Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

Table of Contents | Cover Page  |  Editors  |  Contributors  |  Introduction  |  Web Version

A state of estrangement of individuals and societies from God, each other, and themselves. The Gnostics viewed estrangement from God as a necessary precondition to rebirth. Plotinus, Augustine, and Aquinas also propose alienation as the proving ground for the true life. More pessimistic accounts include Calvin's, in which original sin threatens separation from God in perpetuity, and Rousseau's secular vision of humanity estranged from its own original nature by society. In Hegel's work, overcoming alienation—the unfolding of self-consciousness—is the principal force in historical development. In contrast, Feuerbach stated that God (Absolute Spirit) is the estranged essence of humanity, and thus religion is an alienated search for self-awareness. Seizing on this point, the young Karl Marx conceptualized alienation as a pervasive social process inherent in the capitalist mode of production in which workers are estranged from their product, work itself, their human qualities, and each other. Religion expresses real suffering and desires in an alienated form. The writings of Paul Tillich and Karl Barth each carry the analysis of alienation into the present century with special reference to theology. Alienation is often used as a variable in survey research, usually in a social psychological sense, with regard to analyses of the disaffection of youth, work experience, and religiosity.


Philip Stanworth


L. Feuer, "What Is Alienation?" in Sociology on Trial , ed. M. Stein and A. Vidich (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1963): 127-147

P. Ludz, "A Forgotten Intellectual Tradition of the Alienation Concept," in Alienation , ed. R. F. Geyer and D. Schweitzer (London: Routledge, 1981): 21-35

I. Meszaros, Marx's Theory of Alienation (London: Merlin, 1970).

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