Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Dr. Ronald C. Kramer

Second Advisor

Dr. Gerald Markle

Third Advisor

Dr. Rudolph Siebert

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Doug Davidson


Over the past thirty years much has been written about the critical theory of society that was produced by a small group of left-wing Hegelians in the Institute of Social Research in Frankfurt am Main, Germany and in the United States. However, except for the pioneering work of Rudolf Siebert, little has been written about the critical theory of religion as a fundamental and dynamic element of the entire critical theory’s struggle for human emancipation. This study seeks to make a contribution in the development of the critical theory of religion as a corrective to the one-sided, positivistic development of the modem social sciences as well as to the increasing social irrelevancy of the contemporary church.

As such, this study is a content analysis of the critical theory of religion of Max Horkheimer, the Director of the so-called Frankfurt School, which was developed throughout almost all of his writings and later interviews from 1926 to 1973, the year of his death. According to Horkheimer, religion is the expression of human anguish and suffering that contains an implicit if not explicit indictment of the existing antagonistic social totality. Religion thereby also gives expression to the human longing for that which is beyond the existing socio-historical totality. Rather than projecting this cry of agony and hope of a better future society or life into the abstract form of a God, Horkheimer materialistically redirects such religious expression back to the economic mode of social production and the social structures from which such suffering comes. Religion as the expression of human misery thereby becomes a practical historical force of resistance against all forms of social exploitation and domination in the hope of creating a better, more reconciled future society.

It is the conclusion of this study that Horkheimer’s dialectical, materialistic critical theory of religion can help reconcile the modem antagonistic dualism between the secular and the religious dimensions of human consciousness and action through the dialectical negation of religious longing for the totally Other into a critical social theory and praxis that seeks a more free, just, rational, and happy future society.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access