I define religion as (taken from a dictionary definition)

a particular system of faith and worship.

One can have faith in government and worship nationalistic symbols (flag,anthem etc) psychologically. Like religions, nations also have symbolism like flags, etc, a constitution instead of sacred books, guidelines for good citizens, a bunch of proprieties, etc.

So, would it be okay to label nationalism a non-theistic religion? If yes, under what circumstances and if no, under what circumstances?

  • I made an edit which you may roll back or continue editing. Please do so if I misrepresented your question. Mar 24, 2019 at 6:45
  • Nationalism could be thought of as a sort of religious practice in some cases. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_nationalism
    – user37181
    Mar 24, 2019 at 6:50
  • But political movements and ideologies are not usually labelled "religions" : the respective "practices" and aims are quite different. Mar 24, 2019 at 10:30
  • Sure, why not. Is there any point to it beyond the labeling? Typically words are used according to family resemblance, and dictionaries only give vague pointers. Nationalism is sufficiently distinct from what is traditionally called "religion" to be colloquially classified this way, so you'll have to explain your expanded use each time. The more commonly used term for this sort of political thing is "ideology".
    – Conifold
    Mar 25, 2019 at 0:49
  • Not sure how to answer this question. If you can provide more detail.
    – virus_123
    Jan 29, 2022 at 23:31

6 Answers 6


According to Alvin Plantinga (page 311), one of the main functions of a religion is that

it offers a master narrative, it answers deep and important human questions. Immanuel Kant identified three great human questions: Is there such a person as God? Do we human beings have significant freedom? And can we human beings expect life after death?

If nationalism answered these questions it might qualify as a "quasi-religion". However it does not appear that these questions are of much interest to nationalists as such. Because of that it may not be worth considering nationalism as a religion.

Plantinga, A. (2011). Where the conflict really lies: Science, religion, and naturalism. OUP USA.

  • Then, the communism IS a religion. I always knew it, but with a proof from a Church father it is much better. (because, communism does give answers (no,no,no))
    – Gangnus
    Mar 26, 2019 at 0:00
  • @Gangnus Plantinga considered naturalism, which is an atheistic view of science, to be possibly a quasi-religion because of his criteria that they attempted to answer such questions. The naturalistic part of communism could be viewed as a quasi-religious master narrative, however, the nationalistic part of it need have nothing to do with the master narrative. Also Plantinga doesn't want to call naturalism a real religion but only a quasi-religion. I think this is because religions are more than these master narratives. They also involve religious practices. Mar 26, 2019 at 0:24
  • 1. I am not talking about naturalism or atheism, but about communism, that always has its "saint" rules and people. (BTW, I consider it as the first two requirements to a religion) 2. All powerful branches of communism are internationalistic.... So, I am afraid, I can't agree with your attempts to connect my comment to naturalism or nationalism and thus to the question. My comment is only about an interesting citation in your post and not about the theme of the question.
    – Gangnus
    Mar 26, 2019 at 20:53
  • @Gangnus The only criteria that I use for a quasi-religion are those presented by Plantinga. It would have to be a master narrative in competition with traditional religious master narratives regarding questions like Kant's. Even so, it would only be a quasi-religion, not a real religion. You are welcome to categorize this differently. Mar 26, 2019 at 21:47
  • I looked at the work, thank you. Sorry, but I can't respect the author. 1. According to Platinga, not only naturalism is a "quasi-religion", but the term is introduced by example of naturalism. And he uses the term only tautologically. 2. He can use new-defined terms at will, but the definition is very bad really. Let aside the absence of direct formulation, the word used looks as a fallacy. To say that A is quasi-B only because A has SOME qualities of B, without any proof that these qualities are somehow extremely important is a use of dishonest terminology, usually serving to hide the lie.
    – Gangnus
    Mar 28, 2019 at 7:42

Nationalism and divine mission

Nationalism can be based on religion as when a nation is supposed to be a vehicle of God's will. In the Old Testament, Israel was guided by divine providence even if it failed at least occasionally to live up to its mission. In this type of case nationalism cannot be a form of non-theistic religion.

This is true only on the assumption that nationalism stretches far back into history. There is an influential school of thought according to which nationalism and the nation are strictly modern phenomena:

Nationalism is "modern" because it stresses the individual's search for identity with strangers in an impersonal world, a world no longer animated by corporate identities. All nationalisms imply a principle of identity based on impersonal ties, remote ties, vicarious ties-all of which are mediated by a set of common symbols embedded in a certain pattern of communication. (Ernst B. Haas, International Organization, Vol. 40, No. 3 (Summer, 1986), pp. 707-744: 709.)

The conditions described here do not readily fit pre-modern societies.

Nationalism as civil religion

This is, I think, rather more what you are interested in:

Nationalism is ... a civil religion, often in conflict with but occasionally drawing strength from real religions. That civil religion contains a set of core values that, whether for objectivist or subjectivist reasons, come to be accepted by the population of a state; they become the definers of selfhood. In successful nations they remain in that role until challenged by the next source of tension; no civil religion is graven in stone. As long as the core values provide the framework for social action, people know what to expect of their fellows, understand and respect authority, are secure in their views of the scheme of collective life. (Ernst B. Haas, International Organization, Vol. 40, No. 3 (Summer, 1986), pp. 707-744: 709.)


The defining element of a religion is its soteriology; its system for escaping the suffering of the temporal world. Nationalism doesn't have a soteriology. nationalism presents a system for achieving power and status within the temporal world.

Both nationalism and religion fall within the broader category of 'belief systems', but they have different purposes and serve different ends. Sometimes they can combine, as in Christian, Muslim, or Jewish nationalism; often they are separate, so that one can be religious without being nationalistic, or nationalistic without being religious.


