Peter Berger

Peter Berger (1929-) is an influential figure in the field of sociology. His influence may be comparable to Noam Chomsky in the modern field of linguistics or perhaps even Sigmund Freud in the development of psychology. He has focused on the use of language as a central aspect of a functioning society; however, he is more famous for his work on the sociology of religion and his contributions to that field. He was forced to admit a mistaken hypotheses that secularism and secularization would become increasingly prevalent, while actually religion has shown itself to have been more viable and its practice has actually increased. He qualifies this by pointing to Western countries and their retention of secular culture and the individualistic trends in religion and spirituality. He is also known for associating individuals with their surrounding societies by using the terms objective and subjective perceptions of reality. His theories in modern sociology may be considered of more bygone relevance to the field than of contemporary importance, with new governing theories widespread in the field in place of his classic ones.

Berger has recanted on his earlier hypotheses that modernity would be composed of global secularization and the decline of religion. He has since realized that religion has become more dominant in tandem with the secularization of some aspects of society. He notes the rise of fundamentalist Islam and Christianity to prove his theory. While more people worldwide are conscious of Islamic movements, the rise of fundamentalist Christianity in North America and its extension to other parts of the globe is equally significant but less noticed because of its lack of association with violence. He might imply also that the significance that had been given to secularism over the last few decades might be owed to a Eurocentric outlook, something he terms "Eurosecularity." He suggests that there is a disproportionate influence of the Western and Central European intelligentsia on global academia, perhaps skewing their views on the direction of humanity. He also suggests that pluralism has become more commonplace, where a number of different religious views and traditions have been tolerated for any number of reasons. He goes so far as to say that most social scientists today tend to view religion or religious motives as suspect and are expressed in order to legitimize grievances whose origins are born out of separate conflicts. He states "this is a bias that fails to understand the motivating power of religious faith."

Berger has asserted there are several strains of secularism, some of them more imposing than others. He points to the French model, manifested today in the legal barrier against the display of religious symbols in public institutions (particularly schools) being rooted in the harsh anti-Church attitudes of French revolutionaries at the end of the 18th century. Additionally, he points to the atheist communist regimes (especially the Soviet Union) that suppressed religious beliefs and practices. Pointing to a more moderate form, he pairs pluralism and tolerance with the diffusion of ideas and denominations. However, that diffusion might also relate to the attitude that separates religion from public institutions, giving impetus to many groups to go against the conceptual divisions.

Most importantly, he has been a harsh critic of the direction that the discipline has taken. He feels that two major faults have characterized a decline in the field of sociology. They include a dependence or overemphasis on methodology and the devolution of sociology from objective academia to subjective social advocacy. Regarding the failure in methodology, he has said the field has become too closely related to statistics in a way that might increase the viability and perhaps prestige of researchers in relation to those in the natural sciences. Additionally, he faults a pursuit of grants and donations that over-fund research and results in catering to the often trivial interests of donors. He has blatantly accused the field of delegitimizing objectivity or even ridiculing it. He seems to validate the view that left-wing politics has come to dominate academia by stating sociologists have "deformed science into an instrument of agitation and propaganda . . . invariably for causes on the left of the ideological spectrum." In identifying these faults, he suggests sociology has lost its intellectual popularity.

Peter Berger: Selected full-text books and articles

Peter Berger and the Study of Religion By Linda Woodhead; Paul Heelas; David Martin Routledge, 2001
Sociology: A Biographical Approach By Peter L. Berger; Brigitte Berger; Robert Binks Basic Books, 1975
The Place of Bonhoeffer: Problems and Possibilities in His Thought By Martin E. Marty; Peter Berger; George Forell; Reginald Fuller; Walter Harrelson; Franklin Littell; Jaroslav Pelikan; Franklin Sherman Association Press, 1962
The Meaning of Culture: Moving the Postmodern Critique Forward By Kenneth Allan Praeger Publishers, 1998
Librarian’s tip: "Sense-Meaning, Reality, and Sign Systems: Berger, Luckmann, and Geertz" begins on p. 45
Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings By Charles Lemert Westview Press, 1999 (2nd edition)
Librarian’s tip: "Society as a Human Product" by Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann begins on p. 384
The Gross National Product and the Gods By Berger, Peter L The McKinsey Quarterly, No. 1, Winter 1994
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