A Philosophical Critique Of Karl Marx’s Conception Of Religion

Project and Seminar Material for Philosophy

Project and Seminar Material for Philosophy


Religion is a contested notion because different persons have different view of what it is. Religion is fundamental because no society can exist without it as part of their culture, it is also part of human nature. This research attempted to analyze the meaning of religion, its positive and negative aspects in a society and also an attempt was made to analyze its importance in an ideal society.

This research was carried out by first, looking at the background, purpose, significant, purpose of religion. The methods used were historical, expository and critical methods, and analysis.

We examined the various concepts of religion by different scholars, especially Karl Marx’s concept of religion which is the main purpose for this research. We also discussed how a true nature of religion ought to be and finally, a conclusion was drawn.

Table Of Contents

  • Title Page——–i
  • Certification ——–ii
  • Dedication ——–iii
  • Acknowledgements ——-iv
  • Table of Contents ——-vi
  • Abstract ——–viii

Chapter One:

  • Introduction
  • Background to the Study —— 1
  • Statement of the Problem —— 2
  • Purpose of the Study —— 2
  • Significance of the Study —— 3
  • Scope of the Study ——- 3
  • Method of the Study ——- 4
  • Literature Review ——- 4
  • Endnotes ——– 6

Chapter Two:

  • Biography of Karl Marx
  • A Brief History of Karl Marx —– 8
  • Influences on Karl Marx —— 10
  • The works of Karl Marx —— 13
  • Endnotes ——– 16

Chapter Three:

  • Karl Marx’s Conception of Religion
  • General Concepts of Religion —– 18
  • Religion as Opium of the People —– 22
  • The Notion of Man as God to his fellow Man — 23
  • Endnotes ——– 26

Chapter Four:

  • A Critique of Marx’s Conception of Religion
  • The Effect of Religion in an Ideal State —- 28
  • The Positive Aspects of Religion in a State — 30
  • The Negative Aspects of Religion in a State —- 32
  • Endnotes ——– 34

Chapter Five:

  • Conclusion
  • Conclusion ——– 36
  • Endnotes ——– 39
  • Bibliography ——- 40

Chapter One


Background To The Study

The history of religion can be traced to the ancient world. It can be traced to some religions such as orphism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, African Traditional Religions and so on. Religion, no doubt is a basis of societal order. It is a belief in a supernatural being which can influence one’s behavior. Religion enables us to play some roles in the society which includes shaping the life style of the individual that will make people live in unity. Religion also functions as an account of the wonders or mysteries in nature. Religion is important because it gives the individual that consciousness of living a moral life in the society. Religion is one of the key of morality which teaches us to separate what is right from what is wrong. It is a source of moral obligation which makes people to recommend that: “you must live a moral life because God has commanded you to do so”.1

Having said that, religion in the era of Karl Marx was a tool of exploitation. At that time, the powerful and rich (bourgeoisie) used religion as a tool to exploit their workers or less privileged (proletariat), hence religion became the tool by which the bourgeoisie satisfied their egoistic desire through the labour of their workers. No wonder Karl Marx defined religion as “an opium of the people”.2 The issue of exploitation started with the origin of religion and not with Karl Marx.

Statement Of The Problem

The issue to be addressed is that of religion. Religion as already said above is a source of moral obligation. But it seems that this definition of religion is different from what Marx defined religion to be. Marx defined religion as a form of social consciousness.3 Religion is used to oppress and subjugate people. He believed that religion exists because of the economic exploitation that exist in the capitalist system. In the capitalist system, the masses who are always the majority (proletariat) are exploited by the minority (bourgeoisie). This leads to the problem of conflicts. This raises questions about the role of religion in suppressing people’s genuine agitations. It is this issue that this research sets out to deal with. The question really is, how can the link between man and God be compromised in order to serve the interest of domination and oppression by the bourgeoisie given the fact that “religion from the theological standpoint can be seen as the link between man and God”.4

Purpose Of The Study

Religion is concerned about the morality of human conduct, and both presuppose human freedom and responsibility. Religion today has become a practice that leaves so much to be desired by people. Speaking from the Christian perspective, it is clear from what the new generational churches of today practice, that there is the problem of some so-called men of God, going about establishing churches with the aim of deceiving and exploiting people to enrich themselves. For this cause, this project is necessary in order to expose any false religious practices that may have informed Karl Marx’s notion of religion. Again, this project is important for the purpose of transforming religion by giving it a sincere concept where morality stands as its basis.

Significance Of The Study

Religion is such a prominent feature in human society that it cannot be simply ignored.5 So, the significance of this research is to draw attention to the fact that it is only where religion is practiced with sincerity or genuinely that one can talk about the moral life of the individual in a given society: A human being can never be complete without the spiritual wellbeing which is an essential part of his human person.

Again, this research is important because it tends to show that in a particular society where true religion is practiced, morality is held in high esteem unlike in a society where people are treated unjustly.

Scope Of The Study

Religion is important. But one cannot say for sure that it has all the answers to human predicaments. Fundamentally, this research shall be centred on Karl Marx notion of religion. Marx saw religion as the basis of all social evils.6

However, the notion of religion by different scholars in different eras shall be discussed also where necessary.

Method Of The Study

A method is a particular way of doing something.7 One of the methods to be used in this research is historical analysis. This will help to analyze the development of religion from the historical period to this period. We shall also use expository method. This will help to bring into view man’s notion of religion. Finally, we shall adopt the critical method to enable us x-ray the positive and negative aspect of Marx’s notion of religion. To this end, we shall rely on library and internet for textbooks, journals, articles and relevant class notes.

Literature Review

The first book to be reviewed is The Philosophical Journey: An Interactive Approach,8 written by W. F. Lawhead. In the sixth chapter of this book, both Marx and Hegel said that the dialectics is a historical process in which different opposing forces resolve their tension by bringing into being a new stage of history.

Another book to be reviewed is A Philosophical Look at Religion, written by J. Omoregbe.9 Chapter one of this book discusses different theories of religions such as the views of Sigmund Freud, Emile Durkheim among others. This book will help in discussing a general concept of religion and also in evaluating Marx’s theories of religion and making a critique of it.

Next to be reviewed is the journal article, The Marxist Theory on Revolution and Violence, by A. Schaff in Journal of the History of Ideas.10 Here, A. Schaff stresses the revolutions of the proletarians (workers) saying that the existing social and political system is to be changed by a revolution and that a social revolution is to be identified with an overthrow of that existing social system by violence.

Another book to be reviewed is The Voyage of Discovery, written by W. F. Lawhead.11 In chapter twenty five of this book, the author wrote on the influence of Feuerbach’s notion of religion had on Karl Marx. For Feuerbach, religion is created by humanity through an unconscious process of projection. This will help form a critique on Marx’s notion of religion.

The final book to be reviewed here is “Freud and Marx on Religion and Morals”, by R. Osborn in the Rational Animal.12 In this book, Osborn stressed the contribution of Marxism is to stress the social relevance of morality, the fact that one society is morally better than another to the extent that it provides a milieu in which men can approach their full human stature. It is relevant to my work in that it will help in exposing Marx’s notion of religion and its effects.

A Philosophical Critique Of Karl Marx’s Conception Of Religion

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