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Library of Congress Catalog Number: 2012036152
ISBN: 978-1-4128-4989-0
Printed in the United States of America
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Pfadenhauer, Michaela, 1968-
[Peter L. Berger. English]
The new sociology of knowledge : the life and work of Peter L. Berger /
Michaela Pfadenhauer; with selected essays by Peter L. Berger.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-1-4128-4989-0
1. Berger, Peter L., 1929- 2. Sociologists--Biography. 3. Knowledge,
Sociology of. 4. Religion and sociology. I. Berger, Peter L., 1929-
II. Title.
duction and Biographical Overview

nnings of the New Sociology of Knowledge:
Influences, Teachers, and Collaborators

nity and Pluralism
2.1 Moder
2.2 Pluralism
2.3 Individu

ion and Desecularization
3.1 Religion a
s a Human Product
3.2 An Anthr
opological Theology
3.3 The Po
ssibility of Faith
3.4 De

Culture and Socioeconomic Change
4.1 Economic Cult
4.2 Neo-W
4.3 CUR
e and Reality
5.1 The Problem of Re
5.2 A Theor
y for the Sociology of Knowledge

What Is New a
bout the New Sociology
of Knowledge?


Reception and Imp
act of the New Sociology
of Knowledge

Can one call an author a classic during his lifetime? Or even a
of the sociology of knowledge? These questions were not asked by
me. Rather, they were posed by Peter L. Berger in the summer of
2006 in reply to my e-mail requesting his permission to write a book
about him for the German series “Classics of the Sociology of Knowl-
edge.” As Berger still comes to Europe several times a year, I got to
know him personally soon after this initial electronic contact. In the
summer of 2008 I visited him at the Institute on Culture, Religion
and World Affairs (CURA) at Boston University. And in the summer
of the following year I had an opportunity to attend a CURA summer
course. Eventually I succeeded in dispelling his doubts. I argued that
a large number of his works were characterized by a sociology-of-
knowledge perspective—and that, what is more, he and his coauthor,
Thomas Luckmann, would be more than entitled to refer to their
The Social Construction of Reality
(1966a) as a classic without
running the risk of being accused of vanity.
Because sociology lacks an undisputed methodological and thematic
identity, classical sociological thinkers play a key role in fostering and
underpinning a sense of identity among sociologists. In this sense, the
volumes in a series on classical sociologists, in which the German-
language version of this book appeared, constitute what Dirk Kaesler
(1999: 31) calls a “tribal history” of the discipline. Now, Peter L. Berger
views any form of group affiliation with suspicion. And, to put it mildly,
he considers sociologists to be quite a boring tribe. Kaesler notes
(ibid., 30) that classical sociological thinkers are not “born” but “made,”
and that their “classicity” is grounded in a need felt by contemporary
sociologists. I, too, share this need. At the same time, however, I am
aware that I am imposing quite a burden on Berger by “making” him
a classic in his own lifetime.
e New Sociology of Knowledge
The inestimable advantage of writing a book about a
is that one can ask him about various aspects that are difficult—if
not impossible—to reconstruct from his publications. What is more,
one gains fruitful biographical insights and valuable background
information about his works in the process. The downside is that a
living classic can defend himself vigorously if he is unhappy with the
way he and his works are represented. Peter L. Berger made little use
of his right of complaint. This is probably due less to the absence of
cause for complaint than to the fact that humor-lover Berger, who
has written a whole book on humor (Berger 1997a), is convinced that
“all autobiographical (or, to coin an adjective, ‘autobibliographical’)
reflection presupposes a deficient sense of humor” (1986d: 221).
Indeed, his willingness to allow himself to be pestered with questions
was practically boundless. The only time I felt I was really getting on
his nerves was when I asked him about his thoughts on hell. (It was
not even my idea; my fellow students in the CURA summer course
put me up to it.) I would like, therefore, to take this opportunity to
express my heartfelt gratitude to him for his willingness to meet me
halfway—literally and metaphorically.
Alfred Schutz (1976: 274) distinguishes between two variants
of responsibility: “being responsible
” something one has done,
and “being responsible
” someone. Even though the responsibil-
ity for the content of this book rests solely with me, I could not
managed w
ithout the help of others. Hans-Georg Soeffner and
Winfried Gebhardt deserve explicit mention. Bernt Schnettler and
Hubert Knoblauch provided valuable encouragement. However, most
of what I believe to have understood from and about Peter L. Berger
was unlocked in conversation with Ronald Hitzler, to whom I owe an
additional debt of thanks, because it was he who gave me the idea to
write this book in the first place.
It is thanks to Peter L. Berger’s mediation that this book can now
be made available to an English-speaking audience. When Berger
tacted Transaction Publishers on my behalf, Chairman and
torial Director Irving Louis Horowitz immediately expressed
est in publishing the work. I am indebted to his wife, Transac-
tion President Mary Curtis Horowitz, for her wholehearted support
for the project after her husband’s passing. At Irving Louis Horowitz’s
gestion, the book has been expanded to include five of Berger’s own
texts. Selected by the author himself, they address in condensed form
key aspects dealt with in the thematic chapters (1–5).
Chapter 1—“Beginnings of the New Sociology of Knowledge:
Influences, Teachers, and Collaborators”—has been supplemented
with Peter L. Berger’s “Reflections on the Twenty-Fifth Anniversary
The Social Construction of Reality
” (1992), in which he recalls the
genesis of this classic work in productive collaboration with Thomas
Luckmann. He notes with satisfaction that the paradigm developed
Social Construction
—which links institutional structures and
processes with processes of consciousness—had shown itself to be
eminently useful in his later research, which focused not on social
theory but on phenomena such as modernity, desecularization, and
economic culture.
“Pluralism, Protestantization, and the Voluntary Principle” (2007), a
chapter that Berger contributed to a book entitled
Democracy and the
New Religious Pluralism
, rounds off the second chapter of the present
book, which is devoted to “Modernity and Pluralism.” In his contribu-
tion, Berger makes it clear that, while modernity is not
secularizing, it does go hand in hand with pluralism. Under conditions
of pluralism, not only religious convictions but all cognitive and norma-
tive definitions of reality lose their hitherto inherent status of certainty
and unquestionability. Hence, a grave consequence of modernization
is that well-nigh all aspects of human existence cease to be a matter
of fate and become a matter of choice.
Chapter 3—“Religion and Desecularization”—is complemented
by “The Desecularization of the World” (1999), an essay Berger con-
tributed to
The Desecularization of the World. Resurgent Religion
and World Politics
, which he edited. In this essay, Berger discusses
the connection between modernity and the worldwide resurgence
of religion—especially of conservative, orthodox, and traditionalist
religious movements. Underlining the striking differences between
these movements, and their correspondingly different stances vis-à-vis
modernity, Berger addresses the fundamentally important role they
play on the global political stage—in ideological and military conflicts,
economic development, human rights, and social justice.
Chapter 4—“Culture and Socioeconomic Change”—is enhanced
by a short essay entitled “Our Economic Culture” (1994) in which
Berger explains the concept of economic culture as understood by
the Institute for the Study of Economic Culture (ISEC)—presently
called CURA—which he founded at Boston University in 1985. He
uses three research projects conducted under the auspices of ISEC to
illustrate the basic stance, line of inquiry, and some of the categories
e New Sociology of Knowledge
that he and his collaborators adopted when investigating the cultural
framework of economic activities.
With the inclusion in Chapter 5—“Knowledge and Reality”—of a
journal article by Peter L. Berger entitled “Identity as a Problem in the
Sociology of Knowledge” (1966), the present book comes full circle,
returning to the subject of social theory. In the article, Berger shows
the theoretical gains to be achieved by integrating the sociology of
knowledge with Meadian social psychology. Social psychology in the
Meadian tradition is concerned with the dialectic between social struc-
ture and psychological reality: The individual realizes himself in soci-
ety; he recognizes his identity in social categories; and these categories
become reality as he lives in society. The sociology of knowledge, by
contrast, concerns itself with the dialectic between social structure
and the “worlds” in which people live: People in societies produce
“worlds” whose conceptual modalities become unquestionably certain
knowledge. In this way, these worlds become objective reality for their
inhabitants. And, as Berger concludes, “
identity . . . is always identity
within a specific, socially constructed world
What was a joint endeavor from the start has become even more
so by the inclusion of these original Berger texts.
A final word of thanks goes to Miriam Geoghegan, my translator
and fellow sociologist, who shares Berger’s conviction that sociology
can—and should—be presented in intelligible language. She made sure
that most of the sociologese to which I am prone got lost in translation.
Introduction and
Biographical Overview
In his essay on Emile Durkheim as a “classical sociological thinker,”
René König (1976: 312–13) lists three possible approaches to writ-
ing such a piece. First, one can present the classical sociologist’s
oeuvre against the historical background of its time and identify its
and impact; second, one can focus on his contribution
to a “
sociologia perennis”;
and finally, one can identify and assess his
“immanent or explicit philosophy.” König rules out
a priori
a fourth
variant—a mere précis—because, in his view, it would not do justice
to a classical thinker who, by definition, “developed not only his own
worldview but also his own stylistic device” (our translation).
Dirk Kaesler (1999: 30) defines a classical sociologist as someone
whose “works occupied a central position among the sociological ideas
and notions of an era and were therefore the focus of sociological
discourse.” Following this criterion, the objective of the present book
is to demonstrate the relevance of Berger’s oeuvre to the sociology
of knowledge. It goes without saying that
Social Construction of
(Berger & Luckmann 1966a)—which laid the foundations for
the new sociology of knowledge—will occupy a prominent position
(Chapter 5). A further objective of this critical appraisal is to draw
the attention of the sociologically interested reader to Berger’s other
works. My aim in so doing is to help reverse the tendency to view the
later Berger solely as a sociologist of religion—or even merely as a
theologically informed religious author—rather than as a thematically
versatile sociologist whose works are characterized by an explicit, or
at least an implicit, sociology-of-knowledge perspective.
Peter L. Berger stands out among his fellow social scientists both
quantitatively and qualitatively. Quantitatively, because he definitely
belongs to the prolific-writer category. He has written numerous
monographs, which have been translated into many languages, and a
e New Sociology of Knowledge
multitude of essays in scholarly journals and popular magazines; he
has edited countless collected volumes. However, Berger is also an
exceptional scientist from a
point of view. For decades, he
has played a role in shaping—or, indeed, determining—both public
debate and social scientific discourse in America and far beyond.
As a sociologist, Berger has played three roles: as a theoretician
of modern life, an analyst of modern religiosity, and an empiricist of
global economic culture. His sociological works can be grouped into
three categories: modernity and pluralism (Chapter 2 below), religion
and (Chapter 3), and culture and socioeconomic change (Chapter 4).
In all three areas, the focus on processes (rather than on the status
quo) is characteristic of Berger’s thinking.
For all the thematic fields that Berger has tilled over the years, it
should not be forgotten that he has also written introductory books
and general overview articles on sociology. Foremost among these
publications are his
Invitation to Sociology
(1963a), which, in the
opinion of many colleagues, is still “unrivaled” (Schnettler 2006: 54);
Sociology—A Biographical Approach
(1972), a textbook coauthored
with his wife Brigitte; and
eption.” Although Berger himself notes in the preface (ibid., ix)
that the “underlying argument and the finale are religious,” the book
does not quite fit in with the other themes that Berger has dealt with
during the course of his life. While it is definitely not the key to his
oeuvre, it could well be a key to understanding him as a person, as the
following quotation suggests:
I have been obsessed with the question of the nature of the comic all
my life, ever since my father,
an inveterate teller of jokes, encour-
aged me to tell my own about the time when I entered kindergarten,
where, according to reliable sources, I made a nuisance of myself as
I faithfully followed the paternal mandate. Sooner or later, I had to
write this book. (1997a: x)
Introduction and Biographical Overview
Last, but not least, it should not be forgotten that Berger has
written two novels—
The Enclaves
(1965a) and
Protocol of a Damna-
(1975)—which, in his view, deserved more attention than they
eived (however, cf. Mechling 1986). He wrote the first novel under
a pseudonym for fear of damaging his reputation as a serious scholar.
The second book was, as he says himself, the product of boredom
during a semester spent at the University of Cologne at the invitation
of René König, whom I mentioned at the beginning of this chapter.
Berger’s unwillingness to while away his time unproductively was also
what motivated him to put his memories of his childhood and youth
down on paper while immobilized with a foot injury. Although, at
the time, he had no intention of publishing them, he eventually did
(2008a). While, for Berger, writing is not merely a way of passing the
time, it seems to cost him a lot less effort than most.
His restlessness
during the period between books subsides only when the draft of the
next one has taken shape. Even before the appearance of
In Praise of
(2009)—a book coauthored with Anton Zijderveld—Berger had
hatched the idea for a second autobiographical work,
Adventures of
an Accidental Sociologist
(2011), in which he constructs the genesis
of his own oeuvre.
Although quite accustomed to success, Berger noted first with
surprise, and then with increasing skepticism, the Austrian media
coverage of the publication of the aforementioned autobiographical
memoirs of his childhood and youth,
Im Morgenlicht der Erinnerung
(“In the Morning Light of Memory”) (2008a). The book’s appearance
coincided with the award of the Paul Watzlawick Ring of Honor by
the Vienna Medical Chamber, who acclaimed him as a “personality of
international standing.” It was probably no coincidence that the award
also coincided with the seventieth anniversary of the
is, the annexation of Austria by Germany in 1938. This prompted
Berger, in all the interviews he gave, to emphatically refuse to be styl-
ized as a victim of Nazism. It was precisely because of his Jewish roots
that Berger, whose parents had become Protestants in 1938, initially
hesitated to publish his memoir. He feared that Jewish friends might
feel snubbed by what they felt was a decision against a Jewish identity
on his part.
A characteristic trait of Peter L. Berger’s is revealed here. Like
Ulrich, the central protagonist of Robert Musil’s novel
Man With-
out Qualities
(1995 [1930ff.]), he finds all forms of group subsumption
e New Sociology of Knowledge
suspect—irrespective of whether the group in question is a majority
or a minority.
It is of the utmost importance to him that he not be
pigeonholed in a collective category—be it victim of Nazism, Jewish
émigré, confessed Christian, or conservative intellectual. In his view,
collectivism is a cheap solution to the problem of developing systems
of classification for the modern world and the modern personality.
As in Musil’s case, the “merging of the perpetually quarreling selves
in a dreamed unity” of collective identity provides little consolation
to Berger (cf. 1992b: 117).
In his first memoir (2008a), Berger recalls a mainly happy childhood
and youth. Because of the many options revealed in his biography—or,
to put it existentially, because modern man is condemned to freedom—
Berger regards it as a case study of the situation of modern man.
This memoir finally put paid to the frequent claim that Peter
L. Berger was born in Trieste, Italy, in 1929. As a child he did spend
every summer in Italy, the home country of his mother’s side of the
family, and he does speak Italian, but he is a native of Vienna. And
despite his forced emigration via Palestine to the United States, he still
feels a close attachment to the city of his birth. What is more, not only
does he have good memories of his childhood in Vienna, the city also
shaped his identity to such an extent that, when I asked him about
the difference between himself and Thomas Luckmann, he described
himself and his colleague as the two opposite poles of
One (Berger), with his liking for a luxurious, urbane ambiance, is a
typical manifestation of the Viennese coffeehouse intellectual, while
the other (Luckmann), with his love of nature and his passion for fish-
ing, is a typical example of an Austrian-Slovenian mountain hermit.
In hindsight, Berger sees the years in Palestine as a search for a
igious identity that came to an end when he arrived in the promised
land, America, in 1946 (2008a: 201). With the same conviction with
which he gave his national identity as Austrian when entering Pales-
tine in 1938, he stated his religious affiliation as Lutheran Protestant
when entering the United States. Strongly influenced by a “religiosity
of Lutheran coloration” (2008a: 134; our translation) during his two
years at a Swiss mission school in Haifa, and impressed by the
way” in which the Neumanns, a couple with whom Berger’s family
had become friends, practiced their Christianity, he was introduced
to a distinctly un-European approach to religious practice.
than committing himself to just one church community, he chose a
church—first Presbyterian, then Anglican—on the basis of the service
Introduction and Biographical Overview
on offer. Berger’s self-study of theological and philosophical literature
was at least equally important for the development of his religious
identity. His main mentor was Fritz Neumann, with whom he had a lot
in common, especially a fascination with Kierkegaard. Berger acquired
a knowledge of Lutheran theology through reading the books from a
library left behind by Pastor Berg of the German Lutheran Church.
This fostered a development that he describes as a “paradox”:
Without having had contact with a single Lutheran, I made up a
Lutheranism of my own. However, it was a replica molded by reason,
and I later realized that it was not true to the original. But, even now,
I would still say that, emotionally, I was not far off the mark. Thus,
when I acquired a deeper knowledge of Lutheranism over the years,
I was able to verify my original findings. Although my theological
understanding has become much more liberal in the meantime,
and I cannot, therefore, subscribe to the full text of the Augsburg
Confession, I would say that, despite many reservations, I am much
more a Lutheran than any other type of Christian. Perhaps—and
may Spinoza forgive me for this—I discovered my
anima naturaliter
. (2008a: 189–90; our translation)
On his arrival in New York, Berger was intent on studying theol-
ogy in order to realize what he felt to be his vocation: to become a
Lutheran minister. He earned a bachelor of arts degree from Wagner
College on Staten Island, an institution that he describes as “only
nominally Lutheran” (2008a: 213). Berger supplemented his stud-
ies there with a sojourn at a college in Ohio. Although he was then
itled to study at a theological faculty, he felt that, as an immigrant,
he should first learn more about American society. Sociology seemed
to him to be a good way of doing that. As the New School was the
only university in New York at which he could study in the evening,
thereby allowing him to work full-time to earn his living, he enrolled
in a master’s program there. The first course he attended was entitled
“Balzac as a Sociologist” and was taught by Albert Salomon. Berger
stresses that there was basically nothing to be said against using
Balzac to introduce students to sociology, because the author had
intended his novels to provide a picture of French society. However,
as he recalls with a chuckle, the consequence was that after a semester
during which he wrote, among other things, a term paper comparing
Illustrious Gaudissart
with Arthur Miller’s new play
Death of
a Salesman,
he had found out hardly anything about contemporary
American society.
e New Sociology of Knowledge
Berger’s decision to enroll at the New School was to prove a
ous one, nonetheless. In the 1950s, the Graduate Faculty of
the New School was a haven for European intellectuals who had fled
from fascism. Founded in 1933 as the European University in Exile,
it was renamed the Graduate Faculty of Political and Social Science
in 1934, and is now known as the New School for Social Research.
There, Berger came into direct contact with the tradition of the
European humanities and social sciences, whereas his encounter with
contemporary American sociology was merely second-hand. Had he
not been introduced to classical sociological theory, it is unlikely that
he would have become hooked on the discipline, because contempo-
rary American sociology had failed to capture his interest.
Apart from Albert Salomon, the two teachers at the Graduate
of the New School who exerted a major influence on Berger
were Carl Mayer and Alfred Schutz (see Chapter 1 below). After earn-
ing his master’s degree in sociology from the New School in 1950, and
spending a year at the Lutheran Theological Seminar in Philadelphia,
he abandoned his plans to become a Lutheran minister, deciding
instead to return to the New School to do a doctorate. He received
his PhD in 1952 for a dissertation entitled “The Baha’i Movement:
A Contribution to the Sociology of Religion.”
Because he was drafted into the US army in 1953, Berger had to
forgo working on a research project on religion and the churches in
post-war Germany directed by Carl Mayer. On Berger’s recommen-
dation, Thomas Luckmann took his place on the team. Berger first
met Luckmann at a philosophy seminar at the New School given by
Karl Löwith; the two men have been close friends and scholarly col-
laborators ever since (see Chapter 1 below). Although Berger had to
withdraw from Mayer’s project, he was to receive an invitation after
his discharge from the army two years later to undertake a research
project at the Protestant Academy in the German town of Bad Boll,
near Stuttgart in southwest Germany. This would bring him not only
to Germany but also to the subject of religion and church in Germany.
Although Berger detested the basic-training phase of his military
service—during his school days he and some friends had formed an
“anti-sport league”
—he was lucky insofar as he was drafted during the
period between the Korean and Vietnam Wars. Moreover, because he
was deployed as a “social worker” in a psychiatric clinic,
he not only
had a nine-to-five job, but also one that enabled him to rub shoulders
with a cross-section of American society.
Introduction and Biographical Overview
After returning from Germany in mid-1956, Berger had to spend
some months in a non-academic job. However, he was drawn to the
academic world—or, more precisely, to the American academic world.
To this day, he considers the American higher education landscape
to be much more conducive to what he calls “intellectual entrepre-
neurship” than its German or Austrian counterparts. Intellectual
entrepreneurship is the term Berger uses to refer to a project that, in
fact, originated in the prolific nature and the success of his writing,
although it really took off with the foundation of CURA’s predeces-
sor, the Institute for the Study of Economic Culture (ISEC) at Boston
University in 1985.
The first milestone in Berger’s academic career—his appointment
as an associate professor at the Graduate Faculty of the New School
in 1963—was preceded by posts at the University of North Carolina
and the Hartford Seminary Foundation. Although Berger indicated
to me that he did not consider the years at the Women’s College
of the University of North Carolina (1956–58) and at the Hartford
Theological Seminary (1958–63) to be worthy of further mention,
they were probably of some importance for his development as a
university teacher. This can be seen from his striking description of
erience—or “culture shock”—of the “sense of precarity” that
all social scientists should possess, but that, with increasing profes-
sionalization, becomes routine:
To a degree this is probably inevitable. After all, one cannot live all
the time with one’s mouth open. This is why teaching, and espe-
cially the occasional teaching of introductory courses, is a salutary
activity for the professional social scientist. In the reactions of the
students to what he presents he can re-experience the freshness of
the “sociological imagination,”
sometimes even its liberating qual-
ity. The experience of beginning students (needless to say, it is the
brighter students who are at issue here!) affords a good illustration
of the nature of the shock which the social sciences are capable of
administering. (1961: 15)
Despite the many student crushes that he probably encountered
as a young lecturer in a women’s college, North Carolina was not
an environment that Berger could imagine living in for long—not
least because of the manifest racial discrimination that still prevailed
there in the 1950s, and that had already left a bad taste in his mouth
during his military service. In Hartford, Connecticut, by contrast, he
encountered what was for him quite a pleasant, ecumenically oriented
e New Sociology of Knowledge
Protestant milieu. However, the longing to teach and work at a socio-
logical rather than a theological faculty became increasingly urgent.
In retrospect, Berger describes his most successful book,
to Sociology
(1963a), as being strongly motivated by a desire to attract
the attention of his fellow sociologists. If this really was the case,
strategy certainly worked.
The appointment to the post of assistant professor at his alma
mater meant that two wishes came true for Berger. First, he got to
teach sociology students, and second, during the first few years at
least, he encountered the stimulating intellectual climate for which
the Graduate Faculty of the New School had become famous during
and after the Second World War. When he was appointed chairman of
the Sociology Department some years later, he endeavored to restore
this climate by hiring European sociologists. The idea was to bring a
bit of heterogeneity into the professorships, which, after the passing of
the founding generation, were now held almost entirely by American
scholars. The failure of these efforts was to put an end to this stage in
Berger’s career. He left the New School in 1970.
Stimulated by lively discussions during the courses he taught at the
New School—as in his student days, they were still held mainly in the
evening—Berger intensified his sociological publishing activities, for
the most part in coauthorship with Thomas Luckmann,
Kellner, Stanley Pullberg, or Maurice Natanson. Together with Berger,
these men formed what he jestingly refers to as the “clique” (2011: 80)
that developed the concept for
The Social Construction of
(Berger & Luckmann 1966a). However, even during those years,
Berger’s interest in issues relating to the sociology of religion and to
theology persisted. Besides numerous articles and essays in journals
and popular media, he published two very successful books—
Sacred Canopy
A Rumor of Angels
This period also saw the beginning of Berger’s political activities.
In the late 1960s he protested against America’s Indochina policy.
ever, his protest was not motivated by the left-wing
but rather by his criticism of the way America was waging the war
in Vietnam. Hence, he joined the national steering committee of an
organization called Clergy and Laymen Concerned about Vietnam
(CALCAV), which strictly opposed the Vietnam War.
Fearing that Latin America could become a further site for com-
parable American interventions, Berger’s interest in the development
problems of the so-called Third World grew. He left the New School
Introduction and Biographical Overview
in 1970 to take up a professorship at Rutgers University in New Jersey,
which he would hold until 1979. By 1970 at the latest, modernization
and the confrontation with Marxism, socialism, and capitalism as a
framework for political and economic development had become key
themes for him and have remained so ever since. He describes as a
pivotal experience his encounter in 1969 with Ivan Illich, who invited
him to give a seminar at the Centro Intercultural de Documentación
(“Intercultural Documentation Center”) in Cuernavaca, Mexico. In
the course of his discursive engagement with Illich’s strong criticism
of modernization, Berger came to explicitly endorse market economy
principles and democracy as the primary engines of progress.
