forms of religious expression are symbolic and their language always metaphorical and in this sense secondary, but also because the category of the primal or primary as a tool of religious history is not neutral. It turned up prominently between the world wars as a kind of prescriptive religious programme, namely to legitimize as religious the experience of the secularized masses outside the churches. The 1923 study on primal religious experience by the indologist Jakob Wilhelm Hauer, from Tübingen, is illustrative here; see

Hauer, Das religiöse Erlebnis auf den unteren Stufen, Berlin 1923. Hauer had started as a Christian missionary to India, then became a scholar exploring honestly the chances for a religious recovery of the West; later he 'snapped', becoming himself a prophet of neopaganism and offering his religion to the SS and the Nazis who, however, were not interested; cp. my "Primäre versus sekundäre Religion bei J.W. Hauer", in: Dieter Becker (ed.), Mit dem Fremden leben [Festschrift Theo Sundermeier], Vol. 1, Religionen - Religion, Erlangen: Erlanger Verlag, 2000, 257-268. See also my Sailing on the Next Tide, 53-78. Primal some types of religion may be, but closer to God they are not.


[95] Still, by using the “primary” and “secondary” terminology, and agreeing with Friedrich Schiller's enlightened interpretation which stated that the Jewish-Christian tradition of monotheism is a reformulation or special accommodation of the universal idea of monotheism, and, quite explicitly, by suggesting that the idea of monotheism can only be "saved" if it sheds its "inherent violence", Assmann shows that he is not simply aiming to be descriptive, but that he himself is advocating a kind of theological programme; cp. Moses the Egyptian, 203 f., and Herrschaft und Heil, 264.


[96] London: Macmillan, 2000 (I am using the paperback version, London: Pan Books, 2001). On p. 18, Burleigh offers a definition highlighting this compatibility: political religions deal with "profound layers of human experience", and theories about them explore how "religious forms and sentiments have been replicated for political purposes". Theories of totalitarianism address "more contemporary" phenomena in the context of the modern state. It is the existence of the modern state that provides political religions with a potential platform. Apart from the Introduction, the concept is used most importantly in the chapter on the "brown cult", 252-267, and the chapter on "men of God", 717-728. There are also other sections such as 113-121, or two very interesting last pages (811 f.). It almost seems as if, through the lens of political religion, we can see an important chunk of the Third Reich, but not all of it.


[97] The Third Reich, 12, 255.


[98] In his "Political Religion and Social Evil" [the Cardinal Basil Hume Memorial Lectures, Heythrop College, London, February 2002], in: Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions, III,2 (Autumn 2002), 1-60, Burleigh analyses the Christians' response to totalitarianism in some detail, mainly along the leadership level, and all the way through in the unmitigated spirit of his right-wing convictions.


[99] Age of Extremes. The Short Twentieth Century 1914-1991, London: Michael Joseph, 1994, 567.


[100] Cp. his Politische Religionen, 1995.


[101] Edited by him, see Totalitarismus, I-III, 1996, 1997, 2003. Maier also, in a parallel move, edited the volume Wege in die Gewalt, 2000. This volume addresses important questions such as that of the potential for violence in the thinking of the Enlightenment, but it does not offer an introduction to or a discussion of the concept of political religion and, therefore, will be excluded here.


[102] Politische Religionen, 1995, 61, 114; Maier is quoting on p. 61 Hermann Heller, Europa und der Faschismus, Berlin and Leipzig 1929, 56.


[103] Cp. also Totalitarismus, II, 200f., 310, and III, 28, 220.


[104] This critique is implicit in his important essay Nationalsozialismus als politische Religion, in: Maier, Totalitarismus, II, 173-181; but he also made it explicit in the discussion that followed (ibid., 219, 222).


[105] Maier refers to Rudolf Otto, Gerardus van der Leeuw, Mircea Eliade and others.


