A brief explanation of how the humanities engage with Marxism.

Photo by AJ Colores on Unsplash

Marxism within anthropology first emerged as part of anthropology’s critique of colonialism in the 1960’s and 1970’s (Wallerstein 2004; Roseberry 1998). Marx and Engels rejected the ethnocentric idea that Western cultural forms were superior to all other cultures which is compatible with the central anthropological idea of cultural relativism. Instead, Marx and Engels argued, the Western cultural form was a product of specific historical events and ideas that could be critiqued and re-examined.

If you engage with anthropological research, you can apply these arguments to any element of human society. Anthropologist Maurice Bloch is, arguably, the authority on anthropology and Marxism and reflects extensively on the two in his book title, “Marxism and Anthropology.” Some of his major points include:


Explore the below topics to better understand how social scientists examine culture and society through a Marxist lens:

Marxist Basics

Religion and Capitalism

What does “The Opium of the People” mean?

Examining Class Struggle

Marxism and Feminism


Works Cited

“Anthropology for the 21st Century.” Essentials of Cultural Anthropology: a Toolkit for a Global Age, by Kenneth J. Guest, W. W. Norton and Company, 2020.

Beverley, James A. Religions A-Z. Thomas Nelson, 2005.

Bloch, Maurice. Marxism and Anthropology The History of a Relationship. Taylor and Francis, 2013.

Durkheim, Emile. The Elementary Forms of Religious Life. Oxford University Press, 2008.

Kuper, Adam. Anthropology and Anthropologists: the Modern British School. Routledge, 2014.

Mascia-Lees, Frances E. Gender & Difference in a Globalizing World: Twenty-First Century Anthropology. Waveland Press, 2010.

McCurdy, David W., et al. Conformity and Conflict: Readings in Cultural Anthropology. Pearson, 2016.

Moore, Jerry D. Visions of Culture: an Introduction to Anthropological Theories and Theorists. Rowman & Littlefield, 2019.

Roseberry, William (1988). “Political Economy”. Annual Review of Anthropology.

Stein, Rebecca, and Stein, Phillip. Anthropology of Religion, Magic, and Witchcraft. 3rd Ed.

Stocking, George W. Race, Culture, and Evolution.

Wallerstein, Immanuel (2004). World-systems analysis: an introduction (5. print. ed.). Durham: Duke University Press.

Winick, Charles. Dictionary of Anthropology. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2014.


This text is part of “Beliefs” an open-source textbook on “The Anthropology of Magic, Witchcraft, and Religion.” Written and recorded on Soundcloud by Amanda Zunner-Keating and edited by Ben Shepard for Los Angeles Valley College. Published under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Cultural Anthropologist in Los Angeles

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store