115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Religion and Revolution in Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Reception of the American New Left

Pietro Bocchia, Notre Dame University

In line with Western intellectuals and activists’ attempts to redefine politics as a cultural, critical, and human-centered pursuit, Pasolini brought his Catholic views into line with his political theories of revolution in the second half of the Sixties.  By presenting a case-study of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s reception of the American New Left, my paper shows that Pasolini deemed religion the foundation of a cultural revolution capable of transforming society at all levels, including the political.

Proposal: 

While strongly criticizing the institution of the Church, Pasolini presented Catholicism in existential terms over the course of his career.  For Pasolini, Catholicism was the religion of humanity focused on the values of piety, love, and the self-sacrifice embodied by Christ, rather than on church institutions or doctrines.  Moreover, Catholicism ushered in “religiosità,” which Pasolini conceived as an absolute idealism offering examples of alternatives to the status quo of Western society.  This absolute idealism found its paragon in Christ.  Viewed from this perspective, Catholicism influenced Pasolini’s thought after his film Il Vangelo secondo Matteo (1964) in two ways.  First, Pasolini envisioned an alliance between Catholics and Marxists based on their shared “religiosità.”  Second, he considered that religious idealism to be the groundwork of a cultural revolution capable of transforming society at all levels, including the political.  Although his political stance may seem somewhat disengaged from historical reality, it was in keeping with the widespread, radical attempt of his contemporaries to rethink the institutional boundaries of politics.  Both Americans and Europeans redefined politics as a cultural, critical, and human-centered pursuit, whereby individual political action was the necessary premise for political change at all levels of society.

My paper will show that Pasolini brought his existential Catholic views into line with his political theories of revolution in the second half of the Sixties.  It will also present a case-study of Pasolini’s reception of the American New Left.  In particular, I will focus on one of Pasolini’s main sources, Renato Solmi’s “La nuova sinistra Americana” (1965), an important review of articles overlooked in Pasolini scholarship.  In examining Pasolini’s emphasis on the religious, Christ-like character of the revolutionary American New Left, I will show the extent to which Pasolini’s existential Catholicism was at the root of his idea of revolution.  Moreover, I will demonstrate that Pasolini’s existential Catholicism shaped his political theory insofar as he conceived of charity as the indispensable premise to promote democracy at the social level.  He deemed this necessary for the formation of a socialist society.  While he consistently repeated his condemnation of the institutional Church, Pasolini envisioned the possibility of political revolution and real democracy in the restoration of the religious values he had inherited from his Catholic education. 

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