Magazine article The Christian Century

Peter Berger

Magazine article The Christian Century

Peter Berger

Article excerpt

Peter Berger, a leading scholar in the sociology of religion, died in Brookline, Massachusetts, on June 27 at age 88 of heart failure.

He was professor emeritus of sociology, religion, and theology at Boston University. His books in-eluded The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion (1967), A Rumor of Angels: Modern Society and the Rediscovery of the Supernatural (1969), The Heretical Imperative: Contemporary Possibilities of Religious Affirmation (1979), and Questions of Faith: A Skeptical Affirmation of Christianity (2003).

In a 1998 article for the Christian Century, he admitted to having "made one big mistake" in his career. Like many other sociologists of religion in the 1960s, his error "was to believe that modernity necessarily leads to a decline in religion. ... Most of the world today is as religious as it ever was and, in a good many locales, more religious than ever."

He also credited himself with "one big insight," namely, that pluralism changes how our beliefs and values are shaped, leading to a greater sense of choice in those areas and less certainty. Living in such a situation must be done by faith, with acceptance of uncertainty.

"The basic fault lines today are not between people with different beliefs but between people who hold these beliefs with an element of uncertainty and people who hold these beliefs with a pretense of certitude," he said in a 1997 interview with the Century. "There is a middle ground between fanaticism and relativism."

Practicing such living with uncertainty, Berger wrote twice for the Century's How My Mind Has Changed series. In the 1980 article "From secularity to world religions," he detailed how in the previous decade he had "moved further to the 'left' theologically and further to the 'right' politically."

While he became more liberal in his thinking about religion, encounters with global poverty "impressed me with the utter fatuity of the alleged solutions advocated by the political 'left'" and "prevented me from taking the currently fashionable route of doing theology by baptizing the empty slogans of this or that version of Marxism with Christian terminology. …

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