The ‘actually existing’ academic study of religion is barely imaginable without Marx. Rather than identifying an essential Marxist account of religion, the chapter distinguishes between a pre-1850 and post-1850 constellation of attitudes and intuitions. The chapter begins with this basic exegetical work and then documents a focus by many twentieth-century intellectuals on how Marxism and religion overlap: for much of the twentieth century, intellectuals were often more interested in assessing Marxism potential status as a religion, as opposed to strategically drawing upon the Marxist vocabulary in order to explain religious discourses and practices. It then identifies three successful Marxist strategies that take the latter approach: (a) a mode of anti-capitalist protest; (b) a form of non-elite reflection on capital; (c) a mythologizing ideological discourse.
The chapter presents an overview of postcolonialism, outlining some of the key arguments, concepts, and contributing figures. It examines the major theoretical limitations of postcolonialism, in particular its overreliance on models of agency, difference, and secular models of social reality all of which are grounded in a causal negativity. Postcolonial studies has also largely missed the strategic importance of new developments in the study of religion due to the un-interrogated nature of ‘religion’ as an analytic category in postcolonial theory. This limitation is remedied to some extent by recent developments in the study of religion: e.g. (i) problematizion of religion as a cultural universal; and (ii) the critiques of ‘religion’ as a category manufactured by the modern state, and therefore intrinsically tied to notions of the secular. The chapter deploys a case study of Hinduism to show the continuing effects of postcolonialism and its importance for the study of religion.