La “crisi delle scienze religiose”. Ernesto De Martino fra storicismo e irrazionalismo

My aim in this essay is to examine a particular aspect of Ernesto De Martino’s reflection
about XXth century decline of the West: what he calls crisis of religious sciences. With this expression, the Italian philosopher and ethnologist refers to the triumph of irrationalist and anti-historicist leanings within contemporary studies on religion, magic, myth, rite, symbols. Through the
analysis of a large number of De Martino’s books, articles and reviews, I draw attention to the
difference between the various phases of his philosophical itinerary (from the juvenile reflection
about civil religion, through the project of the historicist ethnology, until the studies on magic in
the South, and the last and incomplete book on the end of the world), trying to show how the
initial faith in Historicism (regarded as the solution to the crisis of religious sciences) has been
replaced, after the break with Italian Communist Party, by the paradoxical theory that Historicism
itself is the main cause of western culture’s decline and that, therefore, contemporary irrationalism is, in a certain way, right.