This stance—to wit, Berger’s refusal to be hijacked by those who
The Social Construction of Reality
(Berger &
1966a) as a theoretical guide to revolution for the leftist protest
ement—and the initiation of the so-called Hartford Appeal for
Theological Affirmation reinforced his conservative image in the 1970s.
In the Hartford Appeal (also known as the Hartford Declaration), which
was drawn up and distributed in 1975 and published in 1976 (Berger &
Neuhaus 1976c), the twenty-three signatories—mainly prominent
Christian intellectuals—repudiated a number of secularist attitudes in
contemporary Christian theology. The appeal was intended as a protest
against the z
and as a stance
Against the World for the World
Here, Berger played not only the role of a religious individual but also
that of a political actor, deploying his theory of the sociology of knowl-
edge for his own ends, as it were. The criticism, voiced in unison with
like-minded people, was aimed at halting what they deemed to be an
unfortunate development and at initiating a spiritual shift. It opposed a
Protestantism that, in their view, had become inextricably entangled in
modernity and, as the historian of religion Rudolf Otto would have put
it, had lost the “transcendence of the holy” in the process. Berger and his
coauthors were children of their time. In other words, they were shaped
by a particular sociocultural context that fostered the z
which the Hartford Appeal was directed. However, as Berger himself
points out, the fact that human thinking is socially determined should
not be misconstrued as mechanistic, inevitable, or inexorable social
determinism. Rather, the relationship between ideas and society must
be apprehended as a dialectical one: “Ideas come out of a context, but
they also act back upon that context” (Berger & Neuhaus 1976d: 17).
More often than the role of activist, Berger played the part of an
intellectual adviser who was not afraid of associating with politics,
e New Sociology of Knowledge
the church, or industry. In the 1980s, he felt provoked by the anti-
smoking movement (1986c), and especially by what he considered
to be its ideological output on the health hazards of passive smok-
ing (1988d). Between 1979 and 1987, he acted as a consultant to the
tobacco industry, visiting several World Health Organization (WHO)
conferences as an undercover participant observer. The WHO was
the organization under whose umbrella the initiative that Berger
(1988d: 83) refers to as the “international antismoking conglomer-
ate” developed. He reconstructed the convictions of the anti-smoking
movement as “ideology”—in other words, as ideas that are not based
on scientific argument but are rooted in culture and entangled with
vested interests. Observing the anti-smoking phenomenon in the
broad social context of developments such as the health cult, the
obsession with youth, the environmental and consumer-protection
movements, and risk paranoia, he provides a cameo empirical lesson
in the micro- and macrosociology of knowledge.
The second milestone in Berger’s academic career came in 1981,
when he took up an appointment as professor at Boston University.
Howard Kee, a colleague at Boston College, where Berger had taught
for two years after relocating to Boston in 1979,
and John Silber, the
then president of Boston University, were major driving forces behind
this appointment. Moreover, these two men were instrumental in
helping Berger to realize his vision of intellectual entrepreneurship
by founding the Institute for the Study of Economic Culture (ISEC) in
1985. Silber authorized Berger to start the research center in order to
convince him to stay on at the university; he had heard from Howard
Kee that Berger was negotiating with Southern Methodist University
in Texas.
Berger’s book
The Capitalist Revolution: Fifty Propositions about
Prosperity, Equality, and Liberty
(1986a) appeared in 1986. In a
sense, it can be read as the agenda of the new institute. Its neo-
earch question about the relationship between culture
development involved political consequences insofar
as Berger considered democratization tendencies to be a likely con-
sequence of increased prosperity, and argued that economic progress
precedes political progress. Or, as he succinctly puts it, “Capitalism
is a necessary but not sufficient condition of democracy” (ibid., 81).
The institute’s initial research projects focused mainly on the impli-
cations and consequences of dominant religious movements in specific
regions of the world, for example Pentecostalism in Latin America and
Introduction and Biographical Overview
Africa, and (Neo)-Confucianism in Asia. In 2001, the Pew Charitable
Trusts designated the University of Boston as one of “ten centers of
excellence for the interdisciplinary study of religion,” and awarded it a
$2.5-million grant to set up the Institute on Religion and World Affairs
(IRWA). Berger’s institute ISEC underwent its first name change and
extended the scope of its research to the interaction between culture and
development. The second name change occurred in 2003, when IRWA
was renamed CURA, the Institute on Culture, Religion and World Affairs.
The thematic orientation—the question of the “elective affinity” between
sociocultural change and economic development in various regions of
the world—remained the same. Thanks to his ability to generate sponsor
interest in this research question—Pew Charitable Trusts is a particularly
affluent example—Berger has procured a large number of projects for
the institute during its twenty-five-year history. On July 1, 2009, at the
age of eighty, he handed over the directorship of CURA to his colleague
Robert Hefner, whom he now assists in an advisory capacity.
Berger’s enormous, and rarely diminishing, productivity over the
last fifty years is by no means due only to this indisputable talent as a
writer—although, thanks to this talent, intellectual activity probably
comes easier to him than to most people. Rather, his productivity
can be explained by the dual motivation to describe phenomena in
a value-free way and to gain a deep understanding of their ethical
implications. Hence, the present book could bear the subtitle “The
Sociologist as a Moralist” that René König (1976) used in his essay on
Emile Durkheim as a classical sociological thinker, which I mentioned
at the beginning of this chapter. Indeed, Berger makes no bones about
his moral stance. In
e New Sociology of Knowledge
It is only logical, therefore, that the book should be dedicated to the memory
of his f
not the subject of his research, Berger recalls the black humor of
undertakers, which he encountered when he dealt briefly with occupational
sociology issues at an early stage in his career (cf. Berger & Lieban 1960,
Berger 1954a, and Pfadenhauer 2003).
while writing the present book, I received cautious but persistent
enquiries from Berger about the “the current state of play.”
I w
ould like to thank Hans-Georg Soeffner for drawing my attention to this
key to understanding Berger.
The t
erm un-European is employed here not in a pejorative sense, but
rather in allusion to the differences between religious America and the
“Eurosecularity” that Peter L. Berger, Grace Davie, and Effie Fokas (2008b)
have identified. While belonging without believing tends to be more com-
mon in Europe, un-European refers to the habit of choosing and switching
between service offerings within easy reach, which is not really a typical
practice in Europe. In Germany at least, church membership generally
implies being a member of a local church community and attending that
church’s services—if one attends church at all.
’s aversion to physical exercise dates back to his early youth—the
first friends he made in Palestine were three classmates “who conspired
with him against sports” (2008a: 152; our translation).
The s
ergeant who took down his particulars when he was inducted did not
quite know what a “sociologist” was. So he registered Berger as a “social
ger borrowed the term “sociological imagination” from C. Wright Mills
(1959), whose paradigmatic work of the same name he frequently quotes
(e.g., 1994).
’s explanation may be an ex-post construction because, overall, he
appears to have been less strategically minded career-wise than he pretends
to be here.
was title of the book edited by Peter L. Berger and Richard Neuhaus
(1976a) in which the Hartford Appeal was published. The book was sub-
The Hartford Appeal and the Future of American Religion.
, it is difficult for the individual actor to make out his location in
this dialectic flow. According to Berger (loc. cit.), this observation can be
viewed as a sociology-of-knowledge comment on the Christian mission
formulated in Ecclesiastes 11: 1: “Cast thy bread upon the waters; for thou
shalt find it after many days.”
’s decision to relocate to Boston was prompted by the fact that his
wife Brigitte had been offered a post as sociology chairman at Wellesley
College (2011: 155). It took quite a while before he felt at home there.
New York was for him the epitome of a city, and indeed of urbanity per se;
it was a place where anything could happen—at any time. When reading
“New York City 1976: A Signal of Transcendence” (1977b), one gets an idea
of just how hard he must have found it to leave New York.
Beginnings of the New
Sociology of Knowledge:
Influences, Teachers,
and Collaborators
The clarity and frequency with which Peter L. Berger refers in his
works to the intellectual currents that nurtured his sociology testifies
to the influence of the sociology of knowledge on his self-concept.
These references reveal—to others and to himself—that he is a child
of a particular time, and that he acknowledges the z
that shaped
his thinking. The intellectual traditions that influenced Berger most
are associated mainly with the names Max Weber, Emile Durkheim,
Karl Marx, Arnold Gehlen, George Herbert Mead, Alfred Schutz, and
William James.
The “theory for the sociology of knowledge” formulated in
ial Construction of Reality. A Treatise in the Sociology of
(Berger & Luckmann 1966a: 185) is a systematic integration of key
elements of interpretive sociology, structural functionalism, early
Marx’s philosophy of history, symbolic interactionism, philosophical
anthropology, and phenomenology. While Berger’s main influence was
Max Weber, his coauthor Thomas Luckmann’s thinking was shaped
more by Alfred Schutz’s mundane phenomenology, even before he
systematized the Schutzian approach in
The Structures of the Life-
(Schutz & Luckmann 1973).
The following statement illustrates just how fundamental Berger
considers Weber’s influence to be, not only on his sociological
but also on his methodology, which he outlined in particular in
e New Sociology of Knowledge
who mistrusts -isms as a matter of principle, it is almost tantamount
to a confession:
At my age I am no longer a champion of orthodoxies, except for
Weberianism, of which I have been a devoted follower since my
student days. That means that, in absolute fidelity to Max Weber, I
believe in “value-free” social science. (2008a: 198; our translation)
This quotation reveals not only the dominant influence of Max Weber’s
understanding of science, but also the kind of legitimation pressure
that Berger is under. This pressure stems from the fact that he is a
l scientist who regards himself as a sociologist
an ethicist—to
wit, a social ethicist in the literal sense of the word—and he has never
forbidden himself to pronounce value judgments on social phenomena.
Berger’s affinity with Max Weber was fostered by his Doktorvater
Carl Mayer, who was his most important teacher at the Graduate
Faculty of the New School in New York. In the preface to
to Sociology
(1963: viii), Berger pays tribute to him:
In all my thinking on my chosen field I owe an immense debt of
gratitude to my teacher Carl Mayer. If he should read this book,
I suspect that there will be passages that will make him raise an
eyebrow. I still hope that he would not regard the conception of
sociology here presented as too much of a travesty on the one he
has been conveying to his students.
His extensive reading of Weber’s works had not only a methodologi-
cal (cf. Chapter 5 below) but also a programmatic impact on Berger’s
work. Hence, he does not dispute the fact that CURA’s agenda can be
described as neo-Weberian (cf. Chapter 4 below). Moreover, when
developing their theory for the sociology of knowledge, Berger and
Luckmann took as one of their starting points Max Weber’s postulate
that “both for sociology in the present sense, and for history, the object
of cognition is the subjective meaning-complex of action” (Weber
)However, in their reformulation of the sociology of knowledge
(Berger & Luckmann 1966a), the authors did not limit themselves
to Max Weber’s position. Rather, they integrated Weber’s “marching
ers for sociology” with those given by Emile Durkheim, although the
two approaches had hitherto been considered to be largely incompat-
ible. In
Beginnings of the New Sociology of Knowledge
as things.” The combination of these two perspectives yielded Berger
and Luckmann’s famous question for sociological theory:
How is it possible that subjective meanings
objective fac-
ticities? Or, in terms appropriate to the afore-mentioned theoretical
positions: How is it possible that human activity (
) should
produce a world of things (
)? In other words, an adequate
erstanding of the “reality
sui generis
” of society requires an
into the manner in which this reality is constructed. This inquiry,
we maintain, is the task of the sociology of knowledge. (1966a: 18)
The notion that Weber and Durkheim’s positions were compatible
may also have been influenced by the authors’ reception of Werner
Stark’s book
The Sociology of Knowledge: An Essay in Aid of a Deeper
Understanding of the History of Ideas
(1998 [1958]). Although Stark
regards “the theory of functional integration as the substantial truth
in matters of social determination,” he supplements it with recourse
to Max Scheler and Max Weber:
. . . for both taught that ideas came into existence under the aegis
of guiding values, and values, in their very nature, are never “pure
ideas” of the Platonic variety, residing in a metaphysical empyrean
without reference to human affairs, but [are] always calls to a defini-
tive mode of action as well as sources of a definite mode of thought,
continually giving birth at the same time to subjective beliefs and
attitudes and to objective features of life. (ibid., 272)
Berger and Luckmann were introduced to Durkheim’s sociology at
the Graduate Faculty of the New School, especially by Albert
who convinced them of the validity of a number of Durkheim’s
key theses—first and foremost the insight that social facts must be
d as things, and that a society’s ability to function depends
on a common set of values. In
Modernity, Pluralism, and the Crisis
of Meaning
(1995a: 54), a publication they coauthored many years
later, Berger and Luckmann refer explicitly to Durkheim’s concept of
conscience collective
, which René Knig (1976: 323) describes as the
“essential precondition of all social life” and as an “entity that makes
rules of behavior” (our translation). However, this does not imply
the authors’ espousal of the strongly criticized theory of collective
consciousness, but rather of what Durkheim called
This term refers to the collective ideas—that is, the com-
mon beliefs, norms, and values—of a community. Nonetheless, Berger
e New Sociology of Knowledge
and Luckmann remained committed to methodological individualism,
arguing that the sociology of knowledge must concern itself with the
socially transmitted meaning that Alfred Schutz calls “knowledge”—
that is, the social stock of knowledge comprising general and special
knowledge. Although this social stock of knowledge is greater than
the sum of the subjective stocks of knowledge, it does not constitute a
collective consciousness. Even though knowledge is for the most part
socially transmitted, “its emergence as meaning is, however, due also
to the original processes of constitution of the individual conscious-
ness” (Knoblauch 2005: 121; our translation).
As in Durkheim’s case, Berger and Luckmann are confronted with
the question of how order or stability can be ensured in a modern
society that is no longer characterized by common moral foundations.
They recognize a solution to this social problem in entities that mediate
between society (or general rules) and individuals (or individualized
reality). Durkheim calls these entities “intermediary groups”; Berger
and Luckmann (1995a: 53) use the term “intermediary institutions.”
And, finally, like Durkheim, Berger was also searching for inner-
worldly transcendence. While Durkheim was motivated by a desire
to overcome the secular crisis that ensued after the French Revolu-
tion (cf. König 1976: 335), Berger—at a time when even theology was
suffused with secularizing notions—was searching in normal human
experiences for phenomena that appeared to point to another reality
and that could therefore be interpreted as “signals of transcendence”
(Berger 1969a: 53).
However, the influence of Alfred Schutz and—mainly via Schutz—
William James on Berger’s thinking with regard to transcendence is also
apparent. According to Schutz (Schutz & Natanson 1982: 207ff.) and
James (2007 [1890]: 291), man is confronted not by one reality, but by
many realities or “sub-universes.” While the existence of a supernatural
reality beyond the reality of everyday life constitutes Berger’s main
theological theme, the focus of his confrontation with modernity and
individuation is on how people cope with what Alfred Schutz (1oc.
cit.) termed the “multiple realities” in this world. His
depth analysis
of Robert Musil’s novel
The Man Without Qualities
(cf. Berger 1970b,
1998e) helped him to gain an understanding of Schutz’s concept (see
Chapter 2 below).
It was also Alfred Schutz who introduced Berger to phenomenol-
ogy as a pre- or protosociologically necessary enterprise that serves
to “clarify the foundations of knowledge in everyday life, to wit, the
Beginnings of the New Sociology of Knowledge
objectivations of subjective processes (and meanings) by which
subjective commonsense world is constructed” (Berger &
mann 1966a: 20). From the outset, Berger’s interest in phenom-
enology was limited to those philosophical aspects that he deemed
ful for sociological theory.
Luckmann, on the other hand,
himself much more deeply in the philosophical program of phenom-
enology. Berger recalls that, “Unlike others with whom I worked in
the early stages of my career (notably Thomas Luckmann and Maurice
Natanson), I never entered in great depth into the Husserlian universe
of discourse; Alfred Schutz was my major connection with the latter,
and . . . this always left me in the antechamber rather than the inner
sanctuary of the phenomenological edifice” (1986d: 223).
Both Max Weber and Alfred Schutz exerted an important influence
not only on Berger’s sociological theory building but also on his meth-
odological understanding. Indeed, Berger probably owes his awareness
of the need for conceptual clarity to Weber and Schutz. Moreover, he
recalls that Schutz’s requirement that PhD exam candidates summarize
the key findings of their dissertation in three sentences at the begin-
ning of their doctoral examination was instrumental in encouraging
him to express his thoughts with clarity and brevity.
In connection with their reception of symbolic interactionism,
ger and Luckmann (1966a: 193–94, Note 25) explicitly refer to
edrich Tenbruck, whom they credit in particular with “drawing
heavily and successfully upon Mead and the Meadian tradition in the
construction of sociological theory.” The ideal types of the social dis-
tribution of knowledge described in
The Social Construction of
are derived from Tenbruck (cf. Knoblauch 2005: 162–63). Berger’s
laboration with Tenbruck originally came about via Luckmann. He
kept it up while he was working on the research project at the Protes-
tant Academy in Bad Boll. However, it fizzled out eventually because
the working relationship became somewhat difficult for all concerned.
It should be clear by now that Thomas Luckmann has been Peter
L. Berger’s most important collaborator. As mentioned earlier, they first
met at a philosophy seminar given by Karl Löwith at the New School.
Berger recalls that the seminar was quite boring and that he noticed
Luckmann, who was trying to keep awake by doodling. This encounter
marked the beginning of a deep friendship and a
tive scientific
collaboration that yielded—to mention just one, albeit very successful,
The Social Construction of Reality
(Berger & Luckmann 1966a).
Writing about this collaboration, Luckmann (2001: 17–18) recalls the
e New Sociology of Knowledge
“breathtaking speed with which Berger hammered away at the type-
writer, when, in the grip of inspiration, he put to paper a formulation
to be used in one of our joint texts.” Most importantly, however, this
collaboration was marked by great synchrony and harmony. Both men
share not only a common mother tongue, experience of emigration,
enthusiasm for the Habsburg—
monarchy, and an affinity with
certain philosophical and scientific traditions but also a fundamen-
tal consensus. In his laudatory speech on the occasion of the award
of the Paul Watzlawick Ring of Honor to Berger in Vienna in 2008,
Luckmann stated succinctly, “In other words whatever, or whoever,
he found stupid, I found stupid, and vice versa. It must have been a
pre-scientific elective affinity that stemmed from our different, but at
the same time common, Kakanian roots.”
While it was Berger, a confessed Protestant with a long-standing
interest in philosophical questions, who got Luckmann, a confessed
Catholic, interested in the sociology of religion (Berger & Luckmann
1963d, 1966c), it was Luckmann who fostered Berger’s receptiveness
to phenomenology and the problems of identity (Berger & Luckmann
1964b, 1966b). The two men later went separate ways in the sociology
of religion insofar as their names now stand for two distinctly different
concepts of religion (cf. Chapter 3 below). That this dissent did not
undermine their consensus on other matters is illustrated, for example,
by the fact that almost thirty years after
Social Construction of
(1966a) they coauthored quite an abstract study on
Pluralism, and the Crisis of Meaning
(1995a), which was commissioned
by the Bertelsmann Foundation. As in the case of
The Limits of Social
(1997b), it was submitted as a report to the Club of Rome.
Limits of Social Cohesion
was a study of eleven countries
with normative or political conflicts. The project was directed by
Berger; both Luckmann and Hansfried Kellner were involved in an
advisory capacity. Kellner was also a member of what Berger (2011:
80–81) jestingly calls the “clique” that came up with the idea for
Sociological Construction of Reality
(1966a). In the end, that project
was realized by Berger and Luckmann only, as the other members of
the group—Kellner, Maurice Natanson, and Stanley Pullberg—were
occupied with other projects.
Berger collaborated with Kellner on an
article entitled “Marriage and the Construction of Reality. An Exer-
cise in the Microsociology of Knowledge” (1964). In retrospect, this
is quite amusing because Berger was married to Kellner’s sister.
collaboration with Kellner, which was strengthened—or, at least, not
Beginnings of the New Sociology of Knowledge
weakened—by their family ties, also yielded
family sp
the summer months between 1969 and 1972 at the invitation of Ivan
Illich. As mentioned earlier, Illich ran a think tank called the Centro
ercultural de Documentación (“Intercultural
ter”) in Cuernavaca. Influenced by their
cussions with
ich about Latin America’s development problems, the Bergers
sfried Kellner started working on
The Homeless Mind:
nization and Consciousness
(1973a) while in Mexico. Despite
the fact that the two men held increasingly opposing views, Illich
strongly impressed Berger, who admired the fact that he had formed
his opinions independently of any ideological camp.
In 1972, Peter and Brigitte Berger published a textbook entitled
Sociology: A Biographical Approach,
in which basic sociological
nomena were presented in the order in which they would be
ered in the course of an individual biography. Some ten years
later, the Bergers coauthored
War over the Family: Capturing the
Middle Ground
(1983a). The book provoked fierce controversy—not
only in the doctrinaire feminist milieu in which Brigitte Berger had
unwittingly, and unwillingly, landed when she took up the post of
iology chairman at Wellesley College in 1979, but also in conserva-
tive circles (cf. Berger 2011: 155).
Berger’s close friendship with Richard Neuhaus, a Lutheran minister
who later converted to Catholicism, was of great importance when it
came to analyzing theological and religious issues. What the two men
had in common was their critical attitude toward the Protestant church
that prompted them to initiate the Hartford Appeal for Theological
Affirmation (cf. 1976a). What divided them was the fact that, when
Neuhaus converted to Catholicism, he could not understand why
Berger did not display the same religious rigor and follow suit.
When he founded the Institute for the Study of Economic Culture
(ISEC) at Boston University in 1985, Berger extended the scope of
his collaborations internationally and interdisciplinarily. His modus
operandi as director of ISEC (and its reincarnations IRWA and CURA)
e New Sociology of Knowledge
was to have the field research for the institute’s projects conducted and
coordinated by recognized experts on the research topic in question
(see Chapter 4 below). This gave rise to a network in which several
members were integrated on a permanent basis. These members
included, for example, David Martin, an expert on Pentecostalism in
Latin America; Ann Bernstein, an expert on the situation in South
Africa; Bob Weller, who specialized in developments in Southeast
Asia; Grace Davie, an expert on European secularization; and the Islam
expert Robert Hefner, who later succeeded Berger as director of the
Institute on Culture, Religion and World Affairs (CURA). Moreover,
Berger cooperated on a one-off basis with other scholars, for example
Samuel Huntington, with whom he codirected the project that yielded
Many Globalizations
(Berger & Huntington 2002a).
The list of Berger’s main academic collaborators would not be com-
plete without Anton Zijderveld, a scholar who came from
gy to
sociology, and who holds doctoral degrees in both
iology and phi-
losophy. As mentioned earlier, Berger has a dislike of all
including intellectual “schools.” And, by his own account, he did not
gear his academic career toward the formation of such a school.
Hence, he would not himself describe Zijderveld as his pupil. However,
Zijderveld explicitly dedicated his book
The Abstract Society
(1970: ix)
to “two of his teachers . . . Hans C. Hoekendijk and Peter L. Berger.” In
the preface to the book, Zijderveld notes, “I had been initiated in the
basic principles of empirical sociology before I met him [Berger, MP],
but it was only after I worked with him as a teaching assistant that
the demon of sociological inquisitiveness took hold of me” (ibid., x).
In the 1970s, Berger and Zijderveld’s common focus was the analysis
of modern society and modern consciousness. Nowadays, however,
their collaboration is grounded in their interest in philosophical
which yielded
In Praise of Doubt,
a book they authored
jointly in 2009. Berger asked Zijderveld to be his coauthor “because
he wanted to work on this topic with someone who had greater philo-
sophical expertise” (2009: vii).
Berger’s bibliography impressively documents the fact that, for him,
scholarly work means collaboration—also when it comes to publish-
ing. However, it would appear that the numerous collaborations he
has entered into in the course of his working life have been motivated
by several different factors. In many cases, they represent a meaning-
ful division of labor—as a remedy for the hubris of sole authority and
Beginnings of the New Sociology of Knowledge
general expertise, as it were. However, they have sometimes served to
produce what Berger (1983b: 243), with reference to Musil’s
without Qualities
(1995 [1930ff.]), calls a “plausibility structure”—in
other words, “social relationships that serve to stabilize and support
his reality” (our translation).
Theological influences on Berger’s sociology of knowledge will not be dealt
h here because they are neither readily recognizable nor does Berger
himself deem them to be of relevance.
Stark “earths” values to a certain extent here, his sociology of
knowledge is nonetheless based on a positivistic notion of knowledge, which
is problematic from the perspective of Berger and Luckmann’s sociology
of knowledge (cf. Knoblauch 2005: 113).
