Document Type

Contribution to Book

Source Publication

Marxism, Religion, and Emancipatory Politics

Publication Date

Summer 8-25-2022


Graeme Kirkpatrick, Peter McMylor, and Simin Fadaee


Palgrave Macmillan





First Page


Last Page



Comparative Humanities


Although it is only in recent decades that scholars have begun to reconsider and problematize Buddhist conceptions of “freedom” and “agency,” the various thought traditions of Asian Buddhism have for some centuries struggled with questions related to the issue of “liberation,” along with its fundamental ontological, epistemological and ethical—if not economic and political—implications. With the development of Marxist thought in the mid to late nineteenth century, a new paradigm for thinking about freedom in relation to economics, history, identity and socio-political transformation found its way to Asia, where it soon confronted traditional religious interpretations of freedom as well as competing Western ones. Over the past century, numerous attempts have been made—in India, southeast Asia, China and Japan—to bring together Marxist and Buddhist worldviews, with only moderate success (both at the level of theory and practice). In the context of an overview of this fraught history, this chapter analyzes the possibilities and problems of “Buddhist Marxism” by focusing on the links and disparities between Asian Buddhist conceptions of awakening and theories of “Enlightenment” and “liberation” developed within classical and contemporary Marxism. The analysis centers on the meaning and implications of terms such as “alienation” and “materialism”—and how, or whether, these might correspond to foundational Buddhist teachings. A secondary concern is the meaning of “religion”—denounced by Marx and most Marxists as irredeemably ideological—and whether this arguably “Western” term sufficiently captures the traditions of thought and practice related to the path of Dharma.