Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2016

Document Type


Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors


German Studies

First Advisor

Arne Hoecker

Second Advisor

Elias Sacks

Third Advisor

Laura Ostermann


The title of this project should not sit easily with the reader. The bringing together a Roman Bishop from the fourth century with the twentieth century Marxist philosopher certainly seems counter-intuitive; however bringing them together has potential to bring out certain aspects of their writings, which would otherwise go unexamined. In their book, The Dialectic of Enlightenment, Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer develop Marx’s concept of alienated consciousness, which Adorno further clarifies in later essays and lectures. In this project I will explore this development from consciousness, which is alienated through economic circumstances (Marx) to a consciousness that is fundamentally alienated through the genesis of consciousness itself. Generally understood, this alienation can be simply described as alienation from nature, from others, and from self, which is remarkably similar to the Augustine’s conception of the fallen man, wherein the effects of the fall can be simply described as alienation from self, from others, from nature, and adding the theological aspect: alienation from God. The purpose of this project is to explore, examine, and analyze the origins and phenomenology of these two conceptions of humanity’s existential state. The obvious point of contact between these two thinkers is the question of progress. Indeed, Adorno himself quotes Augustine his essay titled “On Progress” in his Critical Models. Such work has been investigated indirectly by Adorno’s student, Karl Heinz Haag, who inspired Adorno’s short dialogue with Augustine, in his Forschritt der Philosophie, and has been directly addressed by Peter Uwe Hohendahl in “Progress Revisited: Adorno's Dialogue with Augustine, Kant, and Benjamin.” The choice to begin the dialogue between these two thinkers on the level of self, however is a conscious decision to attempt to create a more intense investigation into intersections of theology and critical theory that can potentially lay the ground-work for future projects of a similar nature. Hoffman 4 I first began conceptualizing this project over two years ago, when I read the Dialectic of Enlightenment for the first time. I recognized Adorno’s brilliance in the vigor of his critique of the culture industry; however I felt that a dimension was missing from his paradigm—a dimension of theological speculation. In its foundations, this project was oriented toward a theological expansion of this critique by outlining the pervasiveness of the culture industry as having spiritual implications, as well as material. As I began to ponder how this project could be accomplished I realized I would have to begin by displaying the similarities between Adorno’s understanding of alienation and a Christian understanding of original sin. Defining a single Christian conception of original sin that could be set next to Adorno proved to be beyond the extent of this project and so I chose a thinker, whose conception of fallenness seemed to most closely pair with Adorno’s thought—Augustine. There are obvious theoretical issues with attempting a synthesis of Adorno and ancient Christian theology. The first and potentially most problematic issue with attempting this synthesis is the stark contrast between Adorno’s metaphysical position of historical materialism and Augustine’s position of strict theism and belief in the immaterial soul. I circumvent this problem through a phenomenological approach, through which I can compare these theories’ phenomenological accounts of alienation, which would avoid the problem of metaphysics. This problem cannot, of course be completely ignored and I will acknowledge the critical differences in the discussion of the similarities. Originally, this project was conceived as proposing a synthesis of the two thinkers, but after beginning my investigation, I chose to begin by simply showing the parallels in thought between Adorno and Augustine. I position Adorno’s understanding of alienated consciousness within the tradition of Marxism, in order to justify the theological engagement with Adorno, specifically. I will then provide a thorough, in depth Hoffman 5 phenomenological analysis of Adorno’s concept of consciousness, how it emerges as alienated, and how it becomes reified by the culture Industry, while working predominantly with the Dialectic of Enlightenment, “The Culture Industry Revisited,” and the essay, which is central to this portion of the project, “On Subject and Object.” After establishing a phenomenology of Adorno’s concept, the focus will switch to the Christian-side of things. I plan to explicate Augustine’s conception of the fallen man through his major works, such as Confessions, City of God, On the Trinity, among other minor texts. I also will engage with limited secondary literature on Augustine in order to justify the use of modern language within the context of Augustine’s ancient writings. The third portion of this project will consist in the critical discussion of the two conceptions, wherein I will critically analyze the similarities and differences of both Authors. The project will conclude with self-reflection and point toward the potential of future projects of a similar nature.