In this entry I'll be paraphrasing Daniel L. Pals' book Eight Theories of Religion. I'll be discussing the philosopher Karl Marx and his particular theories of religion in society and its key features.
Karl Marx the German social philosopher was born 1818 in Rhineland in the city of Trier under Prussia rule. He died 1883. He co-wrote the well known Communist Manifesto with Engels in 1848. His other well known book is Capital. He was an aggressive functionalist who discussed the connection between economic needs, social classes, and religious beliefs.
Marx's hierarchy of society looks something like this:
Food, shelter --> sex/reproduction --> family/community --> more desires/demands --> modes of production (i.e. hunt/gather). Foods through divisions of labor are divided into "relations of production."
Marx said it is concrete, actual working humans who create their own alienation, and precisely by attributing to others the very things that properly belong to themselves. That is the real alienation and true source of human unhappiness. Alienation begins once one thinks of the product of labor as an object apart, as something other than the natural expression of personality for the benefit of a community.
Religion is a belief system who chief purpose is simply to provide reasons—excuses—for keeping things in society as the oppressors like them. Marx believed religion is determined by economics and dependent upon one thing: shape of social life determined by material forces in control of it at any given time. Belief in God is an unhappy byproduct of class struggle. Marx also believed man makes religion, religion does not make man. For Marx, if the truth is that there is neither a God nor supernatural world, being religious is no different from being addicted to a drug: pure escapism. He believed people cannot be better off until they are without religion.
Marx's theories are similar to Freud in the sense that Frued believed religion is purely an illusion with evil consequences. Neither Marx or Durkheim care so much about what people have to say about religion, rather what the role those beliefss play in social struggles. Marx's ideas also parallel with Tylor and Frazer in the sense that Marx believed that main religious beliefs are superstitious. We can only find the key to religion once we find its function. Marx and Freud believed religion expressed a false need for individual security. His approach was similar to Freud and Durkheim in the way he investigated beneath the surface of religious beliefs and rituals—he was seeking the hidden cause, which is to be found in something else. For Freud it was psychological need, Durkheim it was society, and Marx was class struggle and alienation.
Marx differs from someone like Durkheim becuase his theory of "traditional" religion makes up a small—not central—part of his thinking. Marx is also one of the only theorists who analyzes religion with such remorse and sarcasm. Freud claimed religion falls on the individual and not the group. Durkheim thinks it impossible to imagine human social life wihtout some set of religious rituals or equivalent.