I would say no.

Nationalism, is a visceral (and perhaps an intellectual) love for one's nation, people and culture, whereas Religion, (without sounding too simplistic), is a visceral (and at times, an intellectually based) reverence for The Divine and the Spiritual. For the Nationalist, it is the Nation which is Centerstage, though for religiously pious people, it is the Divine who transcends...the Centerstage....while simultaneously remaining...Centerstage.

Now there are perhaps some similarities between Nationalism and Religion...namely, the effective and widespread utilization of symbols. At times, religious symbols and nationalist symbols have and still, intersect with one another-(i.e. flags of certain countries). Nationalism and Religion also rely-(to a great extent) on the widespread gathering and assembling of peoples in a particular setting, which is usually led by a Priestly or Political Communicator. In the case of Religion, it is a sacred place, such as Temple or Shrine, though in the case of Nationalism, it could be a parade or rally within the public square.

However, the deeper question has to do with whether or not the love for one's nation and people, is the same as the love for The Divine? Is the Nationalist equal to The Divine? Again, I don't believe it to be true.

Historically, there were examples whereby the Nationalist assumed near Divine like powers. However, as a reminder, Nationalists who (naively) assumed Divine like powers.....died, whereas The Divine-(assuming one believes in the Divine), remained alive and indestructible.


No, nationalism is not a religion.

A polity requires a shared ideology to which all persons can commit to, whether that commitment be sincere or merely tacit.

In such a sense, no polity is without an ideology.

More often than not, considering the full sweep of human history this ideology has been religious. Its because of this, that this shared ideology is often called a civil religion even when it is not a religion.

However it cannot be limited to simply this, otherwise 18th C Europe would have been a single polity under the Catholic Church. But of course it was divided by nations. Thus there is usually a notion of nation in this shared ideology.

As modern Europe became increasingly secular, this national element predominated until in the early 20th Century we saw a clash of nationalisms.


It seems easy to define religion like your dictionary definition, in a region with overwhelmingly only Abrahamic faiths. But the etymology gives us some historical perspective. From Etymonline:

c. 1200, religioun, "state of life bound by monastic vows," also "action or conduct indicating a belief in a divine power and reverence for and desire to please it," from Old French religion, relegion "piety, devotion; religious community," and directly from Latin religio "respect for what is sacred, reverence for the gods; conscientiousness, sense of right, moral obligation; fear of the gods; divine service, religious observance; a religion, a faith, a mode of worship, cult; sanctity, holiness,".

This noun of action was derived by Cicero from relegere "go through again" (in reading or in thought). Popular etymology among the later ancients (Servius, Lactantius, Augustine) connects it with religare "to bind fast" (see rely), via the notion of "place an obligation on," or "bond between humans and gods." Another possible origin is religiens "careful," opposite of negligens

And many traditions long called religions, primarily involve priests providing intercession with spirits: in Africa, the Caribbean (Haiti's state religion is Voodou), Northern Scandinavia & Russia (eg Sami), China (Wuism), and Tibet (Bon). Certainly fits the etymological meaning. These form one of the most widespread modes of religious practice. There have certainly been many attempts to call these 'proto religion', their practicioners seen as somehow not developed enough for 'real' religion, but we should consign that to the dustbin with the imperialism that generated it.

All the religions I can think of have a cosmology, a picture of how things came to be, but that cosmology may be given prominence and often referenced, or it may be incidental and only explain a few features of the local landscape. Especially since the arrival of science, saying having a cosmology of any kind is having religion, seems like hubris on behalf of the religious.

(I would instead relate cosmology to worldview or paradigm, as discussed here: Which philosophers and philosophies discuss "worldview epistemologies"?).

Foundational sociologist Durkheim broke with the history of using Abrahamic practices as the template for what religion is, in his 1912 book 'The Elementary Forms of Religious Life'. He pictured religion as the binding together of social groups by their enacting shared attitudes to sacred things; that is, towards what is put 'beyond question'. Sacred groves, altars, the prescriptions of a shaman, or books, can be understood like this, and behaviour towards them related to how cohesive the 'church' or congregation associated with them is.

Nationalism came to prominence above all other political modes, in impacting wars in the 20th Century. I would look to the prototype theory of truth to understand nationalism: we look to the British and other colonial nations, and above all to Nazi Germany, to see how the state and national culture were raised to special prominence in certain places, and we return to those whenever nationalism is discussed. Perhaps now also the USA.

Inside the National Reich Church

I would suggest rather than all nationalism being like religion, there are traits which can make a given era or culture of nationalism more or less like religions. Serious penalties for apostasy, and heterodoxy, have often been used as tools to enforce the binding power of sharing values, and the power structures associated with them. A nationalism like Nazi Germany's that used those tools, seems more focused on a church-like role. North Korea has a similar focus on cults of personalities, and uses those tools.

The USA certainly cultivates a nationalist fervor, with a daily pledges of allegiance in schools. But values around free speech, and defending the right to express dissent, are part of what is celebrated.

Similar with elevating the Magna Carta and the habeus corpus rights in British nationalism. It us used by nationalists, just like looking back on glory days or great battles, to identify some special national qualities impact or destiny. But, it facilitates state accountability, clarity about the rule of law, and division of powers.

So I would say nationalism can be used as a religion, can be practiced religiously - that is, as a primary source of social cohesion, focused on the kind and degree of what is held sacred or unquestionable. But that need not be so, and is not for all examples of nationalism.

In this traits model we can also look at different religions as more or less religious, in relation to how tightly bound the congregation is in what they hold sacred (vs by things like culture or cosmology alone), and compare say different strands of Christianity in their religiousness.

  • Feedback on downvotes is always appreciated.
    – CriglCragl
    Feb 4, 2022 at 19:16

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