A remar
k in the preface to
Redeeming Laughter
(1997a) is illustrative of
Berger’s understanding of phenomenology: “The book begins naively (or,
which is more or less the same thing, phenomenologically) by just
looking at
the experience of the comic as it appears in ordinary life, without recourse
to any academic disciplines.”
rice Natanson, whom Berger describes as a brilliant phenomenologist,
went on to become a professor of philosophy at Yale University. Berger
coauthored the essay “Reification and the Sociological Critique of Con-
sciousness” (1965e) with Stanley Pullberg.
fact gives added meaning to Jean-Claude Kaufmann’s deliberations
on the content of this microsociology of knowledge: “Couples frequently
talk a lot—and about lots of things. Most of these conversations appear at
first glance to be trivial chatter. However, Peter L. Berger and Hansfried
Kellner . . . demonstrate that this is by no means the case, and that [these
conversations] play an important role. They are the instrument that enables
[the couple] to construct a common perspective and a common reality day
after day and to feel reinforced in their various perceptions because they
listen to each other and speak with the same voice. Conversation is the
prerequisite to their life together” (Kaufmann 1994: 226; our translation).
Reflections on the
Twenty-Fifth Anniversary
The Social Construction
of Reality
arch, our common
alma mater
to which we had returned after
some years of teaching elsewhere. We found ourselves in the lucky
situation of being in the company of a small but lively group of young
colleagues and graduate students who broadly shared a theoretical
orientation, the one that all of us had learned from our teacher Alfred
Schutz. One of Schutz’s unrealized projects had been to formulate a
new theoretical foundation for the sociology of knowledge in terms
of his blend of phenomenology and Weberian theory. We intended to
realize this project. It was only in the course of working on the book
that we discovered, to our own surprise, that the project
a more ambitious scope. A broad theoretical paradigm for doing
e New Sociology of Knowledge
sociology seemed to take shape under our hands. This excited and
pleased us, but, although we were young enough for any amount of
we did not expect that many other people would share our
excitement. We were conscious of our marginality in relation to the
American sociological enterprise and we did not anticipate the changes
that were about to occur in the field (changes, as it turned out, which
did not make us any less marginal). When the book was finished, how-
ever, we were very happy with the result. Nothing that has happened
since then has made us change our minds. Both of us, as we recently
decided once again, would change very little in the book if we were to
rewrite it today, and both of us have found its theoretical paradigm
eminently useful as we turned our attention to a number of different
areas of empirical inquiry.
One question asked by the editor in his letter of invitation was,
“Did you mean to found a school of social theory, in which case why
did you decline to lead it?” I have already answered the first part of
the question; as to the second part, one can only decline an offer that
has been made. No one offered. Even if one allows that the paradigm
proposed by us might have formed the basis of a “school,” the failure
of such a development is not difficult to explain. There is, of course,
the obvious fact that we were situated in an emphatically peripheral,
non-elite institution. But even if we had been on the faculty of, say,
Harvard or Columbia (a fate I would not necessarily wish on either
one of us), I’m not at all sure that the history of these ideas would
have been very different. The book was published and attracted
widespread attention during what, as is now clear, was a very narrow
window of opportunity for a reconstruction of sociology. In 1966,
when the book came out, there was broad dissatisfaction with what
had been the long hegemony of structural-functionalism in theory
and a narrow positivism in the day-to-day practice of most sociolo-
gists. Especially younger people in the discipline were looking for
something new, something that would transcend the aridity of both
Parsonian scholasticism and the endless refinements of quantitative
techniques. Something new was indeed about to engulf sociology,
but it was not the marriage of Weber and Schutz celebrated in
Social Construction of Reality.
It was, of course, the orgy of ideology
and utopianism that erupted all over the academic scene in the late
1960s, almost immediately after the publication of our book. Neither
Luckmann nor I had any sympathy with this
but even if we
had been more sympathetic, our sort of sociology was not what all
Beginnings of the New Sociology of Knowledge
these putative revolutionaries were clamoring for. It is not possible
to play chamber music at a rock festival.
The collaboration between Luckmann (who remains one of my clos-
est friends) and me ended for the very simple reason that he accepted
a position in Europe; it is possible to collaborate on empirical studies
across oceans, but joint work in theory requires (to mix a Weberian
and Schutzian phrase) the
of the face-to-face situation.
Luckmann must speak for himself on how be sees his relationship
to the organized discipline, but I have long reconciled myself to my
marginality with respect to the American sociological establishment
e New Sociology of Knowledge
within institutional structures to movements within the consciousness
of individuals. I, for one, have not found a better guide to doing this
than the one Luckmann and I first cooked up during many interminable
conversations all these many years ago.
I have been extraordinarily busy pursuing my own intellectual
agenda and I have not paid much attention to the currents of thought
that, in recent years, have taken or been given the label “constructiv-
ist.” What I have come across under this designation has not exactly
evoked sentiments of kinship rediscovered. Again, I may have missed
something, but the “constructivist” literature that I have seen seems to
come from the aforementioned ideological cauldron with which I have
no affinity whatever. The notion of the social construction of reality is
here reinterpreted in neo-Marxist, or “critical,” or “post-structuralist”
terms, and it is radically altered in this translation. It is one thing to say
that all social reality is interpreted reality (which is what Luckmann and
I said in all our various propositions); it is an altogether different thing
either to say that there are privileged interpreters or, on the contrary,
to say that all interpretations are equally valid. Hansfried Kellner and
I tried to formulate our understanding of the act of interpretation in
our little book
Beginnings of the New Sociology of Knowledge
out of minds struggling with the “big questions” of the modern age.
Sociology entered a period of decline when it bifurcated into two
groups, those who saw the discipline as an instrument of agitation
and propaganda, and those who saw it as a technical tool kit (some
individuals, a wonder to behold, managed to belong to
In other works, some sociologists only looked at questions to which
they already believed to have the answers and others only looked at
those questions that could be answered by means of very narrowly
conceived methods. In consequence, sociology today subsists under
the twin distortions of ideology on the one hand and triviality on the
other. Not surprisingly, the status of the discipline has gone into a
steep decline. I would think that this decline will continue, possibly
to the point of extinction, unless these two distortions are overcome.
If I have a message, then, it would be to return to the “big questions,”
of which, God knows, there is no scarcity in the world today. I must
leave it to others to pass judgment on the “classic” (or “
quality of
The Social Construction of Reality.
But to those who want to
deal with the monumental realities of our moment in history without
ideological blinders, messianic pretensions or methodological rigidity,
I would suggest that a theoretical blending of Max Weber and Alfred
Schutz will still serve them quite well.
This article appeared in “Perspectives,” the Theory Section newsletter of
the Amer
ican Sociological Association, Vol. 15, No. 2, April 1992.
Modernity and Pluralism
One of the first fruits of Peter L. Berger’s analytical confrontation with
modernity was
The Homeless Mind
(Berger, Berger, & Kellner 1973a),
a book he coauthored with his wife Brigitte and his brother-in-law,
Hansfried Kellner. The book—and Berger’s interest in
have a biographical history: “The ideas in it began to germinate
during 1969, when one of the authors [Peter L. Berger, MP] (for
political rather than scholarly reasons) became seriously interested
in the problems of ‘development’ in Latin America” (ibid., 8).
reason for this interest was Berger’s encounter with Ivan Illich, who,
as mentioned earlier, had started a think tank in Mexico in the early
1960s, most of whose members were Marxists. One of the main
concerns of these Marxist scholars was the critical confrontation
with modernization theories produced by North American social
scientists. They rejected these theories as developmentalism (
), in the pejorative sense of the word, and decried them as
development ideology.
The main intention of
The Homeless Mind
(1973a) was to confront
what the authors deemed to be an oversimplified Marxist analysis of
the development problems in Latin America (and Africa) with a more
complex interpretation. From the Marxist perspective, capitalism
is the root of all evil; it explains not only the peculiarity of modern
institutions but also the peculiarity of modern consciousness, which
Marxist theory debunks as “false consciousness.” The authors’ desire to
engage with Marxist notions about development explains the general
thrust of the book.
The Homeless Mind
contrasts institutional processes
and consciousness structures in advanced industrial societies (the
First World) with those of less modernized societies in Asia,
and Latin America (the Third World). However, as Justin Stagl (2001)
points out, the Second World is not dealt with at all, nor is the
e New Sociology of Knowledge
complex of capitalism/socialism as a whole. Berger (2001a: 168)
des that this criticism is justified:
Almost without exception all our scientific interlocutors were
Marxists. We wanted to make it clear to them that, even without
capitalism and within the socialist systems they desired, technol-
ogy and bureaucracy must inevitably lead to modern conscious-
ness structures—including the “alienation” (in our terminology
“homelessness”) they so deplored. That made sense at the time but
it distorted our analysis.
He later remedied this distortion, first in
Pyramids of Sacrifice
and, even more so, in
The Capitalist Revolution
(1986a) (see Chapter 3
The contribution that
The Homeless Mind
(1973a) makes to the
sociology of knowledge is grounded in the authors’ insight that their
line of argument called for a much more comprehensive and in-depth
analysis of modern consciousness per se, and that this analysis required
a solid sociology-of-knowledge foundation. They arrived at this insight
only in the course of their analysis of the processes of consciousness that
accompanied and, in turn, impacted the modernization of what was
known at the time as the Third World.
In their analysis of the malaise
resulting from the homelessness—or, as it was then called, alienation—
that is considered to be symptomatic of the way in which modern man
experiences the world, the authors concretize the dialectical relationship
between objective givenness and subjective meaning that had been
abstractly formulated in
Social Construction of Reality
(Berger &
Luckmann 1966a). This relationship manifests itself empirically in the
world of institutions, which confronts the modern
as external
reality, and in the consciousness structures intrinsic in that social reality.
The Homeless Mind
(1973a: 20–21), the authors develop a com-
prehensive conceptual apparatus for their sociology-of-knowledge
analysis of modernity. Key components are:
the distinction between the organization of knowledge and
style—that is, between the what and the how of conscious
these structures of consciousness are located in a general frame of
reference (horizon) and are embedded in a symbolic universe;
distinction between institutions, or institutional processes, as
primary or secondary carriers of modernization; these carriers are the
social basis for specific structures of consciousness that the authors
call plausibility structures;
Modernity and Pluralism
the distinction between intrinsically necessary
of modernity
that cannot be taken apart if the modernization process is to continue,
and extrinsic packages that have come about by historical accident
and can be more readily taken apart and reassembled without halting
that process. The
concept, which is derived from Ivan Illich,
is understood as “an empirically given combination of institutional
process and clusters of consciousness” (ibid., 21).
The Homeless Mind
(1973a), Berger and his coauthors also
remain f
aithful to the second basic principle articulated in
Construction of Reality
(Berger & Luckmann 1966a: 15), namely
that the sociology of knowledge must concern itself primarily with
commonsense knowledge rather than with theoretical thought and
ideas, and with ordinary people rather than intellectuals: “A sociol-
ogy of knowledge that understands itself in terms of the analysis of
everyday consciousness would be ill-advised to concentrate on this
small number of intellectuals” (1973a: 29). Therefore, in the first step
of their analysis, the authors concentrate on the consciousness of “an
ordinary worker in contemporary industry” rather than on engineers
and scientists (1973a: 30). In the second step, instead of focusing on
the consciousness of bureaucrats, they concern themselves with the
“typical client of an agency of political bureaucracy” (ibid., 45).
Inherent in the assumption of a dialectic between external and
internal conditions is the problem of infinite regress. In other words,
the analysis must arbitrarily begin at one point and therefore can
never represent reality in its totality. Because the authors are spe-
erested in the way modern consciousness evolves, their
analysis takes as its starting point the institutional prerequisites of
modernization, namely technology and bureaucracy. However, they
fail to analyze the antecedent processes on the level of individual
consciousness and the way in which modern consciousness impacts,
or acts back upon, these institutions. They are aware that this is
problematic, which is why they stress that their approach should
not be misconstrued as mono-causal or deterministic. Indeed, they
acknowledge the likelihood that:
. . . the great transformation could not have taken place without
cedent processes that were neither technological nor economic
(as, for example, religious and ethical interpretations of the world).
Nor do we assume such one-sided causation in the contemporary
situation. While we believe that the underlying “engine” of mod-
ernization is technological/economic, we are fully aware of the
e New Sociology of Knowledge
multiplicity of forces
acting back
upon this “engine,” and, let it be
added, we do not claim to be able to provide a comprehensive theory
ordering all these forces in some neat parallelogram. (1973a: 16)
2.1 Modernization
“Modernization implies the radical transformation of all external
conditions of human existence” (Berger & Luckmann 1995a: 44). The
material extent of this transformation is particularly evident when one
calls to mind the living conditions in premodern times. The French
historian and novelist Zoé Oldenbourg did so in her novel
cially Brazil and Mexico, was the fact that living conditions such
as this persisted almost unchanged—at least as far as infant mortal-
ity was concerned. Herein lay his basic dissent with Ivan Illich, a
man whom he held in great esteem. In contrast to Illich, who was an
ardent critic of modernization, Berger was convinced that all those
developments that provoke a feeling of psychological homelessness
are nothing compared to the existentially threatening living condi-
tions in premodern times, under which, as Zoé Oldenbourg’s novel
shows, even the upper classes suffered. Berger’s moral verdict is that
modernization cannot be cancelled or reversed, as Illich, Gandhi, and
even Tolstoy had romantically postulated.
Pyramids of Sacrifice
(1974a), in particular, Berger explores how
political ethics can be applied to social change without succumb-
ing either to capitalist ideology, which is founded upon “the myth
of growth,” or to socialist ideology, which is based on “the myth of
revolution.” Berger places his hopes in institutional arrangements that
neither ignore nor annihilate opposition against modernization, but
Modernity and Pluralism
rather take it duly into account. By “bringing together scientific analysis
and ethical concern” (1974a: 7), Berger deliberately steps outside the
boundaries of value-free scientific analysis within which
The Homeless
(1973a) is located.
In the latter book, Berger, Berger, and Kellner analyze the
sciousness-shaping force of the fundamental engines of mod-
ernization, namely scientifically based technological production
and—secondary thereto—the bureaucratic state. They identify as the
principal cause of modernization the “transformation of the world by
technology” (ibid., 15).
The authors do not claim that this insight is
original. Rather, they acknowledge that Thorstein Veblen recognized
earlier and more astutely than other sociologists that technology was
the engine and engineers the central protagonists of the process of
modernization. However, they consider that Veblen over-glorified
engineers as heroes of modernity.
Berger et al. focus on the “institutional concomitants of techno-
logically induced economic growth” (ibid., 15). Following Weberian
usage, they differentiate between primary and secondary carriers of
modernization. The former comprise the institutions of technological
production and bureaucracy; the latter include institutional processes
such as urbanization, mass media, and mass education. The authors
understand modernization as “the growth and diffusion of a set of
institutions rooted in the transformation of the economy by means
of technology” (loc. cit.).
Berger et al. assume the existence of “reciprocal relations of
sality”—in the Weberian sense of elective affinity—between these
institutional processes and processes on the level of consciousness (loc.
cit.). Accordingly, certain transformations of consciousness go hand
in hand with institutional processes that emerge at certain historical
points. Once established, these processes act back upon individual
consciousness. In his seminal work
The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit
of Modern Capitalism
(2003[1904/05]), Max Weber identifies the
constellation of values and attitudes that he deems to be the
sine qua non
of modern capitalism. For their part, Berger et al. (1973a:
102–105) identify the themes that the primary carriers—technological
production and bureaucracy—contributed to modern consciousness.
Together, these themes make up the symbolic universe of modernity.
According to the authors, the following themes are intrinsically linked
to the institutions of technological production: functional rationality,
e New Sociology of Knowledge
componentiality, multi-relationality, “makeability,” plurality, and pro-
gressivity. By contrast, the themes that are intrinsically derived from
bureaucracy are: society as a subject of inquiry in itself
the phenom-
enon of bureaucracy and its taxonomic actions “as a way of mitigating
the threats of plurality”; the allocation of particular jurisdictional space
to the private sphere; and the notion that human rights are related to
bureaucratically identifiable rights. This list of bureaucracy-related
themes can be supplemented by further factors that were historically
operative during the modernization process in Europe and North
America, but which must not inevitably occur.
The cognitive style pertaining to technological production pen-
etrates the consciousness of modern man mainly via the world of
work, and thereby enters the private sphere. A characteristic ele-
ment of this cognitive style is the aforementioned
of modern consciousness (ibid., 32, 102). Reality is not apprehended
as forming a single entity but rather in terms of many small, discrete
components that can be assembled in different ways. No longer
restricted to the world of work, this perception of reality increasingly
shapes social life and identity—although it finds itself in competition
with the intra-subjective experience of wholeness and uniqueness.
Berger et al. (ibid., 38, 211) consider the ability to experience the self
to be a precondition of what Erving Goffman calls “role distance”—in
other words, the establishment of subjective distance vis-à-vis certain
components of one’s identity.
Institutional processes such as urbanization, literacy programs,
and the spread of mass communication are major agencies for the
transmission of modern consciousness—that is, for the diffusion of
the componential cognitive style beyond the world of work and the
minds of those workers directly engaged in technological production.
This can be illustrated by an attitude that the authors refer to as “make-
ability,” which they define as an approach to reality that is grounded in
a specific type of fantasy, namely
problem-solving inventiveness
and a
general tinkering attitude
(ibid., 34). Originally a characteristic specific
to an engineering or technological mentality, this attitude spreads to
other sectors of life, to social experience, and to identity in general,
which are then regarded as permanent problem-solving enterprises.
Opposition against this notion of makeability is nourished not least by
the fact that its transferability is subject to limitations. As the authors
point out:
Modernity and Pluralism
It is possible, for example, for the individual to look upon his
own psychic life in the same problem-solving and tinkering
itude with which an engineer contemplates the working of a
machine. However, while the engineer has a well-tested reper-
toire of tinkering procedures available to him for the solving of
problems in the manipulation of machines, such a repertoire is
erdeveloped when it comes to solving problems of the
human psyche. (ibid., 35)
Although this problem-solving and tinkering attitude is frequently
dismissed as delusional, failure to acknowledge it as an integral part
of modern consciousness would be tantamount to throwing the baby
out with the bath water.
Technological production, and the many technological
associated with it, leads to the multiplication of options. This first
affects the material level—not only in the form of consumption
ortunities but also of diverse manufacturing and processing
iants. It subsequently extends socially and intellectually to the
mation of identity, biography, and lifestyle, thereby increasing
choices and decision-making options. More and more aspects of
stence are no longer matters of fate. However, this also
means that fewer things can be taken for granted. This leads to what
Berger calls the “heretical imperative”:
In premodern situations there is a world of religious certainty,
asionally ruptured by heretical deviations. By contrast, the
situation is a world of religious uncertainty, occasionally staved off
by more or less precarious constructions of religious affirmation.
. . . For premodern man, heresy is a possibility—usually a rather
remote one;
for modern man, heresy typically becomes a necessity. . . .
ernity creates a situation in which picking and choosing becomes
. (1979: 25; emphasis in the original)
However, this new freedom of choice cannot compensate for the
feeling of psychological homelessness and the accompanying mal-
aise evoked in advanced industrial societies by the segmentation not
only of personality—into work roles and private roles—but also of
society—into different spheres with specific, and often conflicting,
value systems. Released from a world of fate into a world of multiple
options, premodern man becomes a “very nervous Prometheus”
(1979: x). According to the authors of
The Homeless Mind
et al. 1973a), this is especially the case in the less modernized societies
e New Sociology of Knowledge
of the Third World, in which modernization, with all its implications,
is imported, imposed, or driven by forces located on the periphery of
society. Hence the inevitability of opposition against modernization
in the form of counter-modernization or demodernization tendencies,
which are manifest, for example, in counter-cultures (on “demodern-
izing consciousness,” cf. Berger, Berger, & Kellner 1973b).
Distinguishing it explicitly from Anton Zijderveld’s (1970) diag-
nosis of the abstract society, Berger et al. (1973a: 221) point out the
limitations of anti-institutionalism: “Generally speaking, social insti-
tutions are more resilient than they appear to be during periods of
transition and crisis. This is particularly true of the technological and
bureaucratic institutions of a modern society.” The authors assert that
counter-, youth-, and subcultures are “parasitical upon the structures
of modernity” to the extent that they are tolerated and subsidized by
mainstream society (ibid., 222). The confidence in the resilience and
efficacy of institutions, which is a recurring theme in Berger’s works,
stems from the reception of Arnold Gehlen’s anthropological theory
of institutions. In an article that they coauthored in 1965, Berger and
Kellner outline Gehlen’s theory:
Man, finding himself in a state of rupture with his own biological
constitution, must stabilize and specialize his activity through struc-
tures produced by himself. He must construct his own world. This
world, which is culture, must aim at the firm structures which are
lacking biologically. To be sure, these man-made structures can never
be as firm as those of the animal world. They must be continuously
produced and re-produced in human activity. As a result, they are
inherently precarious and predestined to change. Social institutions
are the core of this process of cultural stabilization. They are the
culturally produced forms by which human activity is given coher-
ence and continuity. (1965c: 111–12)
In other words, man’s basic constitution is such that institutions
that serve to stabilize culture and give human action coherence and
continuity are continuously being created, legitimated, and restored.
2.2 Pluralism
Even though pluralism must be regarded as a consequence of moder-
is not exclusive to modern societies. However, as Berger
and Luckmann (1995a: 29) point out, what characterizes the specific
form of pluralism that comes to full fruition in modern societies is
Modernity and Pluralism
the fact that “value systems and stocks of meaning are no longer the
property of all members of society.” In other words, it can no longer
be taken for granted that the superordinate system of meaning into
which an individual is socialized is the meaning system of his con-
temporaries (loc. cit.).
Modernity not only engenders pluralism. Due to a whole series of
structural factors, it also brings about the quantitative and qualitative
reinforcement of this trend. Demographically speaking, population
growth and migration—and the ensuing far-reaching urbanization—
act as an intensifier, because they bring together more and more people
of different origin in an increasingly dense space. This is encouraged
economically by the geographic and social mobility that accompanies
the market economy and industrialization. Moreover, the rule of law
and democracy act as institutional guarantors of a more or less peaceful
coexistence. And, finally, media- and mass communication constantly
highlight the plurality of lifestyles and mentalities.
The Homeless Mind
(Berger et al. 1973a), pluralism is dealt with
in terms of the plurality of the social life-worlds in which individuals
in modern societies typically live.
The effects of this constellation can
be clearly illustrated by long-range life planning. The authors analyze
this phenomenon in terms of the organization of knowledge (for
mple, knowledge about the experts who may be of assistance in the
planning process), cognitive style (for example, “multi-relationality”)
and its important implications for modern identity (ibid., 70–71, 102).
Identity problems—one of Luckmann’s key themes—are also
ed by Berger, especially in his early works. In “Social Mobility
and Personal Identity” (1964b), a paper that Berger and Luckmann
coauthored back in 1964, they explore the effects of modern class
structure and upward and downward mobility on personal identity.
In this paper, which discusses the possibility of an identity crisis being
caused by status inconsistencies and uncertainties, a vague outline of
a theory of modern society is already visible. However, the authors
focus on functional differentiation and the emergence of the private
sphere; as yet, no mention is made of technology as the starting point
of the modernization process. In the public sphere, individuals are of
interest to society only as the bearers of functionary roles. The indi-
vidual is “forced to define himself as an anonymous performer, as a
‘cog in the machine’” of primary institutions. In the area of private life,
by contrast, individuals are more or less left to their own devices to
e New Sociology of Knowledge
discover an essential identity with the help of secondary institutions
that are geared to their personal choices (ibid., 336):
The paradox of total conformity in one sector of individual existence
and seemingly absolute autonomy in the other, therefore, has its roots
in total performance control by the primary institutional domains
combined with their indifference to the person. . . . Compared with
other historical situations this leads to an underdefinition of identity.
Because neither the public sphere nor the area of private life contrib-
utes to the formation of the “highly profiled identities so characteristic
of other historical periods,” an “identity market supplied by secondary
institutions” arises in response to the need for “essential identities”
Berger and Luckmann (ibid., 339) apprehend the spread of a quasi-
religious mobility ethos throughout American society (and not only
there). They liken this ethos to a secularized version of intra-worldly
of the main characteristics of the Protestant ethic. In
their view, the mobility ethos has the potential to become a religion in
a Durkheimian sense—“that is, it can serve as an overarching integra-
tive representation” (ibid., 340). Because of the discrepancy between
this dominant mobility ethos and the objective chances of mobility,
ity of people fail to achieve their life goal: “The implication
is simple: by their own definition and that of their peers . . . these
individuals are failures” (loc. cit.). The most widespread pattern of
adaptation used by those who fail in this way is “participation in the
‘rat race’ accompanied by the construction of private sanctuaries”
(ibid., 341). These private sanctuaries are supposed to act as a buf-
fer against fear of failure. But, as the authors point out, this private
universe is unstable and in need of social maintenance and repair
services. These services are provided by secondary institutions, for
example, the churches, psychotherapy, and organized recreation (ibid.,
342). However, because of their
ial organization and their location
within a consumer culture, these
ondary institutions inevitably fail
in their central task of keeping the private sphere free of the mobility
ethos. Instead, “they re-import the mobility ethos through the back
door of a private world” (ibid., 343). Hence the modern individual
cannot escape status-seeking—or the identity problems that go with it.
