The Frankfurt School on Religion: Key Writings by the Major Thinkers

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The Frankfurt School on Religion: Key Writings by the Major Thinkers. Edited by Eduardo Mendieta. New York and London: Routledge, 2005. vii + 405 pp. $28.95 (paper).

Religion has once again become a fashionable topic in philosophy and social theory. Many cultural theorists and sociologists are now critical of the presumption that, in modern societies, religious communities and discourse will become increasingly marginalized and irrelevant in the face of scientific knowledge and ethnic pluralism. The Frankfurt School on Religion brings together some of the early sources of this emerging critique of the so-called "secularization thesis." The book represents a significant contribution to rethinking the place of religion in what is referred to as our "post-secular" world. It will be of interest to those concerned with the status of religion in contemporary society, philosophy of religion, moral theory, and the relationship between theology and social theory.

The "Frankfurt School" is the name often given to a diverse group of philosophers and social theorists who assembled in the 1930s at the Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt, Germany. The Institute sought to establish a collaborative and interdisciplinary research program, informed by Marxian "historical materialism," economics, psychoanalysis, philosophy, and aesthetics. Though many of the theorists associated with the "critical theory" of the Frankfurt School were nonpracticing Jews, they consistently displayed a profound interest in religion. Like Karl Marx, they agreed that religion often functions as the "opiate of the masses." But in a society colonized by "instrumental thinking" and consumerism, they also saw religious experience and theological discourse as being among the few places in which concerns for ultimate truth and a just society were retained. As Eduardo Mendieta summarizes in his introduction to the volume, the concept of God in the "negative theology" of these theorists serves to "negate the present Golgotha" of existing unjust social relations (p. 10).

The Frankfurt School on Religion includes essays by Ernst Bloch and Walter Benjamin, who, though not members of the Institute, greatly influenced the work of its official representatives. …