"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, ...

Listen Now

This episode has not been transcribed yet. 

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

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.

 Fund the RSP while you shop! Use an Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.ca, or Amazon.com affiliate link whenever you make a purchase. There’s no additional cost to you, but every bit helps us stay on the air! 

We need your support!

Want to support us directly? Become a monthly Patron or consider giving us a one-time donation through PayPal

Related Resources

Editors’ Picks, Summer 2018: The Intersections of Religion and Feminism

Response

In the second of our summer "Editors' Picks", Sammy Bishop flags up an important interview in which Dawn Llewellyn provides a great introduction to how feminism, religion, and the academic study of both, might (or indeed, might not) interact. Llewellyn also does an excellent job of flagging up how future work in these fields could become more productively interdisciplinary.
Religion and Globalization

Podcast

What do we mean by globalization? What does this concept have to say to the study of religion? How have religions been agents in the globalization process? What theoretical and methodological issues arise when trying to answer such questions? All of these questions and more are tackled in an interview which touches on post-colonialism, secularization theory, theodicy, ...
There be Spoilers Here: Durkheim, ‘Breaking Bad,’ and the Uncertainty of Religious Theory

Response

"When I think back on it, one thing I truly enjoyed about Professor Strenski’s book—as well as his teaching style—was his ability to tangentially veer off topic while not losing complete track of the subject at hand. Tangents, I have always felt, are the instructor’s greatest tool. Not only do they assist in keeping the student’s attention, but as metaphor, paint the instruction in different hues than mere black and white."

Other EPISODES YOU MIGHT ENJOY

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, ...
Negotiating Gender in Contemporary Occultism

Podcast

In this interview conducted at the 2018 EASR conference in Bern, Sammy Bishop speaks to Manon Hedenborg White about the development of Western esotericism, charting the influence of the infamous Aleister Crowley and his philosophy of Thelema. They explore Crowley's somewhat ambiguous view of gender, before bringing the research into the present day, on how gender roles in contemporary Thelema can be contested and negotiated. Finally, Hedenborg White delves into the important but often overlooked role of women in the development of contemporary Occultism.
Vernacular Religion

Podcast

Images of Jesus on a slice of toast; Koran verses in an aubergine; statues which cry blood; Angel Colour cards and Atlantean crystal therapies; popular religious expressions are everywhere. In this interview, Marion Bowman showcases her fascinating research into the ways in which religion permeates everyday life, paying particular attention to the manifestations at the famous Glastonbury Festival.
Categorising “Religion”: From Case Studies to Methodology

Podcast

In this interview, Dr Teemu Taira discusses the role of marginal traditions in understanding the application of the term "religion" in differing context, in particular he discusses Karhun Kansa, the People of the Bear. This leads onto a methodological discussion on the use of the term and the role scholars play in this discourse.
Alternative Sociologies of Religion: Through Non-Western Eyes

Podcast

In this interview, recorded at the SocRel 2017 Annual Conference, Professor James Spickard talks about his latest project. Starting with a critique of North American sociology’s approach to religion, Spickard emphasises how our concepts of religion are historically grounded,
Wouter Hanegraaff on Western Esotericism

Podcast

In this interview, Professor Wouter Hanegraaff tells us about what he dubs “the biggest blank spaces of neglected territories in the study of religion”, namely Western esotericism. He tells how he first came over the German Folklorist Will-Erich Peuckert’s book Pansophie (1936) and discovered a group of renaissance thinkers he had never heard of, ...

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).