From a sociology-of-knowledge perspective, the domain of unques-
tionably certain knowledge shrinks. Individuals no longer know for
sure “about the world, how to behave in it, what is reasonable to expect
Modernity and Pluralism
and, last but not least, . . . who they are” (Berger & Luckmann 1995a:
30). Under conditions of pluralism, this taken-for-granted knowledge
about the world, society, life, and identity erodes. All these domains
can now be interpreted in a multitude of ways, and each interpretation
defines its own perspectives of possible action (loc. cit.).
Modernity, Pluralism, and Crisis of Meaning
(Berger & Luckmann
1995a: 46), a study commissioned by the Bertelsmann Foundation,
the authors use the metaphor of the coffeemaker to illustrate how
these changes in consciousness come about. Those perceptions that
are taken for granted lie in the depths, on the level of what (Schutz &
Natanson 1982) calls “the world-taken-for-granted.” The moderniza-
tion of consciousness causes these perceptions to evaporate upward to
the “sphere of insecurity, that which is not taken for granted, opinions
which I am in principle prepared to revise or even retract.” This process
takes place at the expense of the solid (coffee) grounds of certainty.
The present description of the modernization process would be
incomplete if one were to ignore the role of the institutions that serve
as guarantors of the world-taken-for-granted. Following Berger and
Luckmann (1966a: 53ff.), “institutionalization” refers to the process
of sedimentation, objectivation, and transmission of habitualized
ions. “Congealed” as programs of social interaction, institutions are
internalized in individual consciousness during a complex process of
primary and secondary socialization. These programs guide the indi-
vidual in his actions and are perceived not as somebody else’s meaning
but as his own. Despite numerous support and control mechanisms,
to which Berger and Luckmann refer in
The Social Construction of
(1966a) as “primary and secondary legitimation,” a certain
degree of institutional erosion is inevitable in modern societies. Under
conditions of pluralism, the individual is constantly confronted with
alternatives for institutionally relevant roles, identities, interpretative
schemes, values, and worldviews, whose taken-for-grantedness is suc-
cessively undermined by the fact that the individual is now obliged
to make choices.
Hence, as Berger and Luckmann (1995a: 38–39) point out, pluralism
leads to the profound relativization or, as the authors put it, “decanon-
ization,” of existing systems of values and schemes of interpretation.
Pluralism also has a strongly relativizing effect on all worldviews;
it acts like a “great relativizing cauldron” (1979: 9). This
security of meaning and uncertainty in moral justification”
(1995a: 66), not—as is often alleged in discourse on crises of meaning
e New Sociology of Knowledge
and lack of orientation in modernity—because superordinate systems
of values and interpretation are no longer available, but rather because
there is a “multiplicity of moralities distributed across different com-
munities of life and faith” (loc. cit.).
This multiplicity of moralities results in subjective, intersubjective,
and structural crises of meaning. However, Berger and Luckmann
(1995a: 39) argue that, for most members of society, at least, the diag-
nosis of existential disorientation, alienation, and anomie common in
social and cultural criticism, is exaggerated. In the normal case—that
is, under conditions of economic prosperity and in the absence of
ernal threat—and contrary to Durkheim’s assumption, social stabil-
ity is maintained by counter-tendencies, such as the legalization of the
rules of social life, or formal moralization—that is, the development
of systems of ethics peculiar to individual functional spheres.
In his search for a social counterbalance to crises of meaning, Berger
once more places hope in institutions—or rather in a specific type of
institution. In a civil-society study coauthored with Richard J. Neuhaus
(1996), these entities are referred to as “intermediary institutions,” or
“mediating structures.” In the authors’ view, the dichotomization of
the individual and the state is oversimplified, insofar as people do not
live in a sociocultural vacuum, but rather in neighborhoods, families,
churches, and voluntary associations. They argue that intermediary
institutions, which, following Gehlen, they also refer to as “second-
ary institutions,” have the potential to mediate vertically, as it were,
between the individual and society, and between the big economic
and political institutions and individual existence. This mediation also
extends to superordinate configurations of values.
As a consequence of individualization, the status of these inter-
mediary institutions (for example, church institutions) has become
increasingly precarious: they are steadily losing their powers to impose
sanctions; their members are less and less willing to commit them-
selves in one way or another. Hence, Berger and Luckmann (1995a:
68–69) note that the most important empirical question with regard
to intermediary institutions is: “Do they really mediate, and do they
mediate in both directions?” This question has been researched in
numerous studies conducted under the auspices of the Institute on
Culture, Religion and World Affairs (CURA) and its previous incarna-
tions. They include, for example,
Civil Islam
(Hefner 2000), a study
on the prospects for civil society in the Muslim world, and
Civil Life,
Globalization and Political Change in Asia
(Weller 2005), which deals
Modernity and Pluralism
with the democratizing potential of NGOs. By contrast,
The Limits of
completely new situation. Rather, I believe that we are in a process of
progressive modernization, in which certain characteristics remain
the same. One of the most important of these is individuation. I do
not see any great change in that regard, except that its consequences
are increasingly far-reaching. (in: Brix & Prisching 2001: 153–54;
our translation)
The use of the term “individuation,” as opposed to the more com-
mon concept of “individualization,” sets a new focus—not only ter-
minologically. Whereas Ulrich Beck (1983), in particular, employs the
term individualization to emphasize the structural aspect of the release
of the individual from traditional ligatures, individuation refers to a
process that originates in the person rather than the structures. This
accentuation becomes understandable when one considers the tradi-
tions of thought to which Berger refers. For him, modernization goes
e New Sociology of Knowledge
hand in hand with “subjectivization” as defined by Arnold Gehlen. As
he notes in
ich, his central protagonist, as the “prototype of modern
man.” Both in the transition between spheres or provinces of mean-
ing within everyday reality, and in the transition to “another condi-
tion”—which is Musil’s central theme—modern man encounters
multiple realities not only with an (excessive) “openness for all kinds
of experience of interpretation” but also with a distinct propensity
toward (excessive) “reflection upon the world and himself” (loc. cit.).
However, as the authors of
The Homeless Mind
(Berger et al. 1973a:
73ff.) point out, modern identity is not only
peculiarly differentiated
(i.e., subjectively interesting); not only
peculiarly open
(i.e., unfinished);
and not only
peculiarly reflective
(i.e., questioning and rationalizing).
It is also
peculiarly individuated
(i.e., characterized by an insatiable
longing for individual freedom, autonomy, and self-determination).
Hence, the curtailing of individual rights is now deemed to be a gross
violation of basic human rights. Individual autonomy is not only a
Western notion labeled “individualism,” according to which an indi-
vidual has “rights
from his community and, if necessary against
it” (Berger 1992b: 102). Individual autonomy is also an integral part
of every modern experience of self.
Therefore, individuation implies disembedding, a central aspect of
individualization theory that Berger addresses as a problem inherent
in modernity and one that is imposed, as it were, on the Global South
(as the Third World is now known). The price of liberation from tra-
ditional ligatures (not only in the Global South) is the experience of
being alone in a way that would be inconceivable in traditional societ-
ies: The individual is detached from the firm solidarity of his collective
Modernity and Pluralism
existence, uncertain about the norms on which to base his existence,
and also in doubt about who or what he is (cf. 1980: 36).
A Far Glory: The Quest of Faith in an Age of Credulity
Berger undertakes a further analysis of Musil’s novel
The Man Without
(1995 [1930ff.]). When doing so, he develops his diagnosis
of the crisis of modern identity into the thesis that modern subjectiv-
ity is being undermined by the application of the scientific method to
the self.
According to his thesis, “it becomes more and more
to see the self as the center of the individual’s actions. Instead, these
actions c
ome to be perceived as events that happen to the individual,
separate from himself, explainable in terms of both external
cial) and
internal (organic and psychic) causes” (1992b.: 109). The modern self is
a fragmented, a plural self, a “variation wheel” (ibid., 107).
One of the
solutions to this dilemma that Berger identifies in Musil’s novel is “the
religious quest for the true self, revealed in transcendence” (ibid., 122).
In the introduction to the book (Berger et al., 1973a: 14), the authors point
out t
hat they “prefer to use the term ‘development’ politically rather than
scientifically—that is, in a context of value-oriented policy thinking rather
than in supposedly value-free analysis.” This finds expression in what they
deem to be the most important question in the context of political develop-
ment work, namely: “How much human suffering is acceptable to achieve
certain economic goals” (ibid.,13).
The a
uthors were not happy with the term “Third World.” However, they
decided to use it “for stylistic reasons” (1973a: 16).
“Put diff
erently, any kind of consciousness is plausible only in particular
social circumstances. These circumstances are what we call a plausibility
structure” (Berger et al., 1973a: 21). This term, which was coined by Peter
L. Berger himself, and which has become an integral part of his terminol-
ogy, is very similar to Shibutani’s concept of “reference group” (1955).
reason why the authors consider technological development rather than
the natural sciences to be the cause or the primary agent of modernization
is that advances in the sciences did not have any great immediate impact
on society at first. Only in the course of mechanization did they have a
widespread effect.
It i
s important to note that Berger does not use the word heresy in the
theological sense: “The English word ‘heresy’ comes from the Greek verb
, which means to ‘choose’. A
originally meant, quite simply,
the taking of a choice” (1979: 24–25).
ger’s confidence in institutions is striking. He illustrates it with a comment
made by one of his students after a lecture he gave on sociological theory:
“You sure are hung up on order, aren’t you?” Berger confirms that this is true;
he considers that it is even true of sociology per se, which he regards as being
conservative in its implications for institutional order (cf. Berger 1977a: 16).
e New Sociology of Knowledge
The impact of pluralism on religion is addressed by Peter L. Berger in
Sacred Canopy
(1967) and by Thomas Luckmann in
Invisible Religion
thesis is clearly supported by the current trend in sociology, in which
praxeological and governmental approaches are particularly en vogue.
variation wheel is Berger’s translation of the
a labora-
tory gadget invented by Musil (Berger 1992b: 107).
is actually the
German word for gyroscope or spinning top.
Pluralism, Protestantization,
and the Voluntary Principle
eptance of democracy if a democratically constituted regime legis-
lates religiously unacceptable behavior. The current furor in American
churches over abortion and same-sex marriage sharply illuminates
this problem. (In other words, one does not have to go to the Middle
East to find cases of tension between a religious code and democ-
racy.) Also, religious and moral pluralism raises the question of how a
democratic regime can ultimately be legitimated. Again, the American
case is instructive: the republic was first legitimated in Protestant
terms, then in Christian terms, then in Judeo-Christian terms. We
now have the interesting legitimation of a putative “Abrahamic faith”
(Judeo-Christian-Muslim), which is not comforting to the
of nonmonotheistic traditions, not to mention the religiously unaffili-
ated who have long been uncomfortable with religious rhetoric of any
sort in American political discourse.
The “new pluralism,” of course, is the result of globalization. Almost
all societies are today inevitably pluralistic. Globalization has meant
an enormous increase in intercultural communication. Religion has
not been immune to this process of intercontinental chatter. The
present essay will look at the institutional and personal implications
of globalized religion and then at the relation of these to democracy.
Arguably the two most dynamic religious movements in the con-
temporary world are resurgent Islam and popular Protestantism, the
e New Sociology of Knowledge
latter principally in the form of the Pentecostal movement. Both are
truly global phenomena. Not only are Islamic movements interacting
throughout the huge region from the Atlantic Ocean to the South
China Sea, but the Muslim diaspora in Europe and North America has
become a powerful presence. In England, for example, more people
every week attend services in mosques than in Anglican churches. For
understandable reasons, attention has focused on the most aggressive
versions of this globalizing Islam, but it is moderate Muslims as well as
practitioners of jihad who talk to each other on the Internet and on cell
phones and who gather for both clandestine and public conferences.
As to Pentecostalism, it has been spreading like wildfire through Latin
America, sub-Saharan Africa, parts of east Asia, and to such unlikely
groups as European gypsies and hill tribes in India. David Martin, the
British sociologist who pioneered in the study of cross-national Pen-
tecostalism, estimates that there are at least 250 million Pentecostals
worldwide and possibly many more. (A crucial case is China, where we
know that the movement is spreading, but which is difficult to study
because it is mostly illegal and therefore underground.)
However, globalizing religion is by no means limited to Islam and
Protestantism. The Roman Catholic Church has always been a global
institution, but globalization is profoundly altering its international
profile: increasingly its areas of strength are outside its traditional
ean heartland, with the interesting consequence that precisely
those of its features that trouble progressive Catholics in, say, the
Netherlands are an attraction in the Philippines or in Africa. (The
Vatican is well aware of this phenomenon, which explains many of
its policies.) The Russian Orthodox Church, presiding over a strong
religious revival in the post-Soviet era and enjoying the favor of the
Putin government, is flexing its muscles in the Balkans and the Middle
East, not to mention what the Russians call the “near abroad.”
Hasidic movements with headquarters in Brooklyn, New York, are
sending missionaries to Israel and to Jewish communities in Eastern
Europe. The so-called Jesus Movie, a film produced by an American
evangelical organization and synchronized in well over a hundred
languages, is being screened by aggressive missionaries in villages
throughout India, despite the outrage of pious Brahmins and the
opposition of the Indian government. But Hinduism is returning the
compliment. Devotees dance and chant in praise of Krishna in
merican and European cities. Hindu missionary
Modernity and Pluralism
(ranging from the sedate Vedanta Society to the exuberant Sai Baba
movement) are busily evangelizing wherever they can. Similarly,
Buddhist g
roups with headquarters in Japan, Taiwan, and Southeast
Asia are attracting sizable numbers of converts in Western countries.
If one is to get an intellectual handle on these developments, it is
important to put away a view which, despite massive evidence to the
contrary, is still very widespread (not least among Christian theolo-
gians): often called the “secularization theory,” this view holds that
modernity brings about a decline of religion. Simply put, this view
has been empirically falsified. This is not the place to enlarge upon
the debates that have ranged over the secularization theory in recent
years. Suffice it to say that, contrary to the theory, the contemporary
world, far from being secularized, is characterized by a veritable
losion of passionate religion. (There are two exceptions to this
statement—western and central Europe—and a thin but influential
class of “progressive” intellectuals in most countries. Again, the reasons
for these exceptions cannot be discussed here.)
Modernity does not necessarily lead to a decline of religion. What
it does lead to, more or less necessarily, is religious pluralism. Modern
developments—mass migration and travel, urbanization, literacy, and,
most important, the new technology of communication—have brought
about a situation in which different religious traditions are present to
each other in a historically unprecedented manner. For obvious rea-
sons this interaction is facilitated under conditions of legally protected
religious liberty. But even where governments, in various degrees, try
to limit or suppress religious pluralism (as is the case in China, India,
and Russia), this is difficult to do under contemporary conditions.
A personal example illustrates this: a couple of years ago I visited
Buenos Aires for the first time. I had long been enamored of the writ-
ings of Borges, and I was anticipating a rather romantic encounter
with the world of the tango. As my taxi left the airport, the first sight
that greeted me was a huge Mormon church, with a gilded Angel
Moroni sitting atop its steeple. Here was an outpost of a religion born
te New York, which until recently had barely spread beyond
Utah and certainly not beyond the United States. Today Mormonism
has been experiencing impressive growth in many countries, notably
in the South Pacific and Siberia. There are now large numbers of
people throughout the world whose spiritual, intellectual, and social
center is Salt Lake City.
e New Sociology of Knowledge
Implications of Religious Pluralism
Religious pluralism has both institutional and cognitive implications.
It is important to understand both. Institutionally it means that some-
thing like a religious market is established. This does not mean that
concepts of market economics can be unambiguously applied to the
study of religion (as has been done, very interestingly, by Rodney Stark
and other American sociologists, with the use of so-called rational
choice theory).
But what it does mean is that religious institutions
institutions) now
face a rather inconvenient fact: since their authority
is no longer a social given, they must seek to reestablish it by means
This gives a new social role to the laity. No longer a
subject population, the laity becomes a community of consumers
whose notions, however objectionable on theological grounds, must
be seriously addressed.
The Roman Catholic case is paradigmatic in this respect. It is fair
to say that, of all Christian churches, the Roman church has the most
impressive hierarchical structure, which in many ways is at the core of
its self-understanding. As far as the relevant doctrine is concerned, this
has not fundamentally changed, though it has been modified by the
pronouncements of the Second Vatican Council and subsequent papal
encyclicals. Yet the
of the church toward its lay members has
changed significantly. Some Catholics have gone so far as to describe
the present time as the era of the laity in the church. This may be an
exaggeration, but clearly the laity has become more assertive. The past
few years have offered an impressive example of this in Boston (once
called the “holy city” of American Catholicism). The archdiocese,
er severe financial pressure because of the huge payments made to
alleged victims of clerical sexual abuse, decided to close a number of
parishes. The laypeople of the parishes rose in rebellion in a way not
seen before, respectfully but firmly opposing the archbishop.
The pluralistic situation also changes the relations of religious
titutions with each other. Participants in a market, religious or other,
Modernity and Pluralism
not only compete but are frequently engaged in efforts to reduce or
regulate the competition. Obviously attempts are made in the educa-
tional activities of religious institutions to discourage their members
from going over to competitors. For example, American Judaism has
made great efforts to immunize Jews against Christian missionary
activities. But competing religious institutions also negotiate with
each other to regulate the competition. This helps to clarify at least
some of the phenomenon known as “ecumenicity”: ecumenical amity
among Christian churches means, at least in part, explicit or implicit
agreements not to poach on each other’s territory.
Until a few decades ago such a negotiating process among American
Protestant churches was known as “comity.” Protestant denominations
portioned out certain areas for their outreach activities, allocating a
particular area to, say, the Presbyterians; the others then promised
to stay out of this area. This reached a somewhat bizarre climax in
Puerto Rico, where the mainline denominations divided up the entire
island in this way. If you knew that someone was, say, a Presbyterian,
you could guess which town he or she came from. Some evangelical
Protestants did not participate in this comity, much to the annoyance
of other Protestants. The term has fallen into disuse, but it is still a very
significant reality and now goes beyond the Protestant fold. Mainline
Protestants and Catholics do not actively proselytize each other, and
neither seek to proselytize Jews. Indeed, the very word
has acquired a pejorative meaning in American religious discourse,
and those who continue to practice it are looked at askance. Thus
there was an outpouring of protests when not long ago the Southern
Baptist Convention (the largest evangelical denomination in the United
States) announced that it would continue its program to convert Jews.
Sociologically speaking, one could say that today comity is informally
extended to every religious group in the United States that does not
engage in blatantly illegal behavior.
Religious pluralism also has important implications for the subjec-
tive consciousness of individuals. This can be stated in one sentence:
religion loses its taken-for-granted status in consciousness. No society
can function without some ideas and behavior patterns being taken
for granted. For most of history, religion was part and parcel of what
was taken for granted. Social psychology has given us a good idea of
how taken-for-grantedness is maintained in consciousness: it is the
result of social consensus in an individual’s environment. And for
e New Sociology of Knowledge
most of history, most individuals lived in such environments. Plural-
ism undermines this sort of homogeneity. Individuals are continually
confronted with others who do
take for granted what was so taken
traditionally in their community. They must now
reflect about
the cog-
nitive and normative assumptions of their tradition, and consequently
they must
make choices.
A religion that is chosen, on whatever level
of intellectual sophistication, is different from a religion that is taken
for granted. It is not necessarily less passionate, nor do its doctrinal
propositions necessarily change. It is not so much the
as the
of religious belief that changes. Thus modern Catholics may affirm
the same doctrines and engage in the same practices as their ances-
tors in a traditional Catholic village. But they have decided, and must
continue to decide, to so believe and behave. This makes their religion
both more personal and more vulnerable. Put differently, religion is
subjectivized, and religious certitude is more difficult to come by.
Modernity and Pluralism
Putting together the institutional and the subjective dimensions of
pluralism, we can arrive at a far-reaching proposition: under conditions
of pluralism all religious institutions, sooner or later, become voluntary
associations—and they become so whether they like it or not.
Max Weber and Ernst Troeltsch classically analyzed two prototypi-
cal social forms of religion—the “church,” into which one is born, and
the “sect,” which one decides to join. Richard Niebuhr suggested that
American religion invented a third type, the “denomination,” which
he defined as a church that recognizes the right of other churches to
exist, be it de jure or de facto. One could then say that, in the course
of American religious history, all religious groups have become
nominationalized.” Even Judaism, despite its distinctive merging of
religious and ethnic identity, split into at least three denominations in
America (and, depending on how one counts, several more). But the
process of denominationalization is no longer limited to the United
States. As pluralism spreads globally, all religious groups become in
fact voluntary associations, even if they have to be dragged into this
social form kicking and screaming. Not surprisingly, some of them
will perceive pluralism as a lethal threat and will mobilize all available
resources to resist it.
A simple conclusion follows from the preceding considerations: the
capacity of a religious institution to adapt successfully to a pluralist
environment will be closely linked to its capacity to take on the social
form of the voluntary association. And that, of course, will be greatly
influenced by its preceding history. If this is understood, then Protes-
tantism clearly has what may be called a comparative advantage over
other religious traditions (Christian or not). Both the Lutheran and the
Calvinist Reformations, in their emphasis on the conscience of the
individual, have an a priori affinity with modern individuation and
thus with the pluralist dynamic. But not all Protestant groups have had
the same capacity to organize themselves as voluntary associations.
David Martin recently suggested that three types of relations
ween religion and society developed in the postmedieval history of
Western Christianity (the case of Eastern Orthodoxy is different).
first type he calls the “baroque counter-Reformation,” which sought
to maintain or reestablish a harmonious unity between church, state,
and society. It flourished in the
ancien régime
of Catholic Europe and,
following the French Revolution, morphed into the republic under-
stood as a sort of secular
church. In both its sacred and secular
e New Sociology of Knowledge
versions, this type has great difficulties with pluralism. The second type
he calls “enlightened absolutism,” characteristic of Lutheran northern
Europe and the Anglican establishment. It became gradually more
tolerant of pluralist diversity and eventually morphed into the north
European welfare state. The third type is what Martin nicely labels
“the Amsterdam-London-Boston bourgeois axis,” which may be seen
as the matrix of religious pluralism. But, again, not all three points on
this axis have been equally hospitable to voluntary association. Dutch
pluralism flourished under a famously tolerant regime, but its diverse
religious groups (Calvinist, Arminian, Catholic) became rather rigidly
solidified as “pillars”
of an overarching political establish-
ment. In England there occurred a more ample flourishing of diverse
religious groups—the wide spectrum of so-called Nonconformity—
but, as already indicated by this name, it did so under the shadow of
the Anglican state church. It was in the English-speaking colonies
in what became the United States that religious pluralism attained
its most unconstrained and exuberant version, giving birth to the
denomination as the religious voluntary association par excellence.
Naturally enough, American society has ever since been the vanguard
of both religious and secular pluralism.
The comparative advantage of Protestantism continues today. The
amazing cross-national success of Pentecostalism and other forms
of popular Protestantism can in no small measure be explained by
a distinctive capacity to operate as voluntary associations. But a
ious group need not be Protestant to be able to reorganize itself
denominationally, even if, so to speak, it does help to be Protestant.
I have already mentioned post–Vatican II Catholicism and American
Judaism as cases in point. Other cases can be found far from the
Judeo-Christian world. The upsurge of Buddhist and other religious
movements in Japan since the 1950s (one author calls it “the rush hour
of the gods”)
has been largely carried by voluntary lay organizations.
Hinduism has generated similar organizations since the reform move-
ments of the nineteenth century. The largest Muslim organizations
in the world, Nadhatul-Ulama and Muhammadiyah in Indonesia, are
also voluntary lay movements, and there are similar organizations in
other Islamic countries.
Pluralism and the “Voluntary Imperative”
I have mentioned the “heretical imperative.” Perhaps we could
ther concept—the “voluntary imperative.” It imposes itself
Modernity and Pluralism
wherever religious pluralism comes to predominate. Catholic observers
have coined the term
to refer, usually pejoratively, to
recent changes in their church. Stripped of its pejorative undertone,
it is rather an apt term. Sometimes it describes doctrinal changes,
most of which need not concern us here. But the term is most apt in
describing social changes within the church—to wit, the role of an
increasingly assertive laity, the transformation of the church into a de
facto denomination, and one doctrinal change that is definitely relevant
here—the theological undergirding of the norm of religious liberty.
It is notable that the two individuals who were most influential in the
affirmation of this norm by the Second Vatican Council came from
the two homelands of modern democracy—Jacques Maritain from
France and John Courtney Murray from the United States.
Americans in particular are prone to view the aforementioned
developments as inexorable and irreversible—modernity generates
pluralism, which generates the voluntary association, which then func-
tions as a school for democracy. Eventually something like the New
England town meeting will become a universal social and political
norm. Alas, the empirical reality is more complicated. There are indeed
pressures toward such a sociological trajectory. But the outcome of
these pressures is not a foregone conclusion. There are possibilities
of resistance, and under the right circumstances the pressures can be
defeated and the trajectory reversed.