[106] Politische Religionen, 18, 30; Totalitarismus, II, 307; and Totalitarismus, III, 23, 25, 27, and 28 (last quote is on this page). This line of argumentation clearly refers to the 20th century. In tension with this are Maier's attempts to identify a more general definition of political religion that would also include the Greek polis and both the republican and imperial Rome; cp. Politische Religionen, 104; Totalitarismus, III, 217.


[107] Claus-Ekkehard Bärsch (Duisburg) comes across as the most fervent adherent of the theory, whereas Hans Mommsen is perhaps the most sceptical. An interesting and relativizing position is that of Philippe Burrin, Geneva, who acknowledges that political religion as a concept is a "concept partiel employé de façon conjointe ou parallèle avec d'autres concepts." Maier, Totalitarismus, II, 185. Cautiously positive is e.g. Klaus Vondung (Siegen).


[108] Mommsen in Maier, Totalitarismus, II (see above).


[109] Faschismus und nicht-demokratische Regime, in Maier, Totalitarismus, III, 247-325. Linz, like Maier, points to the importance of secularization as one of the contextual conditions for the emergence of political religions in the case of Nazi Germany (291, 302; as opposed to Portugal and Spain, 300). In his contribution to Volume I, Linz was sceptical as to the "religious" nature of the phenomenon ("Ersatz-Religion"). In Volume II, 198 f., he stressed (like Burrin) the compatibility of a diversity of approaches and emphasized that the concept of political religion could only explain one part of the phenomenon.


[110] "Politische Religion" - eine Religion? Bemerkungen zum Religionsbegriff, in: Maier, Totalitarismus, II, 249-269.


[111] Gentile offered his more theoretical considerations in his essay "The Sacralization of Politics: Definitions, Interpretations and Reflections on the Question of Secular Religion and Totalitarianism", in: Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions, I,1 (2000), 18-55.


[112] Sacralization, 161.


[113] "For more than two centuries now, these religions have inhabited the world of politics, arousing enthusiasm and fear, stirring up the masses to the arrogance of pride or the desperation of persecution, raising monuments to the eternal glory of demigods and sowing violence and death over whole continents." Sacralization, 153.


[114] Particularly in Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions, I,1 (2000), 31.


[115] Sacralization, 153, 156.


[116] Sacralization, 158. Gentile argues that Bolshevik Russia cannot figure at this stage as its perspective was deliberately anti-religious and the cultic elements developed only after Lenin's death.


[117] Cp. here Stanley G. Payne, Emilio Gentile's Historical Analysis and Taxonomy of Political Religions, in: Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions, III,1 (2002), 122-130.


[118] See also Gentile, in: Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions, I,1 (2000), 24 f.


[119] This is true cum grano salis only, because Maier, Totalitarismus, II, 271-298, contains also Peter Bernholz' (Basel) most comprehensive overview "Ideology, Sects, State and Totalitarianism: a General Theory", in which a very broad range of phenomena is analysed (from the Mongols under Gengis Khan to the Aztecs, Incas, the Anabaptists in Münster and Calvin's regime in Geneva). Bernholz has extended here the meaning of totalitarianism in such a way that historical phenomena of a very different kind are covered. Still, charismatic leadership and the interests of "believers" play a major role in this view.


[120] In Cohn's case, cp. his The Pursuit of the Millennium. Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages, London 1957.


[121] Volume 1, no 1 (summer 2000), VII-IX, here IX.


[122] Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions has produced so far twelve issues (including special issues) having 66 articles (review articles not counted). 14 articles (or 21%) I would count as discussions on the conceptual level. Only two articles (3%) discuss the western democracies as part of global structures. Much better represented are case studies (eleven related to totalitarian rule in the Soviet Union, eight on Italian fascism, but only two specifically on National Socialism, seven on fascist movements in other parts of Europe, also seven on matters of Islam and the Near East, two on Israel and one on China). There are also seven articles (10,6%) of a comparative nature, and five that are outside my classification.


[123] The general question is well put by Gentile in Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions, I,1 (2000), 33.


[124] Political Religion and Social Evil, 13.


[125] Cp. Burleigh, Political Religion and Social Evil, 13; Mommsen, in: Maier, Totalitarismus, II, 175, 218