The theory of political religion concerns governmental ideologies whose cultural and political backing is so strong that they are said to attain power equivalent to those of a state religion, to which they often exhibit significant similarities in both theory and practice. In addition to basic forms of politics, like parliament and elections, it also holds an aspect of sacralization related to the institutions held within the regime and provides also the inner measures traditionally considered to be a religious territory, such as Ethics, Values, Symbols, Myths, Rituals and for example a national Liturgical calendar. Political religious organizations, such as the Nazi Party, held strong to the idealization of cultural and political power over the country at large. The church body of the state no longer held control over the practices of religious identity. For example, Nazism is situated into this base meaning, and therefore was countered by many political and religious organizations as being a political religion, based on the dominate encasing which the Nazi regime had over the religion and population (Gates and Steane). Political religions generally vie with existing traditional religions, and may try to replace or eradicate them. The term was given new attention by the political scientist Hans Maier.
Totalitarian societies are perhaps more prone to political religion, but various scholars have described features of political religion even indemocracies, for instance American civil religion as described by Robert Bellah in 1967.
The term is sometimes treated as synonymous with civil religion, but although some scholars use the terms as equivalent, others see a useful distinction, using "civil religion" as something weaker, which functions more as a socially unifying and essentially conservative force, where a political religion is radically transformational, even apocalyptic.
The term is sometimes used outside academia, often with meanings tangential to or opposite to the sociological usage (for example, applying it to a church), with the use intended as a derogatory description of excessive adherence to something political or ideological. Even when used correctly, supporters of an ideology will generally reject the application of the term "political religion".[cit