Resistances to pluralism have been conventionally subsumed under
the category of “fundamentalism.” I am uneasy about this term; it comes
from a particular episode in the history of American Protestantism
and is awkward when applied to other religious traditions (such as
Islam). I will use it, because it has attained such wide currency, but I
will define it more sharply: fundamentalism is any project to restore
taken-for-grantedness in the individual’s consciousness and therefore,
necessarily, in his or her social and/or political environment. Such a
project can have both religious and secular forms; the former concerns
us here.
Religious fundamentalism can be more or less ambitious. In its more
ambitious form it seeks to reshape the entire society in its image In
recent history the last (so far) Christian version of this was the ideal
of the Nationalists in the Spanish civil war—the ideal of a Catholic
of Spain from the supposedly anti-Christian secularism
of the republic. It was the last flowering of the “counter-Reformation
e New Sociology of Knowledge
baroque.” It collapsed with the Franco regime, which intended to real-
ize it, and today it is inconceivable that the Roman Catholic Church
would again give its blessing to any comparable project. Nor are there
other Christian analogues. (The notion, current in progressive circles
today, that the Christian right in America has such intentions has little
basis in the facts. No politically significant group in American evan-
gelicalism intends to set up a theocratic regime, and fundamentalism
as I define it has its adherents both on the left and on the right of the
political spectrum in the United States.) But fundamentalist projects
abound in the non-Western world.
There are sizable groupings in Russia who would like to set up a
regime in which, once again, there would be a unity between church
and state (a radical version of what in Orthodox political thought has
been called
). Influential groups in Israel would reshape that
society, with its entire political structure based on religious law, as a
halachic state. Even more influential groups in India would replace its
secular constitution with Hindutva, understood as a coercive Hindu-
ism imposed on all citizens, including the large Muslim minority. And
most importantly today, Islamist ideology seeks a theocratic state based
on Islamic law, a
state imposed on the entire society. In its most
ambitious version, this is the jihadist dream of a renewed caliphate
embracing the entire Muslim world (and conceivably also lands that
were once Muslim, notably the Balkans and “Al Andalus”).
The chances for success of such projects vary from country to
country. But it is possible to formulate one necessary condition for
a successful realization: to convert an entire society into a support
structure (what I would call a “plausibility structure”) for a renewed
taken-for-granted consensus, it will be necessary to establish a totali-
tarian regime. That is, the theocratic state will have to fully control all
institutions in the society and, crucially, all channels of interaction and
communication with the outside world. Under modern conditions this
is very difficult, unless one wants to pay the price of catastrophic eco-
nomic stagnation. The developments in Iran since the establishment
of the Islamist regime clearly demonstrate the difficulty. It would be
mistaken, though, to conclude that any project of religious totalitari-
anism is impossible. A regime willing to use ruthless and continuous
repression, and indifferent to the material misery of its subjects, could
yet pull such a project off.
The less ambitious form of religious fundamentalism is the sec-
tarian one. It seeks to restore taken-for-grantedness in a subculture
Modernity and Pluralism
under its control, while the rest of society is, as it were, abandoned to
the enemy. It is within the subculture that the individual can find the
ial consensus needed for cognitive and normative certainty. This, of
course, has always been characteristic of sects. But in a society marked
by pluralism the controls over interaction and communication with
the outside have to be very rigorous indeed. The slightest relaxation
of these controls can breach the protective dam against the pluralistic
infection, alternative definitions of reality will then flood in, and the
precariously maintained taken-for-grantedness can collapse overnight.
Therefore, the denizens of the subculture must limit contacts with out-
siders to a minimum, avoid all unnecessary conversation, and equally
avoid all media of communication originating in the pluralistic world
outside. In other words, what must be established and maintained is
a kind of minitotalitarianism.
The sectarian project is thus not without its own serious difficul-
ties, but these are less onerous than those confronting a project of
There are a good number of successful cases, in differ-
ent religious traditions. Ideally for success, the fundamentalist group
must have a territory, however small, under its control. This can be
an isolated community (such as the Davidic compound in Waco,
Texas), a circumscribed urban community (such as the ultra-Orthodox
communities in Brooklyn or Mea Shearim in Jerusalem), a monastic
or quasimonastic center (there are, of course, many of these in the
Christian orbit), or an even larger geographical base (such as areas of
northern Nigeria under Islamist control). But sectarian subcultures can
also function without a territorial location, as long as the controls over
interaction and communication are rigorously maintained. There are
numerous examples of this in every major religious tradition—from
Opus Dei to Sokka Gakkai, from the Lubavitcher Chabad to the Mus-
lim Brotherhood (I cite these as sociological cases in point, without
necessarily suggesting that they are morally equivalent).
Both society-wide totalitarianism and sectarian minitotalitarianism
constitute difficult projects under modern conditions. The second is
a better bet in terms of possible success.
is incompatible with pluralism, indeed must be implacably hostile to
it. Minitotalitarianism is compatible with pluralism, but only to the
extent that it accepts the pluralistic dominance in the larger society
as long as its own subsociety is kept intact.
What follows from the argument of this essay is that the relation
between pluralism (be it old or new) to democracy is complex. One
e New Sociology of Knowledge
cannot simply say that pluralism is either good or bad for democracy.
It will be either, depending on the response to it by both religious and
political institutions. As far as the latter is concerned, the distinc-
tion between liberal and illiberal democracy is very important here.
A democratically elected regime can be intolerant of religious minori-
ties (such as the difficulties of evangelical Protestants in Russia, in the
Muslim world, and in India). Conversely, there have been tolerant
authoritarian regimes (such as Prussia under Frederick the Great,
Austria under Joseph II, and the Ottoman Empire on its better days).
Looking at any particular case, one must ask two key questions:
how have the relevant religious traditions responded to the pluralistic
challenge? I have argued here that acceptance (openly or de facto) of
the voluntary principle will be decisive in this matter. One must then
ask: what political interests have an affinity to this or that response,
and what is the power of these interests to influence the course of
events? For both historical and ideational reasons, Protestantism has
had a comparative advantage in a positive adaptation to pluralism.
This advantage continues today, notably in the global expansion of
Pentecostalism and other versions of popular Protestantism. But there
is also Protestantization in other religious traditions, even in that
old adversary of Protestantism, the Roman Catholic Church. Thus
both Protestant and non-Protestant religious institutions can, today,
serve to bring about and solidify democracy. The most direct threat
to democracy obviously comes from movements and regimes with
an interest in establishing a totalitarian unity based on a reconquest
of society in the name of this or that religious ideology.
It would be a mistake to understand this threat exclusively in terms
of radical Islam.
On globalization, see Peter L Berger and Samuel P. Huntington (eds), Many
zations: Cultural Diversity in the Contemporary World (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 2002a). On religious pluralism in the American
context, see Robert Wuthnow, America and the Challenges of Religious
Diversity (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005); and Diana L. Eck,
A New Religious America: How a “Christian Country” Has Become the
World’s Most Religiously Diverse Nation (New York: Harper, 2001).
id Martin, Pentecostalism: The World Their Parish (Oxford: Blackwell,
2001). See also Harvey Cox, Fire from Heaven: The Rise of Pentecostal
Spirituality and the Reshaping of Religion in the 21st Century (Cambridge,
MA: Da Capo, 2001).
Modernity and Pluralism
Peter L. Berger, ed., The Desecularization of the World: Resurgent Religion
d World Politics (Washington, DC: Ethics and Public Policy Center/
Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999).
for example, Rodney Stark, One True God: Historical Consequences
of Monotheism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003).
sts’ Ardor for Evangelism Angers Some Jews and Hindus,” New York
Times, Dec. 4, 1999, Aso.
er L. Berger, The Heretical Imperative: Contemporary Possibilities of
Religious Affirmation (New York: Anchor, 1979).
id Martin, “Integration and Fragmentierung: Religionsmuster in
a,” Transit 26 (Winter 2003–2004): 120–43.
H. Neil M
cFarlane, Rush Hour of the Gods (New York: Macmillan, 1967).
Berger, Peter L., ed.,
The Desecularization of the World: Resurgent Religion and
World Politics.
Washington, DC: Ethics and Public Policy Center/Grand
Rapids: Ferdmans, 1999.
The Heretical Imperative: Contemporary Possibilities of Religious Affirma-
New York: Anchor, 1980.
Berger, Peter L., and Samuel P. Huntington, eds.
Many Globalizations: Cultural
Diversity in the Contemporary World.
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.
Cox, Harvey.
Fire from Heaven: The Rise of Pentecostal Spirituality and the
Reshaping of
Religion in the 21st Century.
Cambridge, MA: Da Capo, 2001.
Eck, Diana L.
A New Religious America: How a “Christian Country” Has Become
World’s Most Religiously Diverse Nation.
New York: Harper, 2001.
Martin, David.
Pentecostalism: The World Their Parish.
Oxford: Blackwell, 2001.
McFarlane, H. Neil.
Rush Hour of the Gods.
New York: Macmillan, 1967.
Stark, Rodney.
One True God: Historical Consequences of Monotheism.
Princeton University Press, 2003.
Wuthnow, Robert.
America and the Challenges of Religious Diversity.
Princeton University Press, 2005.
Religion and Desecularization
Because religion is so central to Peter L. Berger’s works, he is often
perceived solely as a sociologist of religion. However, it should be clear
from the previous chapters that this perception is extremely one-sided.
Indeed, on closer inspection, it turns out to be well-nigh false. As a
sociologist, Berger deals with religion; as a lay theologian he deals with
current problems of the churches; and as a confessed Christian he asks
himself whether modern man can still believe. Within the framework
of his research at the Protestant Academy in Bad Boll, Germany, in the
1950s, and after his return to the United States in 1956, Berger (1954b,
1962a, 1962b, 1963b, 1998b) engaged in the sociology of religion in that
he analyzed trends in religiosity and in the membership of religious
groups. Depending on the research question, these issues have also
been addressed within the framework of research projects conducted
under the auspices of the Institute on Culture, Religion and World
Affairs (CURA) and its predecessors (see Chapter 4 below). In this
context, religion is primarily regarded as an aspect of culture.
, it is assigned to the broad category of values and convictions.
However, Berger’s
e New Sociology of Knowledge
Feuerbach, as a “projection of human meanings” (ibid., 100). This social
construction acquires its veneer of objective reality through processes
of institutionalization and legitimation. Plausibility structures—that is,
social relationships with significant and generalized others that serve
to stabilize and support reality—are of fundamental importance in
this regard, because the religious reality in question is supported and
reinforced in communicative exchange with others.
When applying to religion the theory of society derived from the soci-
ology of knowledge, Berger focuses first on the process of
that is, the establishment of a meaningful order—which he deems to
eriences in “mar-
ginal situations not included in the everyday existence in
all elements of the institutional order (ibid., 95–96).
Like Thomas Luckmann, Berger views religiosity in terms of the
experience of transcendence. In so doing, he employs Schutz’s notion
of multiple realities, noting that “The reality of everyday life, therefore,
is continuously surrounded by a penumbra of vastly different realities”
(Berger 1967: 42). Although he shares Luckmann’s view that man’s
capacity and yearning for symbolic self-transcendence is an anthropo-
logical prerequisite of religion, Berger criticizes the fact that Luckmann
equates religion with symbolic self-transcendence, and questions the
utility of such a broad definition (ibid., 176–77).
As an explicit alterna-
tive to Luckmann’s perspective, Berger defines religion as “the human
enterprise by which a sacred cosmos is established” (ibid., 25).
Elevated to the status of the taken for granted, nomization tends
toward cosmization—that is, “the merging of socially established
meanings with fundamental meanings inherent in the universe” (loc.
cit.). All nomizations—and, even more so, all cosmizations—serve the
purpose of protecting the arduously established order from chaos, and
of making sure that it does not descend (once again) into the abyss
of anomie and meaninglessness (ibid., 26–27). As a human construc-
tion, this protective order is inherently precarious. It is permanently
Religion and Desecularization
threatened by marginal situations that can be caused by external
circumstances or can arise from states of consciousness that can be
experienced only subjectively. As Berger (1967: 25) argues follow-
ing Mircea Eliade (1957) and, in particular, Rudolf Otto (1963), the
endowment of cosmization with a sacred quality implies the postula-
tion of “a mysterious and awesome power other than man yet related
to him, which is believed to reside in certain objects of experience.”
Secular symbolic meaning systems, such as philosophy or science,
also construct a canopy of meaning. However, what distinguishes
religion from secular symbolic universes of meaning is the fact that
it provides a divine cosmos, a “
canopy.” Berger traces the fine
and gradual differentiation between the sacred and the supernatural,
attempting to grasp the former as “otherness,” as something “radi-
cally transcendent, not to be identified with any natural or human
phenomena” (1967: 87, 115–16; cf. also 1974c). Because he declares
the sacred to be the substance of religion, Berger (1967: 177) labels his
definition of religion
in contrast to Thomas Luckmann’s
anthropologically—rather than institutionally—grounded
definition. What makes Berger’s definition sociologically cumbersome
is the fact that there is a sociologically inaccessible aspect inherent in
it. In
that is to transform into transcendent facticities—originally human
products such as institutions and institutionalized roles. In
The Social
Construction of Reality
(1966a), Berger and Luckmann drew a clear line
between objectivation as an anthropological constant, and alienation
in the sense of estrangement.
Later, in
The Sacred Canopy
(1967: 85),
Berger distinguishes “two ways in which estrangement may proceed”:
. . . one in which the strangeness of world and self can be reappro-
priated (
) by the “recollection” that both world and
e New Sociology of Knowledge
self are products of one’s own activity—the other in which such
reappropriation is no longer possible, and in which the social world
and socialized self confront the individual as inexorable facticities
analogous to the facticities of nature. The latter process may be
called alienation.
Berger stresses that religion cannot be automatically equated with
alienation. However, following Rudolf Otto (1963), he argues that,
precisely because the sacred can be experienced as overwhelming
otherness, religious projections have an inherent tendency to confront
human life with something completely alien, thereby also alienating
man from himself. Hence, it is the sociology-of-knowledge derivation of
religion from processes of nomization, cosmization, and sacralization
that places religion close to alienation, and Berger’s position close to
that of Feuerbach and Marx. This caused him some unease, because
alienation was very much en vogue when
The Sacred Canopy
was published. The unease was due to the fact Berger sharply rejects
central Marxist positions—for example, the perception of religion as
a means of satisfying needs—a thesis also supported by behaviorist
theories. In Berger’s view, religion is not merely a cozy abode. Nor can
his understanding of religion be summed up by saying that his actual
point of aim is to expose psychological explanations of religious expe-
riences as an attempt—which enjoys particular success in the age of
modernity—to establish a hegemonic system of interpretation. For him,
religion is more: It has a substance that can be described as a holy awe.
3.2 An Anthropological Theology
Berger’s argument in
The Precarious Vision
(1961b) that religion must
be differentiated from (Christian) faith was strongly influenced by the
neo-orthodox Protestant theologian Karl Barth.
The Sacred Canopy
(1967: 183–84), Berger explicitly distances himself from this postulate,
acknowledging that “in any empirical discipline the ‘Christian faith’
is simply another case of the phenomenon ‘religion’. Empirically, the
differentiation makes no sense.” Concerned that
The Sacred Canopy
might be misconstrued as “a treatise on atheism” (1969a: ix–x), Berger
added a second appendix, in which he adopts a position oriented
toward the liberal early-nineteenth-century Protestant theologian
Friedrich Schleiermacher. He contends that theology cannot ignore the
sociological insight that religion is a human projection whose objective
reality is grounded in specific infrastructures and whose subjective
reality is maintained by specific plausibility structures (1967: 184).
Religion and Desecularization
From this it follows that, unless they want to have to take refuge in
orthodoxies, theologians have no alternative but to expose themselves
to the “vertigo of relativity,” which was triggered by historical scholar-
ship and intensified by sociologists (ibid., 182).
As Berger makes clear in
The Heretical Imperative
(1979: 56ff.), he
considers the secularizing theologian’s flight into a “reductive faith”—
that is, into the relativization, or even the abandonment, of the truth
claim—to be just as unacceptable as the neo-orthodox flight into a
“deductive faith” that
affirms the objective authority of a religious
tradition by restoring it to the status of an a priori. In the modern
context, he regards the deductive option as backward looking in the
literal sense of the word. In his view, theologians who take this route
maneuver themselves into an untenable position because the memory
of the interval when tradition was relativized and weakened cannot be
erased (ibid., 73–74). As he points out in
The Sacred Canopy
(1967: 184):
The theologian is consequently deprived of the psychologically
liberating possibility of either radical commitment or radical nega-
tion. What he is left with, I think, is the necessity for a step-by-step
re-evaluation of the traditional affirmations in terms of his own
cognitive criteria (which need not necessarily be those of a putative
“modern consciousness”).
Berger (1979: 58) is adamant that there is only one theological
method “that promises both to face and to overcome the challenges
of the modern situation,” namely the “inductive option.” In
A Rumor
of Angels
(1969a), he sketches a preliminary outline of this concept,
which has an anthropological starting point and proceeds inductively
from everyday human experiences. He calls these experiences “signals
of transcendence”—that is, “phenomena that are to be found within
the domain of our ‘natural’ reality but that appear to point beyond that
reality” (ibid., 53). Berger (ibid., 54–72) recognizes such signals in the
gesture of a mother reassuring her child that “everything is in order”;
in the world of joyful play, which “appears to suspend, or bracket, the
reality of our ‘living towards death’”; in hope against all hope; in humor;
and in the certainty that damnation, in the sense of divine punish-
ment, awaits the perpetrators of inhumane acts. This mundane list
reveals that Berger does not conceive of “signals of transcendence” as
mystical, miraculous experiences, but rather—in accordance with his
sociology-of-knowledge perspective—as the experiences of everyday
people living everyday lives.
e New Sociology of Knowledge
From a sociological perspective, Berger’s use of the term inductive
is misleading because it seems to imply that the existence of what
he calls “an other reality” can be inferred from human experiences.
Replying to criticism along these lines voiced by Gaede (1986), Berger
(1986d: 232) stresses that “inductive” merely denotes a procedure
whereby one takes ordinary human experiences as a starting point and
searches in them for “signals of transcendence.” However, it is not too
outlandish to assume that, when he chose the term, the association
with inductive reasoning was intended. As he explained in
A Rumor
of Angels
(1969a: 57), “Put simply: Inductive faith moves from human
experience to statements about God, deductive faith from statements
about God to interpretations of human experience.”
In that book (ibid., 47), Berger stresses that the inductive approach
to religious thought by no means constitutes empirical theology, but
rather “theology with a very high empirical sensitivity that seeks
to correlate its propositions with what can be empirically known.”
Ten years later, in
The Heretical Imperative
(1979), he elaborates in
great detail on the three theological strategies—deduction, reduc-
tion, and induction—adumbrated in
A Rumor of Angels
(1969a). He
illustrates these “options for religious thought in the pluralistic situa-
tion” (1979: 56) by means of paradigmatic examples from Protestant
theology. The ongoing conversation with his previous writings that
he conducts in
The Heretical Imperative
is typical of the way Berger
Rumor of Angels
(1969a) was also motivated by a desire to
pick up a trail that he had laid in a previous book—
A Sacred Canopy
(1967)—where he attempted to “break through the assumptions of
modern secularism from within” (1979: x).
A Sacred Canopy
(1967: 180), Berger stresses that “sociological
theory must, by its own logic, view religion as a human projection.”
He argues that sociologists must strictly bracket “the possibility that
the projected meanings may refer to something other than the being
of its projector,” because it is beyond the reach of a strictly empirical
discipline. He describes this approach as “methodological atheism,”
a term derived from Anton Zijderveld. Obviously anxious that the
Religion and Desecularization
It is logically possible . . . that both perspectives may coexist, each
within its particular frame of reference. What appears as a human
projection in one may appear as a reflection of divine realities in
another. The logic of the first perspective does not preclude the
possibility of the latter.
Applying a sociology-of-knowledge perspective to theology, Berger
(ibid., 40) deems it untenable, to relativize religious tradition by
it to antiquated consciousness, as radical or secular theolo-
gians have done. He argues that the type of modern consciousness that
has problems with the supernatural, is, itself, a time-bound phenom-
enon, in other words an expression of the
, and he notes that:
One (perhaps literally) redeeming feature of sociological perspective
is that relativizing analysis, in being pushed to its final consequence,
bends back upon itself. The relativizers are relativized, the debunkers
are debunked—indeed, relativization itself is somehow liquidated.
What follows is
, as some of the early sociologists of knowledge
feared, a total paralysis of thought. Rather, it is a new freedom and
flexibility in asking questions of truth. (ibid., 42)
Hence Berger’s conclusion that the sociology of knowledge actually
“offers a measure of liberation from the taken-for-granted certitudes
3.3 The Possibility of Faith
Even though Berger renounced a long time ago the neo-orthodox
position that he adopted in
The Precarious Vision
(1961b), one ques-
tion raised in that book—“Can a truly contemporary person be a
Christian?”—is still on his agenda. Expressed in broader terms, the
question that Berger asks himself is how true faith is possible under
conditions of pluralism and, therefore, in an “age of credulity” (the
subtitle of his book
A Far Glory
(1992b) was
The Quest for Faith in
an Age of Credulity)
. He formulated a general answer to this question
The Heretical Imperative
(1979) and elaborated on it further in
A Far Glory
Modernity, like every historical moment, is very mixed, and includes
specific elements that I, for one, would describe as retrogressive. But
it happens to be the situation in which we find ourselves. We should
e New Sociology of Knowledge
“the heretical imperative,” namely the fact that it forces us to make
choices. But to say that we ought simply to accept the modern situ-
ation is too pejorative. Not everything about this situation deserves
to be deplored. And above all, as I have tried to argue, the modern
situation has brought us an unprecedented freedom.
Berger expresses his personal response to this challenge with the
help of Luther’s doctrine of salvation “by faith alone” (
sola fide)
. For
him, the alternative to the quest for certainty in “an infallible church,
an inerrant scripture, or an irresistible personal experience” (2004a: vii)
is to live with uncertainty in faith, because “Therein lies the secret of
a distinctively Protestant freedom” (1998b: 33; our translation; cf. also
2004a: 141). Among all the available alternatives, he opts personally
for a faith that comes closest to this Lutheran variant of Protestantism
without being completely identical to it. In the preface to
Questions of
Faith. A Skeptical Affirmation of Christianity
(2004a: viii ), he openly
admits to being a heterodox Protestant:
I feel uncomfortable with all available theological labels and ecclesial
affiliations. My biographical roots are in Lutheranism, and I would
still identify myself as Lutheran, albeit with great reservation. . . .
I most feel at home in the tradition of Friedrich Schleiermacher,
because this tradition embodies precisely the balance between skep-
ticism and affirmation that, for me, defines the only acceptable way
of being Christian without emigrating from modernity.
In this book, which is organized around phrases from the Apostles’
Creed, Berger explains the theological reasons for his “choice of loca-
tion on the theological map.”
Ultimately, Berger’s main focus is on the experience of an other
reality, a reality that by virtue of its benevolence makes marginal
tions—first and foremost, death—bearable. As different as reli-
gions might be, almost all of them give the
the prospect that
life will not end in nothing and that death marks the transition to
an other, less distressing, more fulfilled, happier reality. According
to Berger, this also applies to nirvana in Hinduism. Religious vir-
tuosis (Max Weber’s term) tell of encounters with God, an angel, or
. They often feel that these encounters were
licted upon them, and they experience them as frightening—which
makes the experiences all the more real. The average human being,
by contrast, can never be sure of coming into contact with this other
reality. Hence, for most ordinary people faith means not knowing.
Religion and Desecularization
Analytically, Berger does not tend to draw a clear line between
religious experience and other, for example, spiritual, experiences.
In his view, when people describe themselves as spiritual rather than
religious, it is mainly an indication of their dissatisfaction with their
church and sometimes also an expression of their quest for a harmoni-
ous, balanced life (2004a: 122–23). However, provided their spiritual
orientation addresses aspects of the supernatural and the sacred, it can,
in fact, be classified as religious—even if it is directed toward esoteric
doctrines, which are often characterized by a certain degree of eclecti-
cism. Berger (1986d: 231) conceives of the supernatural and the sacred
as intersecting circles, arguing that “Only the common area contains
what has been known as religious experiences.” He labels as parapsy-
chology those orientations, such as magic, that focus exclusively on
the supernatural “without the sense of the sacred.” And he points out
that secularization leads to the “sanctification of such secular entities
as science, or the nation, or the revolutionary movement” without the
aspect of the supernatural (loc. cit.).
Hammond (1986) criticizes Berger’s definition of religion, arguing
that it recognizes as religion only those encounters with the sacred in
the thesis that modernity necessarily leads to secularization. He
considered that the presumed secularizing effect of modernity was
e New Sociology of Knowledge
rendered plausible by Max Weber’s thesis of the “disenchantment
of the world.” In
The Sacred Canopy
(1967: 111), Berger agrees that
Protestantism, which had divested itself of “the three most ancient and
powerful concomitants of the sacred—mystery, miracle, and magic,”
was a major driving force behind the disenchantment of the Western
world. However, he points out that the roots of the process can be
traced back to the Old Testament (ibid., 113).
