A Historical and Critical Study.

Lukes, Steven. Émile Durkheim, His Life and Work: A Historical and Critical Study. New York:
Harper & Row, 1972. The definitive recent examination of Durkheim’s life and thought.
Mestrovic, Stjepan G Émile Durkheim and the Reformation of Sociology. Totowa, N.J.: Rowman &
Littlefield, 1988. An assessment of Durkheim’s role in creating the modern field of sociological
Nisbet, Robert A. Émile Durkheim: With Selected Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall,
1965. A critical assessment with illuminating contributions from other authors on Durkheim’s most
important books and leading theories.


Nisbet, Robert. The Sociology of Émile Durkheim. New York: Oxford University Press, 1974.
Excellent on the historical context of Durkheim’s work and on the social thinkers, especially in
France, who preceded Durkheim and influenced his thought.
Pickering, W. S. F., ed. Durkheim on Religion. Translated by Jacqueline Redding. London:
Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1975. Presents selections from Durkheim’s original works on religion
along with selected reviews by other scholars, including some of the very earliest assessments of
The Elementary Forms.
Pickering, W. S. F. Durkheim’s Sociology of Religion: Themes and Theories. London: Routledge &
Kegan Paul, 1984. An excellent in-depth study of Durkheim on religion.
Wolff, Kurt H., ed. Essays on Sociology and Philosophy: Durkheim, et al., with Appraisals of His
Life and Thought. New York: Harper Torchbooks, [1960] 1964. Illuminating essays by different
authors on the origin, character, and influence of Durkheim’s thought.


Religion as Alienation:
Karl Marx

Marx discovered… the simple fact… that mankind must first of all
eat, drink, have shelter and clothing, before it can pursue politics,
science, art, religion.

Friedrich Engels, “Speech at the Graveside of Karl Marx”1
If the order of this book were strictly chronological, the theorist we take up in this chapter would
have appeared at the beginning, not here in the middle. Karl Marx (1818–1883), the German social
philosopher and guiding spirit of the movement that has come to be known as communism, had
lived much of his life before the other figures in our survey had even begun their work. His major
writings were completed well before Tylor published Primitive Culture in 1871, while Frazer’s
Golden Bough did not appear until some seven years after Marx’s death in 1883. It would be still
another twenty years before Freud and Durkheim developed their leading ideas. Nonetheless, it
makes sense to consider Marx here and not earlier in our survey. For though he wrote in the middle
years of the nineteenth century, his ideas gained little notice in his day beyond a small circle of his

own radical associates—and the suspicious eyes of public authorities. Only late in his life, after he
published Das Kapital2 (in English, Capital), the first volume of his huge critical study of
economics, did people in the mainstream of thought begin to pay close attention to his views. From
that point on, however, his influence did begin to grow enormously, as anyone now alive certainly
knows. In Russia, he won a convert in Vladimir Lenin, the major force behind the Russian
Revolution of 1917, which destroyed an empire and shocked the world. Later, in the 1940s, the
same shock went through China when another Marxist, Mao Tse-tung, led an army of poor peasants
to an equally shattering victory. As similar revolts unfolded around the world in lesser lands,
intellectuals in both Europe and America found themselves forced to grapple with Marx’s explosive
and all-embracing vision of society. Some have

been strongly attracted, others thoroughly repelled. In the present circumstance, even after
communist systems have begun to collapse, all would readily agree on at least one thing: Marx’s
own century could ignore him, but ours cannot.3
About Marx, two things must be noticed from the very start. First, as the shaper of communism, he
presents us less with a theory of religion than a total system of thought that itself resembles a
religion. Though some have said the same even of Freud’s psychoanalysis, the impact of the
Marxist creed around the world has been far greater. For a time in our century, Marxist thought in
one form or other was the ruling philosophy of governments in many parts of the world, though—
since the great collapse of communism in Europe and the Soviet Union—just a few major outposts
remain. Marx’s writings are as sacred to some communists as is the Bible to the most sincere and
devout of Christians. Communism offers a system of doctrines with authorized interpretations. It
has its own ceremonies, sacred places, and sacred persons. It has missionaries who in the space of
one century have won (and now lost) millions of converts; and it has conducted persecutions more
fearsome even than those of the Middle Ages or Wars of Religion. Communism in essence claims
to present not just a broad theory of politics, society, and economics but a compelling total vision of
human life, complete with a philosophical stance on humanity’s place in the natural world, an
explanation of all that is past in history, and a prophecy of what is still to come.

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