In his work Politics as Religion, Emilio Gentile credits Eric Voegelin with having invented, if not the expression itself, then at least the concept of “political religion” which the latter would use consistently throughout the 1960s to describe totalitarian regimes. In his Autobiographical Reflections, drawn from an interview recorded in 1973, Voegelin revisits the use of this expression and gives an indication of the sources that inspired him to adopt it:
When I spoke of the politischen Religionen, I conformed to the usage of a literature that interpreted ideological movements as a variety of religions. Representative of this literature was Louis Rougier's successful volume on Les Mystiques politiques.
Besides the work by Louis Rougier, it is highly likely that Voegelin is thinking of the French Catholic “personalist” philosophers, such as Jacques Maritain, Henri de Lubac, and Joseph Vialatoux, who also interpreted the emerging totalitarian movements less in terms of social and political phenomena than as a profound spiritual disorder. These readings are also enriched by Bergson's work (which proved decisive for Voegelin) The Two Sources of Morality and Religion
. It may appear surprising that Voegelin does not refer to the emblematic work by Carl Schmitt, the Political Theology
of 1922. Schmitt had also invented, if not a term, then at least a concept destined for a productive career. Moreover, Political Theology
and Voegelin's Political Religions
(1938) have similar objectives, namely, to show that all political doctrines involve a relationship between mankind and the sacred in one form or another—even (and perhaps especially) those that claim to have eliminated the religious element entirely.