Berger (ibid., 197) defines secularization as “a process by which
sectors of society and culture are removed from the domination of
religious institutions and symbols.” On the one hand, therefore, secu-
larization is a process of religious de-institutionalization. By pointing
out that this process affects the levels of culture and symbols, Berger
makes it clear that sociocultural secularization also manifests itself on
the level of individual consciousness. Hence “the modern West has pro-
duced an increasing number of individuals who look upon the world
and their own lives without the benefit of religious
tern Europe, and that secularization theory had been developed
mainly by European intellectuals, who had made the fundamental mis-
take of elevating this historical exception to the status of a rule, thereby
extrapolating from Western Europe to the rest of the world.
Religious America, Secular Europe? A Theme and Variations
(Berger, Davie & Fokas 2008b), which summarized the findings of a
CURA project on
secularity, Berger and his coauthors, Grace
Davie and Effie
as, analyze the differences between the exceptional
ope—and the United States. In a chapter that he contributed
to the book (2008b: 9–10), Berger argues that, like any other important
historical phenomenon, secularization cannot be explained mono-
causally. He identifies a comprehensive set of factors that led to the
Western and Central Europe becoming a geographic exceptional case.
Religion and Desecularization
Following Alexis de Tocqueville, Berger considers the relationship
between church and state to be a particularly important causal fac-
tor. He points out that, even in colonial America, no church has ever
succeeded in achieving a dominant position that would have
it to develop an exclusive relationship with the temporal power.
The Puritans’ attempt to establish Calvinism as the state church in
Massachusetts failed, as did a similar attempt on the part of the
Anglicans in Virginia. This failure was due not to the postulate of
tolerance but rather to the opposition of competing religions. The
First Amendment to the American Constitution ideologically legiti-
mated freedom of religion and the separation of church and state. As
a consequence, the churches
ame “voluntary associations.” Herein
lies a fundamental difference between the United States and Europe.
Because established churches existed in most countries in Protestant
and Catholic Europe into the twentieth century—and indeed still exist
in England, Denmark, Norway, and Finland, for example—the church
was closely identified with authority. Berger (ibid., 16) argues that this
is an important element of the explanation of Eurosecularity, because
“where religion is closely identified with the state, resentments against
the latter almost inevitably come to include the former.”
Besides a number of other causal factors, Berger repeatedly stresses
the role of intellectuals. In his aforementioned contribution to
gious America, Secular Europe?
(Berger et al. 2008b: 17–18), he notes
that the French Enlightenment was sharply anti-clerical and that the
intelligentsia in Europe had been a secularizing force. The secularizing
attitude of European intellectuals had spread to their counterparts in
the United States: “One may say then that the American intelligentsia
has been ‘Europeanized’ in its attitude to religion as in other matters.”
However, he points out that, compared to the intelligentsia in Europe,
American intellectuals are much less influential.
As a result of the expansion of education, the secularizing attitude
of the intelligentsia spreads to other social strata because the plausi-
bility of religious experiences is weakened when cognitive elites have
a secularized worldview (cf. Wuthnow et al. 1984: 64). However, the
secularized international intellectual elite, which can be conceived
of as a “world intellectual culture” (Berger & Huntington 2002a: 50),
represents the exceptional case in the secularization context.
According to Berger, this empirically well-supported finding is the
main reason why so many sociologists of religion continued to adhere
to secularization theory despite numerous empirically grounded
e New Sociology of Knowledge
counter-arguments. In view of the explosive spread of religions—
ecially Islam and Pentecostalism—he not only considers that
secularization theory has been shown to be false (or, as he would put
it, “blown out of the water”). In
The Desecularization of the World:
urgent Religion and World Politics
(1999) he also explicitly pos-
tulates the existence of a counter-trend, namely desecularization or
counter-secularization. And in a paper entitled “Reflections on Soci-
ology of Religion Today” (2001b), he declares the interplay between
secularizing and counter-secularizing forces to be one of the most
important questions for contemporary sociology of religion.
However, Berger by no means denies the immense consequences
of modernization, not only for those religions that had a monopolis-
tic position in premodern societies. As far back as 1963, in a paper
entitled “A Market Model for the Analysis of Ecumenicity” (cf. 1963c),
he first drew attention to the change in the relationship between church
and state, between clergy and laity, and between the religious institu-
tions themselves. These institutions find themselves in a competitive
situation that obliges them to present their respective offerings of
meaning in an attractive way. Under these conditions, lay people can
either choose between different religious purveyors of meaning, or put
together their own eclectic spiritual package. As a result, the religious
institutions lose their power to impose sanctions. Moreover, their
economic power diminishes due to declining membership.
Religions can respond to this competitive situation by opening
up or closing themselves off. In Berger’s view, neither isolation from
the outside world nor exclusionary closure has a lasting prospect
for success. The practical advice he gives to church institutions is to
engage in ecumenical dialog with competitors without sacrificing the
fundamental tenets of their respective religions. This presupposes
prior differentiation between intrinsic and extrinsic elements of faith.
What is deemed to be the ultimate truth must be defended; what is
considered negotiable can be negotiated (cf. 1992b: 63).
On the level of individual consciousness, Berger considers the plu-
ralization of life-worlds—which he first addressed in
The Homeless
(1973a)—to be the gravest effect of modernity. Religions and
religiosity are particularly affected because pluralism “undermines all
taken-for-granted certainties” (cf. 2001b). Berger stresses that, while
pluralism does not inexorably lead to secularization—that is, to “a
decline in religion both in society and in the minds of individuals”
(1999: 2)—it does, however, bring about a situation in which religious
Religion and Desecularization
convictions can no longer be taken for granted, but must be chosen. In
other words, they become a matter of preference: “I would propose that
pluralism affects the ‘how’ rather than the ‘what’ of religious belief and
practice—and that is something quite different from
The American sociologist of religion Robert Wuthnow draws attention to
e fundamental importance of plausibility structures—and, thus, of the
social element—for Berger’s sociological theory of religion. Admittedly,
Wuthnow (1986: 140) cautiously criticizes the fact that precisely this element
of the theory could give rise to a suspicion of determinism. Moreover, he
also points out that the subjective dimension of, and the rational-
approach to, religion are overemphasized. (The rational-cognitive approach
may stem from Berger’s “Austrian Lutheranism.”) Nonetheless, Wuthnow’s
critique of Berger’s sociology is unrecognizably motivated by the intention
to make his approach accessible to American sociology (of religion).
ause such a definition implies that “everything genuinely human is ipso
facto religious and the only nonreligious phenomena in the human sphere
are those that are grounded in man’s animal nature, or more precisely, that
part of his biological constitution that he has
in common
with other
(1967: 177). For an account of the way in which Berger’s concept of religion
differs from Luckmann’s, and for critical stances in this definition dispute,
cf. Schnettler (2006: 55–58) and Dobbelaere and Lauwers (1973).
For a
thorough analysis of the conceptual implications of objectification,
objectivation, alienation, and reification, see Berger and Pullberg (1965e).
In true
Barthian fashion, the early, neo-orthodox, Berger declared: “What
the proclamation of Jesus Christ demands is faith. The religious enterprise
circumvents this demand and seeks to meet God on other grounds. In other
words, religion is lack of faith” (1961b: 166). As the later, heterodox-liberal,
Berger notes in
The Heretical Imperative
(1979: 77), Barth insisted that “
human religion is unbelief and Christian faith is not to be subsumed under
the category of religion.”
the other hand, Berger (1986d: 232) concedes the justification of Gaede’s
(1981) criticism that his threefold typology comprising deductive, reductive,
and inductive modes of theologizing was incomplete. Gaede had criticized that
this typology conflated two heterogeneous themes—the deductive/inductive
and the orthodox/heterodox. On reflection, Berger acknowledges that there
are actually four options for religious thought under conditions of pluralism.
He calls them deductive orthodox (formerly deductive); deductive heterodox
(formerly reductive); inductive heterodox (formerly inductive), and—the new
variant—inductive orthodox, whereby the last variant connotes movement
from personal experience to an orthodox
ause the book was written before he realized that secularization theory
was mistaken, Berger himself now considers the second part—devoted to
secularization—to be radically outdated (cf. 2011: 100).
also repeatedly concurs with Luckmann’s thesis of the privatization
of religion; cf. (1967: 208), Wuthnow et al. (1984: 61).
The Desecularization of the
World: A Global Overview
elf, why
would the MacArthur Foundation shell out several million dollars to
support an international study of religious fundamentalists?
Two answers came to mind. The first was obvious and not very
interesting. The MacArthur Foundation is a very progressive outfit;
it understands fundamentalists to be anti-progressive; the Project,
then, was a matter of knowing one’s enemies. But there was also a
more interesting answer. “Fundamentalism” is considered a strange,
hard-to-understand phenomenon; the purpose of the Project was to
delve into this alien world and make it more understandable. But to
finds this world strange? Well, the answer to
was easy: people to whom the officials of the MacArthur Foundation
normally talk, such as professors at elite American universities. And
with this came the aha! experience. The concern that must have led
to this Project was based on an upside-down perception of the world,
according to which “fundamentalism” (which, when all is said and
done, usually refers to any sort of passionate religious movement)
is a rare, hard-to-explain thing. But a look either at history or at the
contemporary world reveals that what is rare is not the phenomenon
e New Sociology of Knowledge
itself but knowledge of it. The difficult-to-understand phenomenon
is not Iranian mullahs but American university professors—it might
be worth a multi-million-dollar project to try to explain that!
Mistakes of Secularization Theory
My point is that the assumption that we live in a secularized world
is false. The world today, with some exceptions to which I will come
presently, is as furiously religious as it ever was, and in some places
more so than ever. This means that a whole body of literature by his-
torians and social scientists loosely labeled “secularization theory” is
essentially mistaken. In my early work I contributed to this literature.
I was in good company—most sociologists of religion had similar
views, and we had good reasons for holding them. Some of the writings
we produced still stand up. (As I like to tell my students, one advan-
tage of being a social scientist, as against being, say, a philosopher or
a theologian, is that you can have as much fun when your theories are
falsified as when they are verified!)
Although the term “secularization theory” refers to works from the
1950s and 1960s, the key idea of the theory can indeed be traced to the
Enlightenment. That idea is simple: Modernization necessarily leads
to a decline of religion, both in society and in the minds of individuals.
And it is precisely this key idea that has turned out to be wrong. To be
sure, modernization has had some secularizing effects, more in some
places than in others. But it has also provoked powerful movements
of counter-secularization. Also, secularization on the societal level is
not necessarily linked to secularization on the level of individual con-
sciousness. Certain religious institutions have lost power and influence
in many societies, but both old and new religious beliefs and practices
have nevertheless continued in the lives of individuals, sometimes
taking new institutional forms and sometimes leading to great explo-
sions of religious fervor. Conversely, religiously identified institutions
can play social or political roles even when very few people believe or
practice the religion that the institutions represent. To say the least,
the relation between religion and modernity is rather complicated.
The proposition that modernity necessarily leads to a decline of
religion is, in principle, “value free.” That is, it can be affirmed both
by people who think it is good news and by people who think it is very
bad news. Most Enlightenment thinkers and most progressive-minded
people ever since have tended toward the idea that secularization is a
good thing, at least insofar as it does away with religious
Religion and Desecularization
that are “backward,” “superstitious,” or “reactionary” (a religious residue
purged of these negative characteristics may still be deemed accept-
able). But religious people, including those with very traditional or
orthodox beliefs, have also affirmed the modernity/secularity linkage,
and have greatly bemoaned it. Some have then defined modernity
as the enemy, to be fought whenever possible. Others have, on the
contrary, seen modernity as some kind of invincible world-view to
which religious beliefs and practices should adapt themselves. In other
are two strategies open to religious
communities in a world understood to be secularized. As is always the
case when strategies are based on mistaken perceptions of the terrain,
both strategies have had very doubtful results.
It is possible, of course, to reject any number of modern ideas and
values theoretically, but making this rejection stick in the lives of people
is much harder. To do that requires one of two strategies. The first is
religious revolution:
one tries to take over society as a whole and make
one’s counter-modern religion obligatory for everyone—a difficult
enterprise in most countries in the contemporary world. (Franco tried
in Spain and failed; the mullahs are still at it in Iran and a couple of
other places.) And this
have to do with modernization, which
brings about very heterogeneous societies and a quantum leap in
intercultural communication, two factors favoring pluralism and
favoring the establishment (or reestablishment) of religious monopo-
lies. The other possible way of getting people to reject modern ideas
and values in their lives is to create
religious subcultures
designed to
keep out the influences of the outside society. That is a somewhat more
promising exercise than religious revolution, but it too is fraught with
difficulty. Modern culture is a very powerful force, and an immense
effort is required to maintain enclaves with an airtight defense system.
Ask the Amish in eastern Pennsylvania. Or ask a Hasidic rabbi in the
Williamsburg section of Brooklyn.
Interestingly, secularization theory has also been falsified by the
results of adaptation strategies by religious institutions. If we really
lived in a highly secularized world, then religious institutions could be
expected to survive to the degree that they manage to adapt to secular-
ity. That has been the empirical assumption of adaptation strategies.
What has in fact occurred is that, by and large, religious communities
have survived and even flourished to the degree that they have
to adapt themselves to the alleged requirements of a secularized world.
To put it simply, experiments with secularized religion have generally
e New Sociology of Knowledge
failed; religious movements with beliefs and practices dripping with
reactionary supernaturalism (the kind utterly beyond the pale at self-
respecting faculty parties) have widely succeeded.
The Catholic Church vs. Modernity
The struggle with modernity in the Roman Catholic Church nicely
ustrates the difficulties of various strategies. In the wake of the
Enlightenment and its multiple revolutions, the initial response by
the Church was militant and then defiant rejection. Perhaps the most
magnificent moment of that defiance came in 1870, when the First
Vatican Council solemnly proclaimed the infallibility of the Pope
and the immaculate conception of Mary, literally in the face of the
Enlightenment about to occupy Rome in the shape of the army of
Victor Emmanuel I. (The disdain was mutual. If you have ever visited
the Roman monument to the Bersaglieri, the elite army units that
upied the Eternal City in the name of the Italian
may have noticed the placement of the heroic figure in his Bersaglieri
uniform—he is positioned so that his behind points exactly toward
the Vatican.)
The Second Vatican Council, almost a hundred years later, consid-
erably modified this rejectionist stance, guided as it was by the notion
bringing the Church up to date—that is, up to date
with the modern world. (I remember asking a Protestant theologian
what he thought would happen at the Council—this was before it
had convened; he replied that he didn’t know but he was sure they
would not read the minutes of the last meeting!) The Second Vatican
Council was supposed to open windows, specifically the windows of
the Catholic subculture that had been constructed when it became
clear that the overall society could not be reconquered. In the United
States, this Catholic subculture has been quite impressive right up to
the very recent past. The trouble with opening windows is that you
can’t control what comes in, and a lot has come in—indeed, the whole
turbulent world of modern culture—that has been very troubling to
the Church. Under the current pontificate the Church has been steer-
ing a nuanced course between rejection and adaptation, with mixed
results in different countries.
This is as good a point as any to mention that all my observations
here are intended to be “value free”; that is, I am trying to look at the
current religious scene objectively. For the duration of this exercise
I have put aside my own religious beliefs. As a sociologist of religion,
Religion and Desecularization
I find it probable that Rome had to do some reining in on the level of
both doctrine and practice, in the wake of the institutional disturbances
that followed Vatican II. To say this, however, in no way implies my
theological agreement with what has been happening in the Roman
Catholic Church under the present pontificate. Indeed, if I were
Roman Catholic, I would have considerable misgivings about these
developments. But I am a liberal Protestant (the adjective refers to my
religious position and not to my politics), and I have no immediate
existential stake in what is happening within the Roman community.
I am speaking here as a sociologist, in which capacity I can claim a
certain competence; I have no theological credentials.
On the international religious scene, it is conservative or orthodox or
traditionalist movements that are on the rise almost everywhere. These
movements are precisely the ones that rejected an
with modernity as defined by progressive intellectuals. Conversely,
religious movements and institutions that have made great efforts
to conform to a perceived modernity are almost everywhere on the
decline. In the United States this has been a much commented upon
fact, exemplified by the decline of so-called mainline Protestantism
and the concomitant rise of Evangelicalism; but the United States is
by no means unusual in this.
Nor is Protestantism. The conservative thrust in the Roman Catholic
Church under John Paul II has borne fruit in both number of converts
and renewed enthusiasm among native Catholics, especially in non-
Western countries. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union there
occurred a remarkable revival of the Orthodox Church in Russia.
The most rapidly growing Jewish groups, both in Israel and in the
spora, are Orthodox. There have been similarly vigorous upsurges
of conservative religion in all the other major religious communities—
Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism—as well as revival movements in smaller
communities (such as Shinto in Japan and Sikhism in India). These
developments differ greatly in their social and political implications.
What they have in common is their unambiguously
tion. Consequently, taken together they provide a massive falsifica-
tion of the idea that modernization and secularization are cognate
phenomena. At the very least they show that counter-secularization
is at least as important a phenomenon in the contemporary world as
e New Sociology of Knowledge
Both in the media and in scholarly publications, these movements
are often subsumed under the category of “fundamentalism.” This is
not a felicitous term, not only because it carries a pejorative undertone
but also because it derives from the history of American Protestant-
ism, where it has a specific reference that is distortive if extended to
other religious traditions. All the same, the term has some suggestive
use if one wishes to explain the aforementioned developments. It
suggests a combination of several features—great religious passion, a
defiance of what others have defined as the
and a return to
traditional sources of religious authority. These are indeed common
features across cultural boundaries. And they do reflect the presence
of secularizing forces, since they must be understood as a reaction
those forces. (In that sense, at least, something of the old
secularization theory may be said to hold up, in a rather back-handed
way.) This interplay of secularizing and counter-secularizing forces is,
I would contend, one of the most important topics for a sociology of
contemporary religion, but far too large to consider here. I can only
drop a hint: Modernity, for fully understandable reasons, undermines
all the old certainties; uncertainty is a condition that many people find
very hard to bear; therefore, any movement (not only a religious one)
that promises to provide or to renew certainty has a ready market.
Differences Among Thriving Movements
While the aforementioned common features are important, an analysis
of the social and political impact, of the various religious upsurges must
also take full account of their differences. This becomes clear when one
looks at what are arguably the two most dynamic religious upsurges
in the world today, the Islamic and the Evangelical; the comparison
also underlines the weakness of the category of “fundamentalism” as
applied to both.
The Islamic upsurge, because of its more immediately obvious
political ramifications, is better. known. Yet it would be a serious
error to see it only through a political lens. It is an impressive revival
of emphatically
commitments. And it is of vast geographical
scope, affecting every single Muslim country from North Africa to
Southeast Asia. It continues to gain converts, especially in sub-Saharan
Africa (where it is often in head-on competition with Christianity).
It is becoming very visible in the burgeoning Muslim communities in
Europe and, to a much lesser extent, in North America. Everywhere
it is bringing about a restoration, not only of Islamic beliefs but of
Religion and Desecularization
distinctively Islamic life-styles, which in many ways directly contradict
modern ideas—such as ideas about the relation of religion and the
state, the role of women, moral codes of everyday behavior, and the
boundaries of religious and moral tolerance. The Islamic revival is by
no means restricted to the less modernized or “backward” sectors of
society, as progressive intellectuals still like to think. On the contrary,
it is very strong in cities with a high degree of modernization, and
in a number of countries it is particularly visible among people with
Western-style higher education—in Egypt and Turkey, for example,
many daughters of secularized professionals are putting on the veil
and other accoutrements of Islamic modesty.
Yet there are also great differences within the movement. Even
the Middle East, the Islamic heartland, there are both religiously and
politically important differences between Sunni and Shiite
Islamic conservatism means very different things in, say, Saudi Arabia
and Iran. Away from the Middle East, the differences become even
greater. Thus in Indonesia, the most populous Muslim country in the
world, a very powerful revival movement, the Nudhat’ul-Ulama, is
avowedly pro-democracy and pro-pluralism, the very opposite of what
is commonly viewed as Muslim “fundamentalism.” Where the political
circumstances allow this, there is in many places a lively discussion
about the relation of Islam to various modern realities, and there are
sharp disagreements among individuals who are equally committed
to a revitalized Islam. Still, for reasons deeply grounded in the core of
the tradition, it is probably fair to say that, on the whole, Islam has had
a difficult time coming to terms with key modern institutions, such
as pluralism, democracy, and the market economy.
The Evangelical upsurge is just as breathtaking in scope. Geographi-
cally that scope is even wider. It has gained huge numbers of converts
in East Asia—in all the Chinese communities (including, despite severe
persecution, mainland China) and in South Korea, the Philippines,
across the South Pacific, throughout sub-Saharan Africa (where it
is often synthetized with elements of traditional African religion),
arently in parts of ex-Communist Europe. But the most remarkable
success has occurred in Latin America; there are now thought to be
between forty and fifty million Evangelical Protestants south of the U.S.
border, the great majority of them first-generation Protestants. The
most numerous component within the Evangelical upsurge is Pente-
costalism, which combines biblical orthodoxy and a rigorous morality
with an ecstatic form of worship and an emphasis on spiritual healing.
e New Sociology of Knowledge
Especially in Latin America, conversion to Protestantism brings about
a cultural transformation—new attitudes toward work and consump-
tion, a new educational ethos, and a violent rejection of traditional
(women play a key role in the Evangelical churches).
The origins of this worldwide Evangelical upsurge are in the United
States, from which the missionaries first went out. But it is very
tant to understand that, virtually everywhere and emphatically
in Latin America, this new Evangelicalism is thoroughly indigenous
and no longer dependent on support from U.S. fellow believers—
Latin American Evangelicals have been sending missionaries
to the Hispanic community in this country, where there has been a
comparable flurry of conversions.
Needless to say, the religious contents of the Islamic and Evangeli-
cal revivals are totally different. So are the social and political conse-
quences (of which I will say more later). But the two developments
also differ in another very important respect: The Islamic movement
is occurring primarily in countries that are already Muslim or among
Muslim emigrants (as in Europe), while the Evangelical movement is
growing dramatically throughout the world in countries where this
type of religion was previously unknown or very marginal.
Exceptions to the Desecularization Thesis
Let me, then, repeat what I said a while back: The world today is mas-
sively religious, is
anything but
the secularized world that had been
predicted (whether joyfully or despondently) by so many analysts of
modernity. There are, however, two exceptions to this proposition,
one somewhat unclear, the other very clear.
The first apparent exception is Europe—more specifically, Europe
west of what used to be called the Iron Curtain (the developments in
the formerly Communist countries are as yet very under-researched
and unclear). In Western Europe, if nowhere else, the old seculariza-
tion theory would seem to hold. With increasing modernization there
has been an increase in key indicators of secularization, both on the
level of expressed beliefs (especially those that could be called ortho-
dox in Protestant or Catholic terms) and, dramatically, on the level of
church-related behavior—attendance at services of worship, adherence
to church-dictated codes of personal behavior (especially with regard
to sexuality, reproduction, and marriage), recruitment to the clergy.
These phenomena, long observed in the northern countries of the
continent, have since World War II rapidly engulfed the south. Thus
Religion and Desecularization
Italy and Spain have experienced a rapid decline in church-related
religion. So has Greece, thereby undercutting the claim of Catholic
conservatives that Vatican II is to be blamed for the decline. There is
now a massively secular Euro-culture, and what has happened in the
south can be simply described (though not thereby explained) by that
culture’s invasion of these countries. It is not fanciful to predict that
there will be similar developments in Eastern Europe, precisely to the
degree that these countries too will be integrated into the new Europe.
While these facts are not in dispute, a number of recent works in
the sociology of religion, notably in France, Britain, and Scandinavia,
have questioned the term “secularization” as applied to these devel-
opments. A body of data indicates strong survivals of religion, most
of it generally Christian in nature, despite the widespread alienation
from the organized churches. A shift in the institutional location of
religion, then, rather than secularization, would be a more accurate
description of the European situation. All the same, Europe stands out
as quite different from other parts of the world, and certainly from the
United States. One of the most interesting puzzles in the sociology of
religion is why Americans are so much more religious
as well as
churchly than Europeans.
The other exception to the desecularization thesis is less ambigu-
ous. There exists an international subculture composed of people
with Western-type higher education, especially in the humanities
and social sciences, that is indeed secularized. This subculture is
the principal “carrier” of progressive, Enlightened beliefs and values.
While its members are relatively thin on the ground, they are very
influential, as they control the institutions that provide the “official”
definitions of reality, notably the educational system, the media of mass
communication, and the higher reaches of the legal system. They are
remarkably similar all over the world today, as they have been for a
long time (though, as we have seen, there are also defectors from this
subculture, especially in the Muslim countries). Again, regrettably, I
cannot speculate here as to why people with this type of education
should be so prone to secularization. I can only point out that what
we have here is a globalized
In country after country, then, religious upsurges have a strongly
populist character. Over and beyond the purely religious motives, these
are movements of protest and resistance
a secular elite. The so-
called culture war in the United States emphatically shares this feature.
