For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

Theory of Religion

by Bataille, Georges (1989)


Theory of Religion brings to philosophy what Georges Bataille’s earlier book The Accursed Share brought to anthropology and history, namely, an analysis based on notions of excess and expenditure. No other work of Bataille’s, and perhaps no other work anywhere since Weber’s Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, has managed to draw so incisively the links between man’s religious and economic activities. “Religion,” according to Bataille, “is the search for a lost intimacy.” In a brilliant and tightly reasoned argument, he proceeds to develop a “general economy” of man’s relation to this intimacy: from the seamless immanence of animality to the shattered world of objects and the partial, ritual recovery of the intimate order through the violence of the sacrifice. Bataille then reflects on the archaic festival, in which he sees not only the glorious affirmation of life through destructive consumption but also the seeds of another, more ominous order — war. Bataille then traces the rise of the modern military order, in which production ceases to be oriented toward the destruction of a surplus and violence is no longer deployed inwardly but is turned to the outside. In these twin developments one can see the origins of modern capitalism.

Key Passage

Here is my table, my chair, my bed. They are here as a result of labor. In order to make them and install them in my room it was necessary to forgo the interest of the moment. As a matter of fact I myself had to work to pay for them. that is, in theory, I had to compensate for the labor of the workers who made them or transported them, with a piece of labor just as useful as theirs. These products of labor allow. me to work and I will be able to pay for the work of the butcher, the baker, and the , farmer who will ensure my surivival and the continuation of my work.  (p.101)


Relgion, Bataille, French, Capitalism, Economics, Political Economics, Anthropology, History, Sacrifice


Theory of Religion, Bataille Citations

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