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Table Dancing in an Opium Den: Marx’s Conjuration of Criticism out of “Criticism of Religion” in 1844

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image of Method & Theory in the Study of Religion

AbstractThis article re-examines criticism-of-religion in Marx’s “A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. Introduction” and its role in his development of historical materialist criticism in the wake of Derrida’s attempted revaluation of the identification of religion with ideology in Marx’s later writings. It first focuses upon Marx’s appropriation and use of Feuerbach’s criticism of religion in “Contribution” and the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts. Then it situates “Contribution” ’s famous apothegm, religion “is the opium of the people,” in relation to Marx’s subsequent writings on the “Celestial Empire” China and in the context of opium’s multiple contemporary significations. Marx’s understandings of religion and its critique are thus seen to well exceed the assumed limitation of the latter’s purview to ideology criticism and the conventional characterizations of the former as false consciousness, ineffectual protest, and/or depoliticizing consolation. Marx’s criticism-of-religion is shown to exemplify what he calls “irreligious criticism.”

Affiliations: 1: Program in Jewish Studies and Vanderbilt Divinity School, Vanderbilt University411 21st Ave. South, Nashville, TN


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