I may observe in passing that the plausibility of secularization theory
e New Sociology of Knowledge
owes much to this international subculture. When intellectuals travel,
they usually touch down in intellectual circles—that is, among people
much like themselves. They can easily fall into the misconception that
these people reflect the overall visited society, which, of course, is a big
mistake. Picture a secular intellectual from Western Europe socializing
with colleagues at the faculty club of the University of Texas. He may
think he is back home. But then picture him trying to drive through
the traffic jam on Sunday morning in downtown Austin—or, heaven
help him, turning on his car radio! What happens then is a severe jolt
of what anthropologists call culture shock.
After this somewhat breathless
tour d’horizon
of the global religious
scene, let me turn to some the questions posed for discussion in this
set of essays.
First, what are the origins of the worldwide resurgence
of religion?
Two possible answers have already been mentioned. One:
Modernity tends to undermine the taken-for-granted certainties by
which people lived through most of history. This is an uncomfortable
state of affairs, for many an intolerable one, and religious movements
that claim to give certainty have great appeal. Two: A purely secular
view of reality has its principal social location in an elite culture that,
not surprisingly, is resented by large numbers of people who are not
part of it but who feel its influence (most troublingly, as their children
are subjected to an education that ignores or even directly attacks
their own beliefs and values). Religious movements with a strongly
anti-secular bent can therefore appeal to people with resentments
that sometimes have quite non-religious sources.
But I would refer once more to the little story with which I began,
about American foundation officials worried about “fundamentalism.”
In one sense, there is nothing to explain here. Strongly felt religion has
always been around; what needs explanation is its absence rather than
its presence. Modern secularity is a much more puzzling phenom-
enon than all these religious explosions—if you will, the University of
Chicago is a more interesting topic for the sociology of religion than
the Islamic schools of Qom. In other words, the phenomena under
consideration here on one level simply serve to demonstrate continuity
in the place of religion in human experience.
Second, what is the likely future course of this religious resurgence?
Given the considerable variety of important religious movements in
the contemporary world, it would make little sense to venture a global
Religion and Desecularization
prognosis. Predictions, if one dares to make them at all, will be more
useful if applied to much narrower situations. One prediction, though,
can be made with some assurance: There is no reason to think the
world of the twenty-first century will be any less religious than the
world is today. A minority of sociologists of religion have been try-
ing to salvage the old secularization theory by what I would call the
last-ditch thesis: Modernization
secularize, and movements like
the Islamic and the Evangelical ones represent last-ditch defenses by
religion that cannot last; eventually, secularity will triumph—or, to put
it less respectfully, eventually Iranian mullahs, Pentecostal preachers,
and Tibetan lamas will all think and act like professors of literature
at American universities. I find this thesis singularly unpersuasive.
Having made this general prediction—that the world of the next
century will not be less religious than the world of today—I will have
to speculate very differently regarding different sectors of the religious
scene. For example, I think that the most militant Islamic movements
will find it hard to maintain their present stance
once they succeed in taking over the governments of their countries
(this, it seems, is already happening in Iran). I also think that Pen-
tecostalism, as it exists today among mostly poor and uneducated
people, is unlikely to retain its present religious and moral character-
istics unchanged, as many of these people experience upward social
mobility (this has already been observed extensively in the United
States). Generally, many of these religious movements are linked to
non-religious forces of one sort or another, and the future course of
the former will be at least partially determined by the course of the
latter. In the United States, for instance, militant Evangelicalism will
have a different future course if some of its causes succeed in the
political and legal arenas than if it continues to be frustrated in these
arenas. Also, in religion as in every other area of human endeavor,
individual personalities play a much larger role than most social sci-
entists and historians are willing to concede. There might have been
an Islamic revolution in Iran without the Ayatollah Khomeini, but it
would probably have looked quite different. No one can predict the
appearance of charismatic figures who will launch powerful religious
movements in unexpected places. Who knows—perhaps the next
religious upsurge in America will occur among disenchanted post-
modernist academics!
Third, do the resurgent religions differ in their critique of the secular
Yes, of course they do, depending on their particular belief
e New Sociology of Knowledge
systems. Cardinal Ratzinger and the Dalai Lama will be troubled by
different aspects of contemporary secular culture. What both will
agree upon, however, is the shallowness of a culture that tries to get
along without any transcendent points of reference. And they will
have good reasons to support this view The religious impulse, the
quest for meaning that transcends the restricted space of empirical
existence in this world, has been a perennial feature of humanity
(This is not a theological statement but an anthropological one—an
agnostic or even an atheist philosopher may well agree with it.)
It would require something close to a mutation of the species to
extinguish this impulse for good. The more radical thinkers of the
Enlightenment and their more recent intellectual descendants hoped
for something like this, of course. So far it has not happened, and
as I have argued, it is unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future.
The critique of secularity common to all the resurgent movements
is that human existence bereft of transcendence is an impoverished
and finally untenable condition.
To the extent that secularity today has a specifically modern form
(there were earlier forms in, for example, versions of Confucianism
and Hellenistic culture), the critique of secularity also entails a critique
of at least these aspects of modernity. Beyond that, however, different
religious movements differ in their relation to modernity. As I have
said, an argument can be made that the Islamic resurgence strongly
tends toward a negative view of modernity; in places it is downright
anti-modern or counter-modernizing, as in its view of the role of
women. By contrast, I think it can be shown that the Evangelical
resurgence is positively modernizing in most places where it occurs,
clearly so in Latin America. The new Evangelicals throw aside many of
the traditions that have been obstacles to modernization—machismo,
for one, and also the subservience to hierarchy that has been endemic
to Iberian Catholicism. Their churches encourage values and behavior
patterns that contribute to modernization. To take just one important
case in point: In order to participate fully in the life of their congrega-
tions, Evangelicals will want to read the Bible; this desire to read the
Bible encourages literacy and, beyond this, a positive attitude toward
education and self-improvement. They also will want to be able to
join in the discussion of congregational affairs, since those matters
are largely in the hands of laypersons (indeed, largely in the hands
of women); this lay operation of churches necessitates training in
administrative skills, including the conduct of public meetings and the
Religion and Desecularization
keeping of financial accounts. It is not fanciful to suggest that in this
way Evangelical congregations serve—inadvertently, to be sure—as
schools for democracy and for social mobility.
Other questions posed for discussion in this volume concern the
relation of the religious resurgence to a number of issues not linked
to religion.
international politics.
Here one comes up head-on against
the thesis, eloquently proposed not long ago by Samuel Huntington,
that, with the end of the Cold War, international affairs will be affected
by a “clash of civilizations” rather than by ideological conflicts. There
is something to be said for this thesis. The great ideological conflict
that animated the Cold War is certainly dormant for the moment, but
I, for one, would not bet on its final demise. Nor can we be sure that
new ideological conflicts may not arise in the future. To the extent that
nationalism is an ideology (more accurately, each nationalism has its
ideology), ideology is alive and well in a long list of countries.
It is also plausible that; in the absence of the overarching confronta-
tion between Soviet Communism and the American-led West, cultural
animosities suppressed during the Cold War period are surfacing.
Some of these animosities have themselves taken on an ideological
form, as in the assertion of a distinctive Asian identity by a number of
governments and intellectual groups in East and Southeast Asia. This
ideology has become especially visible in debates over the allegedly
ethnocentric/Eurocentric character of human rights as propagated by
the United States and other Western governments and governmental
organizations. But it would probably be an exaggeration to see these
debates as signaling a clash of civilizations. The situation closest to a
religiously defined clash of civilizations would come about if the world-
view of the most radical branches of the Islamic resurgence came to be
established within a wider spectrum of countries and became the basis
of the foreign policies of these countries. As yet this has not happened.
To assess the role of religion in international politics, it would be
useful to distinguish between political movements that are genuinely
inspired by religion and those that use religion as a convenient legitima-
tion for political agendas based on quite non-religious interests. Such
a distinction is difficult but not impossible. Thus there is no reason to
doubt that the suicide bombers of the Islamic Haws movement truly
believe in the religious motives they avow. By contrast, there is good
e New Sociology of Knowledge
reason to doubt that the three parties involved in the Bosnian conflict,
commonly represented as a clash between religions, are really inspired
by religious ideas. I think it was P. J. O’Rourke who observed that these
three parties are of the same race, speak the same language, and are
distinguished only by their religion, which none of them believe. The
same skepticism about the religious nature of an allegedly religious
conflict is expressed in the following joke from Northern Ireland: As
a man walks down a dark street in Belfast, a gunman jumps out of a
doorway, holds a gun to his head, and asks, “Are you Protestant or
Catholic?” The man stutters, “Well, actually, I’m an atheist.” “Ah yes,”
says the gunman, “but are you a Protestant or a Catholic atheist?”
war and peace.
It would be nice to be able to say
that religion is everywhere a force for peace. Unfortunately, it is not.
Very probably religion in the modern world more often fosters war,
both between and within nations. Religious institutions and move-
ments are fanning wars and civil wars on the Indian subcontinent, in
the Balkans, in the Middle East, and in Africa, to mention only the
most obvious cases. Occasionally, indeed, religious institutions try to
st Warlike policies or to mediate between conflicting parties. The
Vatican mediated successfully in some international disputes in Latin
America. There have been religiously inspired peace movements in
several countries (including the United States, during the Vietnam
War). Both Protestant and Catholic clergy have tried to mediate the
conflict in Northern Ireland, though with notable lack of success.
But it is probably a mistake to look here simply at the actions of
formal religious institutions or groups. There may be a diffusion of
en the two sides of the conflict, at least until the last few years
of the regime, when the Dutch Reformed Church reversed its position
on apartheid.
economic development.
The basic text on the relation
of religion and economic development is, of course, the German
sociologist Max Weber’s 1905 work
The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit
of Capitalism.
Scholars have been arguing over the thesis of this book
for over ninety years. However one comes out on this (I happen to
be an unreconstructed Weberian), it is clear that some values foster
Religion and Desecularization
modern economic development more than others. Something
Weber’s “Protestant ethic” is probably functional in an early phase
of capitalist growth—an ethic, whether religiously inspired or not,
that values personal discipline, hard work, frugality, and a respect
for learning. The new Evangelicalism in Latin America exhibits these
values in virtually crystalline purity, so that my own mental subtitle
for the research project on this topic conducted by the center I direct
at Boston University has been, “Max Weber is alive and well and living
in Guatemala.” Conversely, Iberian Catholicism, as it was established
in Latin America, clearly does
foster such values.
But religious traditions can change. Spain experienced a remark-
ably successful period of economic development beginning in the
waning years of the Franco regime, and one of the important factors
was the influence of Opus Dei, which combined rigorous theological
orthodoxy with a market-friendly openness in economic matters.
I have suggested that Islam, by and large, has difficulties with a modern
market economy; yet Muslim emigrants have done remarkably well in
a number of countries (for instance, in sub-Saharan Africa), and there
is a powerful Islamic movement in Indonesia that might yet play a role
analogous to that of Opus Dei in the Catholic world. I should add that
for years now there has been an extended debate over the part played
by Confucian-inspired values in the economic success stories of East
Asia; if one is to credit the “post-Confucian thesis” and also to allow
that Confucianism is a religion, then here would be a very important
religious contribution to economic development.
One morally troubling aspect of this matter is that values functional at
one period of economic development may not be functional at
e New Sociology of Knowledge
Communist regimes in Europe. But, as mentioned previously, there
are different religiously articulated views about the nature of human
rights. The same goes for ideas about social justice: what is justice to
some groups is gross injustice to others. Sometimes it is very clear
that positions taken by religious groups on such matters are based
on a religious rationale; the principled opposition to abortion and
contraception by the Roman Catholic Church is such a clear case. At
other times, though, positions on social justice, even if legitimated by
religious rhetoric, reflect the location of the religious functionaries in
this or that network of non-religious social classes and interests. To
stay with the same example, I think that this is the case with most of
the positions taken by American Catholic institutions on social-justice
issues other than those relating to sexuality and reproduction.
I have dealt very briefly with immensely complex matters. I was
asked to give a global overview, and that is what I have tried to do.
There is no way that I can end this with some sort of uplifting sermon.
Both those who have great hopes for the role of religion in the affairs
of this world and those who fear this role must be disappointed by
the factual evidence. In assessing this role, there is no alternative to
a nuanced, case-by-case approach. But one statement can be made
with great confidence: Those who neglect religion in their analyses
of contemporary affairs do so at great peril.
Culture and Socioeconomic
As mentioned in Chapter 1 above, Peter L. Berger founded the Institute
for the Study of Economic Culture (ISEC) at Boston University in 1985,
four years after he took up an appointment as professor of sociology
there. As he cryptically notes in his career memoir,
Adventures of an
Accidental Sociologist
(2011: 207), “Later on, for uninteresting rea-
sons having to do with the interests of donors, we changed the name
twice—first to Institute on Religion and World Affairs (IRWA), then
to Institute on Culture, Religion and World Affairs (CURA).”
Despite the name changes, the agenda of the institute has remained
the same. Broadly speaking, its objective is to furnish with the help of
sociological research practically applicable insights into the relation-
ship between socioeconomic change and culture, in the sense of beliefs,
values, and lifestyles. CURA uses its ample financial resources—Peter
L. Berger has always been a very successful fund-raiser—not only
for research activities but also for colloquia and conferences with
ision-makers and consortia. It frequently manages to procure grants
by promising funders that the research findings will be disseminated
beyond the narrow confines of science and will be fed into public
debate. Another defining characteristic of the way the institute works
is its global perspective, which is assured by the close collaboration
between the experts in CURA’s international network.
4.1 Economic Culture
The institute’s profile stems not least from Berger’s humanitarian drive
to search for answers to global development problems. These problems
have been on his agenda since the 1960s. In numerous publications, he
developed more and more detailed insights into the manifold causes
of poverty and under-development. Milestones include
The Homeless
(1973a), which analyzed the impact of modernization on the
e New Sociology of Knowledge
Third World;
Pyramids of Sacrifice
(1974a), which dealt with political
ethics as applied to social change in the Third World; and
The Capi-
talist Revolution
(1986a), in which Berger coined the term economic
culture to denote one focus of CURA’s research. Over the years, Berger
developed a firm, empirically grounded stance on the chances of, and
barriers to, modernization and economic prosperity. He arrived at
the conviction that the improvement of the material living conditions
of large numbers of people could succeed only with a capitalist model
of development (cf. 2011: 142). He pointed out that socialist models of
development had been discredited because they had improved only
the material standard of living of the ruling elite (cf. 1992a: 10).
Because the economy, politics, and culture are closely linked,
Berger views economic and political liberalization as two interwoven
processes whose relationship is, however, an asymmetrical one. He
argues (e.g., 1986a) that, although capitalism is a necessary condi-
tion of democracy, the converse is by no means the case. China is
not the only example that clearly shows that market liberalization in
authoritarian systems with limited fundamental political rights or in
totalitarian systems can give rise to an enormous economic boom.
Successful capitalism releases democratic forces whose dynamism is
hard to subdue even with massive effort. However, as Berger empha-
sizes with reference to China: “Whether these forces inexorably lead
to democracy is another question” (1997c).
With the concept of economic culture, Berger refers to the way in
which economic arrangements interact with other processes in society.
The Capitalist Revolution
(1986a), he stresses that:
The phrase
economic culture
. . . does not refer to some mysteri-
ous, empirically inaccessible element. Quite simply, it denotes the
iocultural context within which economic activities and economic
institutions exist. It points to a certain set of relationships; it does
imply a theory of these relationships. Thus, to speak of economic
culture by no means implies that culture always determines eco-
nomics, or even that cultural factors must be taken into account in
all phenomena that an economist studies. Whether culture does or
does not enter into the explanation of any economic situation must
always be a matter of empirical inquiry. (1986a: xx)
Their shared assumption of the fundamental cultural impact of glo-
balization formed the starting point for a large-scale project
n countries that Berger codirected with Samuel P.
tington in the
Culture and Socioeconomic Change
1990s. This cross-national comparative study revealed that the widely
held notion of a dominant,
global culture was untenable. In
an essay entitled the “Four Faces of Global Culture,” (1997d: 23–29),
Berger proposes that global culture has at least four faces. He distin-
guishes typologically four simultaneous processes of cultural global-
ization: “First is what Huntington nicely calls the ‘Davos culture’ (after
the annual World Economic Summit that meets in that Swiss luxury
resort).” The participants in this culture are the political and eco-
nomic elite. Berger calls the second grouping the “faculty club culture”:
“Essentially this is the internationalization of the Western intelligentsia,
its values and ideologies.” The third process of cultural globalization is
popular culture: “Here Barber’s term ‘McWorld’ fits best. And it is this
culture that is most credibly subsumed under the category of West-
ernization.” And “fourthly, yet perhaps not finally,” Berger recognizes
in Evangelical Protestantism, especially in its Pentecostal version, the
fourth face of global culture. What these four faces have in common
is their Western provenance.
The papers from the project were published in a book entitled
Globalizations: Cultural Diversity in the Contemporary World
(Berger &
Huntington 2002b). In the chapter that she contributed to the book,
country researcher Tulasi Srinivas (2002b: 89–90) takes Berger’s
n-centric “Four Faces” essay as her starting point and examines
cultural globalization as a
-way process. She focuses on non-Western,
primarily Indian, contributions to the process of cultural globalization,
arguing that: “While cultural globalization forces do enter India, cul-
tural models are also increasingly emitted
India.” In his recent
career memoir, Berger (2011: 239) acknowledges that these counter-
emissions are, indeed, “important countervailing cultural forces”:
Some come from Latin America (salsa music), some from Africa
(‘Mandela shirts’). But the major ones come from Asia. Some may be
deemed superficial, like the consumption of sushi or curry dishes. . . .
Others are clearly more existentially significant, like martial arts or
so-called spirituality.”
The country-specific tableaux of cultural globalization presented
Many Globalizations
(Berger & Huntington 2002b) reveal the com-
plexity of the cultural dynamics of globalization. In his introduction
to the book, Berger highlights a number of key aspects. They include:
: “If there is one theme that all have in common, it is
ation: all sectors of the emerging global culture enhance the
e New Sociology of Knowledge
independence of the individual over against tradition and collectivity”
in the sense of “significant local modifications” of the
global culture (ibid., 10).
as “the deliberate effort to synthesize foreign and
cultural traits” (loc. cit.). Berger cites Japan as a most successful pio-
neer of this response to globalization.
“that is, cultural movements with a global
outreach originating outside the Western world and indeed impacting
on the latter” (ibid., 12). And finally,
—to wit, “movements with a regional rather than
a global reach that nevertheless are instrumental in connecting the
societies on which they impinge with the emerging global culture.
‘Europeanization’ is probably the most important case of this. . . .”
4.2 Neo-Weberianism
Berger owes his appreciation of the immense importance of culture
for economic development to Max Weber. Indeed, he describes the
agenda of CURA and its predecessors as “neo-Weberian” (2011: 209).
The research projects conducted under the auspices of CURA are
extremely diverse. They include, for example, studies on Pentecostalism
in Latin America and South Africa, on the relationship to democracy
of the Russian Orthodox Church, and on the political and economic
implications of morals and ethics. However, all these projects have
one theme in common, namely the elective affinity between culture
(including religious values and convictions) and economic, political,
and civil society development.
In his famous treatise
The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of
(2003 [1904/5]), Weber argues that the Protestant ethic—
characterized by inner-worldly asceticism and a calling to worldly
duties—had been a factor in the genesis of capitalism in the Western
world; that this ethic could not be understood without reference to
its roots in Protestant dogmatism; and that Calvinism and the Baptist
sects had been independent carriers of this process.
According to Martin Endress (2007: 50–51), Weber’s hypothesis
of the link between Protestantism and capitalism contains the fol-
lowing three “argumentative steps”: In the course of the search in
everyday life for signs of orientation with regard to the other world,
the Protestant work ethic leads to a reinterpretation of the religious
guiding principle on the part of the adherents, the majority of whom
just coincidentally happen to belong to the commercial
Culture and Socioeconomic Change
A pragmatic logic of the profitability of action is generated, which
leads to the establishment of a permanent competitive situation. In
the context of social groupings (sects), the doctrine of predestination
encourages the systematic and mutual observation of the adherents
to see who has been elected by the grace of God to be saved. As divine
salvation has been institutionalized as the ultimate goal in life, they all
want to be perceived as members of the elect. Wealth, or being well-to-
do, is considered a sign that the person in question is a member of
the elect. For this reason, the originally “anti-active character” of the
doctrine of predestination is reversed. This reinterpretation creates
permanent competition among the members of the group with regard
to the knowledge that one belongs to the elect and to the honor of being
recognized within the community as a person in possession of the grace
of God: “Material wealth ‘functions’ as a sign of success and a symbol
of being among the elect when it is invested with permanence—that
is, when it is combined with an ascetic lifestyle that is geared toward
relentless toil and the accumulation of wealth, thereby leading to a
systematization of the entire conduct of life” (ibid., 51; our translation).
This sociological interpretation appears only at first glance to
contradict the view taken by Weber in
The Protestant Ethic
[1904/5]: 104) that the Calvinist doctrine had evoked individualism
in the sense of “the feeling of unprecedented inner loneliness”—a
view that he impressively substantiated with recourse to Puritanical
literature from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In Chapter II
The Protestant Ethic
, which is devoted to “The Spirit of Capitalism,”
Weber postulates that: “In order that a manner of life so well adapted
to the peculiarities of capitalism could be selected at all, i.e. should
come to dominate others, it had to originate somewhere, and not in
isolated individuals alone, but as a way of life common to whole
of men” (ibid., 55; emphasis added).
The classical sociology-of-knowledge content of Weber’s studies
in the sociology of religion lies in references to specific groups of car-
riers. For example, in Note 36 to Chapter IV of
e New Sociology of Knowledge
that “for the broad mass of ordinary men . . . the
certitudo salutis
the sense of the recognizability of the state of grace necessarily became
of absolutely dominant importance.” By contrast, the question: “Am
I one of the elect?” did not plague those whom Weber (1978 [1922]:
538) calls “religious virtuosis.” Calvin, for example, “felt himself to be
the chosen agent of the Lord, and was certain of his own salvation”
(Weber 2003 [1904/5]: 110).
According to Berger, the postulated connection between (inner-
worldly, ascetic) Protestantism and capitalism—which Weber does not,
of course, perceive as causal but rather as one of elective affinity—is
historically correct. However, he argues that the constituent elements
of the cultural package “Protestant ethic” that Weber put together can
be dismantled and detached from their religious base. These elements
comprise a morally laden work ethic, a rational worldview devoid of
magic, a systematic, disciplined conduct of life (what Weber called
“life-discipline”), disciplined consumption in the sense of delayed
gratification, and a consuming interest in education (2004b). Examples
of “this-worldly asceticism” and a systematic, controlled conduct of
life, in particular, can also be found without a Protestant basis. In the
early phase of economic development, at any rate, they prove to be
functional attitudes and habits—irrespective of how they are religiously
or ethically justified.
To put it simply: Individuals engage in business and rise out of pov-
erty. Eventually they themselves, or the next generation, move up to the
middle class. After some time, a community with such focused people
boasts successful economic development. Individual entrepreneurial
thinking and action are necessary, but not sufficient, conditions because
development can be massively impaired by macro-economic, politi-
cal, and ecological circumstances—that is, trade restrictions, abuse of
power, or lack of resources. According to Berger, Weber was particu-
larly mistaken in his assumption that Confucianism was inherently
non-conducive to capitalism. The rise of the four Little Tigers—South
Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore—is a striking illustration not
only of the way a Confucian culture acts as a driving force for capital-
ism but also of the importance of culture for economic development.
The latter insight was alien to neo-Marxist theory in the early 1980s.
4.3 CURAtorium
Under the auspices of CURA and its predecessors, and within the
framework of the institute’s neo-Weberian agenda, Peter L. Berger
Culture and Socioeconomic Change
and his many collaborators have tilled a number of hitherto largely
fallow fields. The institute’s studies on Pentecostalism can certainly
be described as pioneering. Berger (2011: 32) recognized earlier than
most the “veritable tsunami of Pentecostal Christianity sweeping
across Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, parts of Asia, and other
unlikely places.” Hence, when founding ISEC in 1985, he decided to
make Pentecostal studies an important part of the institute’s agenda,
and he continues actively to promote research in this area.
Berger’s acknowledgement of the erroneous nature of seculariza-
tion theory is therefore empirically underpinned. Well-nigh explosive
outbursts of religious fervor can be observed throughout the world—in
all the major religions, and, as a rule, in a creative synthesis with folk
beliefs, as illustrated by the mixing of charismatic Christianity and
indigenous African religions.
However, the range of research topics covered by the institute is by
no means limited to themes such as Pentecostalism, Eastern
hodoxy’s relation to democracy in Russia, or the quantitative
rease in the well-educated Evangelical middle class in America. The
latest fruit of its projects on Eurosecularity is the book
Religious America
— Secular Europe?
