Secular religions

Political theology, political religion, secular religion

“All significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts.” Carl Schmitt’s famous 1922 dictum was only about conceptual analogies (hence the title Political Theology), although the broader term political religion had been used 130 years before by Condorcet, and in the 1930s, a still broader term, secular religion was invented.

Now “secular religion” is an oxymoron, of course, yet the number of political, socio-economic, or cultural phenomena described as secular (or pseudo, quasi, ersatz, etc.) religions, faiths, and belief systems is constantly on the rise.

A brief chronological selection  (for an expanding topical list, click here)

  • Condorcet on the “political religion” of the new Constitution (1791)
  • Alexis de Tocqueville on the “dogma” of popular sovereignty and the “omnipotence” of the people (1835)
  • Juan Donoso Cortés on constitutional monarchy, republicanism, and socialism as religious “negations” (1850)
  • John Stuart Mill on the “false creed” of American democracy (1861)
  • Herbert Spencer on the “divine right of parliaments” as a “political superstition” (1884)
  • Gaetano Mosca on Rousseau and Marx as religious founders (1896)
  • Nicolai Berdyaev on the religion of communism (1905)
  • Vilfredo Pareto on “Holy Equality”, the “divinity of suffrage” and the rise of the “democratic religion” (1916)
  • Luigi Sturzo on the “lay religion” of the absolute state (1918)
  • Bertrand Russell on bolshevism’s similarity to “Mohammedanism” (1920)
  • Carl Schmitt on the analogy of theological and political concepts (1922)
  • Adolf Keller on bolshevism turning Marxism into a secular religion (1936)
  • Eric Voegelin on “political religions” (1938)
  • Erik Ritter von Kuehnelt-Leddihn on the dogmas of democracy (1943)
  • Raymond Aron on “the future of secular religions” (1944)
  • Crane Brinton on democracy as a “truly transcendental faith” (1950)
  • Jacob Talmon on totalitarian democracy and secular religions (1952)
  • Carlton Hayes on nationalism as a religion (1960)
  • Irving Kristol on socialism’s “secular religion” (1976)
  • Paul Vitz on psychology as religion (1977)
  • John Bossy on the “migration of the holy” (1987)
  • Emilio Gentile on the “sacralization of politics” in fascist Italy (1996)
  • Robert Nelson on economic religion (2001)
  • Hans Maier [ed.] on totalitarianism and political religions (2004)
  • Patrick Deneen on “democratic faith” (2005)
  • Emilio Gentile on “politics as religion” (2006)
  • Philip Goodchild on the “theology of money” (2009)
  • Robert Nelson on “holy wars” between economic and environmental religion (2010)
  • Daniel Malachuk on human rights and a “post-secular religion of humanity” (2010)
  • Rainer Bucher on “Hitler’s theology” (2011)
  • Zira Box and and Ismael Saz on Spanish fascism as a political religion (2011)
  • William Cavanaugh on “migrations of the holy” (2011)
  • Mika Luoma-aho on the theology of IR (2012)
  • Henri Féron on human rights’ “world-wide secular religion” (2014)
  • Scott Gustafson on the “altar of Wall Street” (2015)
  • Mathieu Bock-Coté on “multiculturalism as a political religion” (2015)
  • Harvey Cox on the “Market as God” (2016)
  • John Rapley on the “money Gods” and “economic religion” (2017)
  • John Gray on atheism as religion (2018)
  • Ulrich Steinvorth on “a secular absolute” (2020)
  • Tara Isabella Burton on “strange rites” and “new religions” (2020)