"The foundation of irreligious criticism is: Man makes religion, religion does not make man. Religion is indeed the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet won through to himself or has already lost himself again. But man is no abstract being squatting outside the world. Man is the world of man, state, society. This state and this society produce religion, ...

About this episode

The foundation of irreligious criticism is: Man makes religion, religion does not make man. Religion is indeed the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet won through to himself or has already lost himself again. But man is no abstract being squatting outside the world. Man is the world of man, state, society. This state and this society produce religion, which is an inverted consciousness of the world, because they are an inverted world. Religion is the general theory of this world, its encyclopedic compendium, its logic in popular form, its spiritual point d’honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement and its universal basis of consolation and justification. It is the fantastic realization of the human essence since the human essence has not acquired any true reality. The struggle against religion is therefore indirectly the struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion.

Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people.

The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusion about its condition is the demand to give up a condition, which needs illusions.

This famous quotation from German political philosopher Karl Marx’s unfinished Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right (1843) encapsulates his controversial and complex understanding of the social function of religion. It was a significant part of his theory of alienation – the worker was, in capitalist society, separated from their labour and its products; work had become outside of them, alien. Religion was part of the mechanism by which the bourgeois perpetuated this alienation and therefore the capitalist status quo. Life was unfair, but this was the price of entry into Heaven when you die. As Marx saw it, when the workers were no longer alienated from their work and society made equal, there would be no need for religion, and it would die away. The theory, and in particular the decontextualised soundbyte, “Religion is the opium of the masses”, was practically a matter of faith among the left-leaning liberal intelligentsia of the 60s and 70s, but the popularity of Marxist analyses of religion (and society in general) lost capital during the 80s and early 90s with the fall of the USSR and the Berlin Wall. What place, then, do his theories have in the contemporary academy, given society’s reawakened concern with inequality? Marx’s theory anticipated both the work of Émile Durkheim, founder of sociology, and an emphasis on power relations which would later be picked up by post-structuralist theorists including Foucault and Bourdieu, all of whom have a profound.influence on contemporary studies of religion. You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. And if you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us. titus hjelmTitus Hjelm is Lecturer in Finnish Society and Culture at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies at University College, London. His doctoral dissertation, at the University of Helsinki, was on the construction of Satanism in the Finnish news media. His research interests are wide-ranging, however, and include the sociology of religion, news media, popular culture (particularly the Nordic heavy metal scene and vampire fiction), and social theory, including Marxist theories. His two most recent books are Perspectives on Social Constructionism (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010) and an edited volume titled Religion and Social Problems (Routledge, 2010). He is also bass guitar player for Thunderstone. Apologies too for the background noise – we got locked out of our office.

This episode has not been transcribed yet. 

Consider a donation to pay for the cost of editing a transcript?

Related Resources

Ours Can Be To Reason Why

Response

While perspectives about conversion are Christian-centric, the idea of conversion itself is religion-centric.Lynn Davidman's recent RSP interview illustrates why her work is important, serious, and engaging. As I listened to the podcast, three ideas came to mind. First, I was delighted to hear Davidman describe much of the literature on conversion and deconversion as Christian-centric. While I think she could have made this point even more compellingly in the podcast, ...
From Secularisation to Religious Diversity: Understanding Religion in Europe

Response

It may be said that secularisation has made the West religiously illiterate, in that it struggles to accommodate those who do not espouse its secular values, particularly the separation of religion from the state (la laïcité).In her interview with the RSP, Grace Davie provides a survey of the history of the discipline of sociology in the study of religion, and considers the manner in which it has developed in British universities, in contrast to European models.
Muslim NGOs and civil society in Indonesia

Podcast

While the service provision activities of some religious NGOs complement and enhance systems of low state capacity, in others they compete with state services and in still others service delivery by religious NGOs is associated...

Other EPISODES YOU MIGHT ENJOY

Jolyon Mitchell on Religion, Violence and the Media

Podcast

Discussions of religion in the media nowadays frequently revolve around issues of violence and social unrest. Religions and media can become collaborators in promoting peace and opening negotiations; at the same time the media can become host to extremist narratives which may incite violence. Does the media have a responsibility to promote peace?
Doctors and Stigmatics in the 19th and 20th centuries

Podcast

In this week's podcast with Gabor Klaniczay we learn about cases of stigmata during the 19th and 20th century in Europe, where medical discourses clashed with as well as supported religious discourses about the authenticity and meaning of famous stigmata cases like Italian Padre Pio.
Religious Festivals during COVID-19: Discourse! September 2020

Podcast

How will religious festivals continue amid COVID-19 restrictions? How are religious communities around the world adapting to the pressures of 2020's global pandemic? In this September episode of Discourse!, the RSP's Sidney Castillo speaks with guests Maria Nita, Juan Manuel Rubio Arevalo, and Stefanie Butendieck.
America’s Changing Religious Landscape

Podcast

The religious landscape of the United States is changing dramatically. Americans must consider what it means to govern a nation of religious minorities. We interview Dr. Robert P. Jones, the founding CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute. Jones discusses findings from PRRI's national surveys on religion and public life, many of which are represented in the American Values Atlas. The data collected by PRRI reveal a number of surprising trends related to religion and its intersection with politics, voting patterns, age, race, immigration, and secularism in the United States. A few key findings highlighted in PRRI's 2016 report on America's changing religious identity and covered in this podcast: (1) white Christians now account for fewer than half of the public, (2) white evangelical Protestants are in decline, (3) non-Christian religious groups are growing, and (4) atheists and agnostics account for a minority of all religiously unaffiliated. We discuss the implications of these findings and more, and we briefly review the research methodologies utilized by PRRI.
Millennialism and Violence?

Podcast

Are we right to connect millennialism and violence? Are groups like Heaven's Gate or the Branch Davidians typical, or rare exceptions, magnified out of proportion by the lens of the media - and scholarship? How do we account for the popularity of mllennialism outside of religious traditions, new, extreme or otherwise?
Carl Jung

Podcast

Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) was a Swiss psychiatrist. Initially a collaborator with Sigmund Freud, the two later split and Jung went on to found the Analytical Psychology school of psychotherapy. His approach focussed on what he called the process of individuation, ...

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution- NonCommercial- NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

The views expressed in podcasts, features and responses are the views of the individual contributors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Religious Studies Project or our sponsors. The Religious Studies Project is produced by the Religious Studies Project Association (SCIO), a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation (charity number SC047750).