The Frankfurt School on Religion

Christopher Brittain

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The diverse scholars associated with the Frankfurt School offer an important understanding of religion. Offering a more nuanced position than either the contemporary ‘‘return of religion’’ position or that of ‘‘New Atheism,’’ critical theorists like Horkheimer, Adorno and Benjamin develop an aggressive critique of the ideological nature of religion, while also appreciating religion’s relationship with the concern for objective truth. This complex attitude towards the study of religion is criticized and adapted by the ‘‘second generation’’ of the Frankfurt School, primarily through the work of Habermas and Wellmer. Habermas’s early reduction of religion to primitive forms of thought has shifted after the terrorist attacks of 9⁄11, to a more hospitable desire to encourage dialogue between religious adherents and secularists. Although collectively the intellectuals associated with the Frankfurt School do not articulate a coherent and complete theory of religion, their work continues to represent a rich resource for the contemporary study of the discipline.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)204-212
Number of pages9
JournalReligion Compass
Issue number3
Early online date2 Mar 2012
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2012


  • Adorno
  • Horkheimer
  • Habermas
  • Frankfurt School
  • Critical Theory


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