This essay aims to reexamine the debate on the impact of Fascism on religious studies, by reconstructing what Raffaele Pettazzoni, one of the founding fathers of this field of research in Italy in the first half of the twentieth century, meant by “religion of the state.” His research on the origin of the religious state in Iranian history and in the Greek polytheistic prototype of the polis offers a key to the interpretation of his further analysis of the religious Fascist phenomenon. Mingling approaches of both political science and history of religions, this study constitutes an introduction to a new understanding — which remained hidden in Pettazzoni’s texts — of Fascism as a degeneration of state religiousness. While Fascism is an example of the sacralization of politics (according to one of the leading historians of Fascist ideology, Emilio Gentile), Pettazzoni showed how in other ways Fascism perpetuated the pre-Christian crisis of the religious state.
Devastating tragedies, such as the 9/11 terrorist attacks or the massacre during the Polish protests of 1970, are still commemorated with a roll call of the victims’ names, which is publicly pronounced. As a matter of civil or political religion, this ritual is studied by political scientists and sociologists and restricted to a specific national context. For the first time, a comparative method of history of religions is applied in order to retrace the transnational diffusion of this nationalist ritual from the Napoleonic era, passing through the fascist European experience, to the present day. The changing of the aesthetic forms in which the ritual took and takes shape, by producing images of the community gathered, outlines an aesthetic realization of ‘imagined communities.’ This outline will be examined with reference to Benedict Anderson’s theory on the origin and spread of nationalism.