(Berger et al. 2008b). Moreover, for many years now,
intensive research on Islam has been conducted under its auspices. The
latter studies have focused not only, but especially, on moderate and
fundamentalist tendencies. The focus of studies on China, Hong Kong,
and Taiwan has been on civil-society aspects. Furthermore, a CURA
project entitled “
Between Relativism and Fundamentalism,
” which
attempted to identify a middle position from the perspective of Christian
and Jewish traditions, yielded, among other things,
In Praise of Doubt:
How to Have Convictions Without Becoming a Fanatic
(2009), a book
that Berger coauthored with Anton Zijderveld (see Chapter 6 below).
The strongly empirically oriented research program of CURA and
its predecessors, which has been outlined only roughly here, has not yet
yielded a differentiated theory of the relationship between culture and
socioeconomic change. However, in “Faith and Development: A global
perspective” (2008d: 10–11), a lecture he delivered in Johannesburg
in 2008, Berger draws five conclusions from the institute’s research:
“The first is that religious traditions are malleable. . . . No tradition is
ried through history as an inert entity.
ond, the socioeconomic potential of the religious tradition may
be latent for long periods of time until triggered by some new set of
circumstances. Confucianism presents us with such a case.
e New Sociology of Knowledge
“Third, the socioeconomic effects of a religious tradition typically
an expiration date. In other words, these effects may not only be
latent, but are likely to be perishable once they have become manifest.
h, economic development is typically initiated by a vanguard.
h, modernity can come in different forms. . . .”
He goes on to point out that “there are certain attitudes and habits
without which modernity cannot arise or persist. Broadly speaking,
these are the rational mindsets and behavior patterns without which
modern science, technology, and bureaucratic administration cannot
exist. . . . I have called these the intrinsic features of modernity.”
This publication was followed by a series of edited volumes including
dern Capitalism
(Vol. 1):
Capitalism and Equality in America
Modern Capitalism
(Vol. 2):
Capitalism and Equality in the Third World
The Capitalist Spirit: Towards a Religious Ethic of Wealth Creation
ording to Weber (op. cit.: 144), Pietism and Methodism are not inde-
pendent sources of Protestant asceticism but merely “secondary move-
ments” and weaker versions of the ascetic ethic of Puritanism in Holland
and England.
argues that inner-worldly asceticism is functional only in the early
stage of economic development. In later stages it can even prove to be
dysfunctional. The systematic conduct of life is not necessarily conducive
to knowledge work, for example. It is no longer necessary that every indi-
vidual make an economically productive contribution. Rather, intellectual
productivity is called for, which may be rooted in a different, unsystematic
conduct of life (cf. 2004b).
Our Economic Culture
e New Sociology of Knowledge
that success?” And she stopped as if I had asked an extremely curi-
ous question and thought for about a minute and then she said, “Yes,
Chinese people work very hard.” Then she stopped again, thinking,
and then she went on talking about Gini coefficients. She had nothing
else to say on the subject. Now, let me say this was a very intelligent
person, a very good economist. She simply hadn’t thought about this;
it was irrelevant to her.
We’ve had this Hong Kong based project going for several years;
one book has come out and several articles. I think I now have a pretty
good idea of what makes for their success. I’m going to give you one
major one. The absolutely central institution one has to add for the
understanding of Chinese business is the Chinese family, the overseas
Chinese family. This is very important and has all sorts of implications.
One implication that we came upon, which was very interesting, is
that it has something to do with the size and complexity of businesses
where Chinese are successful—this is the precise opposite of what is
true for the Japanese. In North America and Europe there has been
a lot of discussion of an “Asian management style.” There is no Asian
management style; in fact Japanese and Chinese management are
about as different from each other as two types of management can
possibly be. The Japanese have shown an enormous ability to create
very strong organizations of people who are not related to each other
and to develop enormous loyalty to each other and to their organi-
zation. The Chinese are, you can say, unable or unwilling to do this.
Chinese firms are almost always family firms. And what this implies
is what some anthropologists have called the “threshold of trust,”
whom can you trust? And the traditional Chinese cultural answer is
very simple—you can only trust close relatives; you can’t trust anyone
else. That leads to a very interesting problem. What if your firm is
very successful and it grows and you put your close relatives in every
important position, you continue to grow and you run out of close
relatives. That is, you run out of people you can trust. What do you
do then? The empirical answer is the firm splits and people go off in
different directions. Now some don’t. We interviewed some managers
who were
family members. These were the most unhappy people
we talked to because no one trusted them. They knew they weren’t
going to get anywhere, and the only thought they had in their mind
was to go out as soon as possible and start their own business. The
only way in which large firms seem to work with that kind of principle
is if they have a very simple organization, in which case the firm may
Culture and Socioeconomic Change
be large, but it does not require a lot of decision centers, so you can
put your trusted relatives in those few positions. Shipping is a main
example of this that we discovered.
Here we look at a national culture, which is very ancient, which has
certain very specific characteristics, which interestingly enough did not
have these social and economic consequences in the home country but
resulted through migration, for which there are very good reasons. So
the same values, life styles, and family loyalties which were prevalent
in China itself over the last 200 years did not have the consequences
we see in Hong Kong or in Taiwan, or for that matter in Boston or
Philadelphia with overseas Chinese. In the new environment these
very old values and life styles suddenly acquire a social and economic
significance which they did not have before. Let me mention two terms
that come out of this and then drop this particular story. One term
I found myself using is “latent cultural factors,” that is, they may be
latent for a long time and then in a new environment suddenly acquire
a new potency in terms of economic and social dynamism. The other
term which we stole from the economists, but gave somewhat differ-
ent meaning, is to speak of “comparative cultural advantage.” If you
look at the role of overseas Chinese, particularly in Southeast Asia,
the term suggests itself. They have a comparative cultural advantage
over other ethnic groups.
Now, some important points: It is not a value judgement to say that
someone has a comparative advantage in terms of economic achieve-
ment. This is not to make a value judgement about their culture at all;
it simply says it has these consequences. It also suggests it is a relative
advantage; obviously not all Chinese are successful. It also suggests,
and this is very important, it may be a temporary advantage. Condi-
tions may change. Let me drop the Chinese for the moment and get
to my second story.
One must be very careful, if one looks at culture, not to fall into
what I have called the “ancient curse theory of history,” which is that
somewhere in the past, somebody uttered a curse, and then for cen-
turies people are obliged to follow this. In the case of the Chinese you
might say it’s an ancient blessing: Go and make money. I don’t think
history works that way. Some cultural traits indeed survive over many
centuries, though they may have different effects at different times, but
culture also changes and sometimes, especially, in the modem world.
There are dramatic and rapid cultural changes that occur. It is very
important, if one is interested in this area of economics and culture,
e New Sociology of Knowledge
to look at such cases. One of the most dramatic cases in the world
today, arguably the single most dramatic case (of which incidentally
many people in North America and Europe have never heard, which
is interesting) is the rapid spread of Evangelical Protestantism in the
third world and especially most dramatically in Latin America. The
idea that Latin America is a solidly Catholic continent is an obsolete
idea. Latin America is rapidly producing a very sizable Protestant
population. Guatemala, for reasons I don’t claim to understand, has
the highest percentage; it is now probably between 25 and 30 percent
of the population. We’ve been interested particularly in looking at
the social and economic consequences of this, which are formidable.
We started out with an overview of the situation, and we’ve done
two field studies (directed by David Martin of the London School
of Economics) of new Protestant entrepreneurs in Chile and Brazil.
My own mental subtitle of this project has been “Max Weber is alive
and well and living in Santiago de Chile.” As you look at these people
and what they believe and how they live, it is as if they have stepped
out of the history books describing the behavior of English and New
England Protestants two hundred years ago, except that they speak
Spanish and have a somewhat more colorful worship service. Most
of this Protestantism is Pentecostal, which is interesting. What we
are witnessing here, is a cultural revolution. There is no other way to
describe it. You have millions of people, who almost overnight as a
result of a religious conversion (a clearly a religious conversion that is
not politics under a religious label), rapidly change their life style with
very far reaching consequences. One could describe the changes in
that life style in different ways. I’ve used the term “cultural revolution.”
One can also say it’s a “women’s movement.” This religious movement
is basically driven by women, which is very interesting. Most of the
preachers, not all, but most of the preachers are still men. The mis-
sionaries and the organizers are mostly women—formidable women,
and they domesticate their husbands. It can also be described in Latin
American terms as an anti-machismo revolution, as if they had read
Max Weber. These Protestant women say to their husbands: “You’re
going to stop drinking, you’re going to stop gambling, you’re going to
stop having what in Mexico one calls a
casa chica—
a little house for the
other woman around the corner—you’re going to save money, you’re
going to take an interest in the education of the children.” Well, the men
either accept this and become good little Puritans, or the women kick
them out and either stay without men or acquire good little Puritans
Culture and Socioeconomic Change
as their new husbands. The effects of this are frankly what you would
expect: These people have a significant comparative cultural advantage
against their Catholic or religiously indifferent neighbors (or in Brazil
against the Afro-Brazilian cults, which also are not terribly conducive
to successful economic development).
Let me emphasize again that what I’m saying here is not a value
judgement. I’m not saying that these people are better than their
neighbors. Perhaps, to make this graphically clear, let me tell a story
that happened in the sort of ambience of our family some twenty years
ago when we spent a lot of time in Mexico and became acquainted with
a whole clan that came out of the state of Puebla. The reason that we
got to know these people is beside the point. One of these individuals,
whose name I think was Pablo, came from this village. He moved to
Mexico City and opened a tailor shop where he did alterations. It was
a hole in the wall, where he worked very hard, ten hours a day, seven
days a week, took care of his family and acquired a little money. One
day he disappeared and didn’t return for two weeks. What he had done,
was to take all his savings, go to Acapulco, check into one of the best
hotels, get himself two call girls, stay there for two weeks, and blow
every peso he had made. Now, there was subsequently a debate over
the moral issues involved in this act. Was this man irresponsible—to
be condemned—or was he to be admired? I must confess that I was not
quite clear where I would come out. I think there is something to be
said for his point of view, but what one can also say as an empirically
oriented person is that this is not a value system or life style conducive
to economic success. I don’t think Pablo will ever become a Protestant,
and in fact I would almost say I hope not. But if Pablo ever became a
Protestant and changed his life style, perhaps out of that hole in the
wall might come one day a trouser factory employing a hundred people
and selling a lot of trousers in North America.
We have also been very interested in changing corporate culture
in the advanced industrial societies. The most geographically expan-
sive study of changing corporate culture that we have done so far is a
study in five countries, four West European countries and the United
States—led by Hausfried Velluer of the University of Frankfurt. We
were particularly interested in a phenomena which we thought we
ected, and now I can say I’m quite sure it’s there: A strange symbiosis
e New Sociology of Knowledge
the United States over what some people called “the new class.” This
referred to a class of intellectuals, people working in the knowledge
industry, who were supposed to be hostile to capitalism, hostile to
business. In the late sixties and early seventies there was a lot to be
said for this. That analysis was somewhat grandiloquently called
“New Class Theory.” It wasn’t that much of a theory, but the idea has
some empirical merit and is still worth exploring today. We started
out by asking how business deals with this and how business culture
responds to these significant cultural changes that have been taking
place in western societies for the last twenty-five years. And what we
came upon was unexpected. It was remarkable synthesis, a kind of
symbiosis. Let me give you an example of this.
We did a conference at the conclusion of this study on what, in the
United States, are called personal development programs. This is a
kind of expansion of the notion of employee benefits in new direc-
tions such as child care, elder care, marriage counseling, even spiritual
development where employees go on weekends where they meditate
together. And we found this not only in the United States; we found
it very much in Western Europe (e.g., Germany and Sweden). At
this conference we had a man from Volvo who talked about Volvo’s
programs of personal development, of which he was very proud.
I thought it was a totalitarian nightmare, but he was very proud. Here
the corporation becomes (one is tempted to think of the papal encycli-
Culture and Socioeconomic Change
five-country study is a sociologist, Bernice Martin, who is the wife of
the major investigator of the Latin American Protestant study, David
Martin. She went along with him on some of the trips to Latin America
so she was a bridge between the two studies. We had a final meeting
of the research staff of the five-country study in Holland, one of the
countries we studied. Some of us were somewhat depressed by what
we found. One shouldn’t make value judgements as a social scientist,
but I may as well admit that I find much of this quite repulsive. At
any rate, some of us were not very happy with the findings. We sat in
a hotel, late in the evening and I turned to Bernice Martin and I said:
“Look, could we, in terms of cultural change, sum up what you and
David have been finding among these Latin American Protestants in
the phrase ‘Less fornication’?” (the term fornication here obviously
covers a lot of pleasures, not just sex). And she said, “Yeah, one could.”
Then I said, “Look, couldn’t one sum up
study in the phrase ‘more
fornication’? (as compared to an earlier type of Protestant ethic busi-
ness culture)?” And they all agreed, “Yeah, one could.”
The next question is what I feel is the sixty-four billion D-mark
question: As this cultural symbiosis takes place in the West, is it going
to make us more or less competitive internationally? My first inclina-
tion would be it would make us less competitive, because I think if
you want a general sociological rule, you could put it in very scien-
tific language: “The hard nosed bastard usually wins out”—and these
sensitive, conscience ridden, feminized executives, 1 think, are going
to lose out. That would have been my hypothesis. I’m much less sure
now. Let me tell you a story. A few years ago I was asked to speak to
a conference of Japanese business people in Osaka on some modest
subject-I think it was the future of Asian capitalism—and I prepared
this very carefully. I always prepare things very carefully, which was a
mistake, because if you’ve ever been to a Japanese conference, nobody
cares what you say and no one listens to you. It’s the harmony of the
meeting which is important. Anyway, I’d prepared this talk and I had
an episode in it. I had read a book for my own edification at the time,
on Roman history. And I came upon the following story that in the
early days of the Roman republic, when Rome was constantly at war
with these little Greek kingdoms in the south of Italy, an envoy of the
Roman Senate was sent to one of the Greek courts. One has to imagine
him as a sort of sturdy, early republican. He found himself at dinner
next to an Epicurean philosopher who explained to him all through
dinner that in his view the purpose of human life was happiness. The
e New Sociology of Knowledge
Roman envoy had never heard such a thing before, he listened with
great interest and the only comment he had at the conclusion of the
dinner was this, “I hope that you will continue to have these beliefs
as long as you are at war with us.” I said to my Japanese audience, “If I
were a Japanese businessman, looking at North America and Western
Europe, I think I would say, ‘I hope you will continue to hold these
values as long as you are in competition with us.’” It was a few years ago
when I told this story. I’m not so sure now. I may have been misled by
my own sense of revulsion against this new business culture. I should
have remembered what sociologists learn very early: If people define
a situation as real it is real in its consequences. If people believe this
stuff, maybe they do become more productive, and maybe all these
weekends with meditation and getting in touch with your own body
and talking to plants or whatever will make us more competitive. There
is the additional question, “what will happen to the Japanese?” which
is not at all clear, but I will leave it at that.
Knowledge and Reality
Knowledge and reality are the key terms of the theory for the sociology
of knowledge that Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann developed
The Social Construction of Reality
(1966a). The authors proceed
from the assumption that the historically evolved sociocultural world
is the product of human activity; that as a result of its objectivation
this product acts back dialectically upon its producer; and that it is
internalized in the course of socialization, thereby acquiring the status
of more or less taken-for-granted reality (ibid., 61). These three “dialec-
tical moments”—
, and
correspond to essential characteristics of the social world, namely,
Society is a human product. Society is an objective reality. Man is a
social product
” (loc. cit.). The paradigm thus established has often
been referred to as social constructivism, a label Berger (2011: 88)
describes as “unfortunate.”
Berger and Luckmann argue that knowledge is constitutive of the
construction of objective and subjective reality. However, they stress
that—within the frame of reference of the sociology of knowledge—
knowledge refers not to theoretical thought, to “ideas,” or ideology,
but rather to “everything that passes for knowledge in society, . . . to
what people ‘know’ as ‘reality’ in their everyday non-theoretical lives”
(1966a: 15). In this way, the authors liberate the sociology of knowledge
from its narrow focus on the epistemological problem of the relativity
of scientific thought, and, at the same time, they lay the foundations
for a new sociology of knowledge.
5.1 The Problem of Relativity
Berger and Luckmann develop their theory for the sociology of knowl-
edge in explicit contradistinction to the relativity of thought in gen-
eral and sociological thought in particular, which Max Scheler (1980)
e New Sociology of Knowledge
defined as the central problem of the sociology of knowledge, and to
Karl Mannheim’s focus on relationism. Although they consider the
relativity of all ideas, values, and truths (including their own) to be a
question that must be addressed, they argue that such questions are
not part of the sociology of knowledge, but rather “properly belong
to the methodology of the social sciences, an enterprise that belongs
to philosophy” (1966a: 13). This is eminently summed up in Berger
and Luckmann’s often-quoted dictum: “To include epistemological
questions concerning the validity of sociological knowledge in the
sociology of knowledge is somewhat like trying to push a bus on which
one is riding” (loc. cit.).
For this reason, they argue that epistemological questions should
not be dealt with within the framework of the empirical discipline of
sociology. Even though they acknowledge that the social determina-
tion of thought (including their own) is beyond dispute, they argue
that the sociology of knowledge is not epistemology. This contrasts
sharply with Mannheim’s view. He would have preferred to change
the discipline’s name to sociological epistemology.
Peter L. Berger considers methodologically controlled objectivity
to be a way in which
can deal with the problem of relativity.
In his view, objectivity is part of the scientific relevance structure to
which sociologists, who always have a number of relevance structures
at their disposal, can switch. As Berger and Kellner (1981: 62) argue,
“The possibility of scientific objectivity is grounded in the multiplic-
ity of relevance structures within consciousness.” From this perspec-
tive, objectivity is not inherent in any particular facts. Rather, it is the
ult of a process in which the scientist brackets his own standpoint.
According to Berger (2008a: 197), the objective validity criteria of the
social sciences facilitate the development of a theory “regardless of the
personal background of the scientist.” The proximity of Berger’s under-
standing of objectivity to Weber’s postulate of value-free social science
is evident. In
Sociology Reinterpreted
(1981: 52), Berger and Kellner
argue that “when sociologists embark on their scientific inquiry, they
must ‘bracket’ these values as much as possible—not, needless to say, in
the sense of giving them up or trying to forget them, but in the sense of
controlling the way in which these values might distort the sociological
vision.” However, the authors (ibid., 48–49) point out that there is more
at issue here than the scientist’s pious intention to be objective: “The
scientific relevance structure brings with it a body of theoretical and
empirical knowledge that must be taken into account in any particular
Knowledge and Reality
interpretation.” In other words, this involves “bringing the new-to-be
interpreted phenomena into a meaningful relation with comparable
phenomena previously interpreted by other sociologists” (loc. cit.).
Thus, in contrast to Mannheim, the authors do not question the
iologist’s existential determination (
). Rather, they
note that “Precisely by using the tools of the sociology of knowledge,
one can demonstrate that, far from being ‘freely suspended,’ intellec-
tuals constitute a collectivity (some would even say a class) with very
specific interests—and, as with other people, these interests color their
perceptions of society” (ibid., 65). However, Berger and Kellner share
Mannheim’s view that social scientists form a (reference) group or a
community with a common relevance structure and stock of knowl-
edge. The authors invoke the image of a “republic of scholars,” whose
citizenship one acquires when one becomes a scientist. Moreover,
as one also retains one’s citizenship of society and of various social
groupings, one enjoys “dual citizenship” (ibid., 66).
However, Berger has never been quite able to understand that many
sociologists consider this to be a problem. For him, value-freeness
means that science has its own objective validity criteria independent
of the scientist’s personal background. In his view, this does not imply
that scientists—as private individuals—may not have value judgments.
However, for the duration of their scientific enterprise, the individual
assessment of the phenomenon in question must be bracketed. Berger’s
attitude could be summed up as follows: The more aware the scientist
is of his own value judgments, the better able he is to avoid uncon-
sciously confounding them with his analysis.
In “Sociology and Freedom” (in 1977a: xviii), a speech he delivered
when he was awarded an honorary doctorate by Loyola University in
Chicago in 1970, Berger elaborates on value-freeness in two frames
of reference, noting that “the statement about the value-freeness of
sociology is methodological; the statement about the value-freeness
of the sociologist is ethical.” From a methodological viewpoint, Berger
emphatically insists that the
discipline of sociolog
y must be value
free, because “The moment the discipline ceases to be value-free in
principle, it ceases to be science, and becomes nothing but ideology,
propaganda, a part of the instrumentarium of political manipulation”
(loc. cit.) From an ethical standpoint, on the other hand, he adamantly
rejects value-freeness on the part of the
practitioner of the discipline
the sociologist, who is not only a scientist but also a private individual.
For Berger the moralist, this differentiation was particularly important
e New Sociology of Knowledge
in those days. At a time—1970—when sociology faculties were politi-
cally radicalized, the insistence on methodological value-freeness was
an offensive act, a sign that he refused to allow himself to be pressur-
ized by the
-dominating “Movement.” However, at that time, in
particular, Berger was well known for taking a stance—not only theo-
logically but also politically—against America’s Vietnam policy. In his
view, value-freeness and moral responsibility are equally
each to its own time and in its own sphere, and in accordance with
one’s own moral standards.
In addition to the postulate of value-freeness, Berger is also com-
mitted to the methodological principle of falsifiability. Here, he fol-
lows Weber rather than Popper (cf. Berger 1986d: 233),
stressing that
“I have always believed that all theorizing that occurs within the frame
of reference of the social sciences must be open to empirical testing”
(ibid., 229). While he admits that “there are elements of my sociology
of knowledge that may be meta-theoretical,” he stresses that he has
“usually been careful to mark them off as such” (loc. cit.).
Berger’s sociology of knowledge is shaped by Weber’s notion of
understanding (
). He aims to interpret the “certainties”—the
(“relative-natural”) worldviews—of actors and social groups
sine ira et
, without reservations, and without an enlightenment impetus.
Berger developed a special sociology-of-knowledge-based research
design within the framework of a project entitled “South Africa
ond Apartheid” (SABA)—the first project he conducted at Boston
University (1986–1988). At the time, South Africa was still paralyzed
by the system of apartheid. Each member of the hand-picked team of
American and South African researchers was assigned to one major
political actor—a political party, a left- or right-wing movement, a
resistance group, the business community, a church, a trade union,
etc.—and given the task of identifying and analyzing its normative
and cognitive definitions of reality, its vision for the future of the
country, and the main strategies it was pursuing for the realization of
this vision. In a second—reality-testing—interview (Berger & Godsell
1988a: 5), interviewees were confronted with inconsistencies in their
respective cognitive maps, with the typical criticisms expressed by
their opponents, and with humanitarian aspects.
The findings of the project were published under the title
outh Africa: Visions, Strategies and Realities
(Berger & Godsell
1988a). Today, the book is obviously more of historical value. But at
the time of its publication, it met with a huge response from the public
Knowledge and Reality
and from political circles both in America and South Africa. In his
recent career memoir, Berger (2011: 188) recalls:
After publication of the book, we received quite a few letters of
protest. But not a single one protested what we had said about the
party of the letter writer. The protests were all about what had been
said about other parties, along the lines of “You were deceived about
the real intention of these bastards!” I found this methodological
validation very encouraging, and I have used similar analytic schemes
since then.
Apart from proving the potential of the sociology of knowledge to
analyze a socially virulent issue, the project delivered on the promise
of the new sociology of knowledge to reconstruct the diverse construc-
tions of reality as knowledge—that is, as certainties incorporated into
plausibility structures.
5.2 A Theory for the Sociology of Knowledge
Although Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann (1966a: 13ff.)
ocate drawing a clear line between the sociology of knowledge and
epistemology, the theory for the sociology of knowledge presented
The Social Construction of Reality
is by no means characterized
by a narrow disciplinary approach. On the contrary, the authors
integrate Alfred Schutz’s mundane phenomenology, Arnold Gehlen
and Helmuth Plessner’s philosophical anthropology, fundamental
perspectives of the early Marx, and the social psychology of Charles
Horton Cooley and George Herbert Mead into a concise theoretical
formation. Moreover, they manage to combine in a comprehensive
theory of social action two theoretical positions that were hitherto
deemed incompatible—to wit, Durkheim’s notion that society is a
sui generis,
and Weber’s postulate that society is constructed
by subjectively meaningful human activity (ibid., 17–18, 185).
Durkheim appears to have been a source of inspiration for Berger
and Luckmann from the word go, as can be seen from their definition
(1966a: 1) of reality as “a quality appertaining to phenomena that we
recognize as being independent of our own volition (we cannot ‘wish
them away’).” In
Montesquieu and Rousseau: Forerunners of Sociology
(1965 [1892]: 12), Durkheim notes that “The subject matter of science
can consist only of things that have a stable nature of their own and
are able to resist the human will.” Although the focus of Berger and
Luckmann’s treatise is on the reality of everyday life, or, more precisely,
e New Sociology of Knowledge
on the “analysis of the knowledge that guides conduct in everyday life”
(1966a: 19), they never lose sight of the multiple realities in which
people live. Rather, they repeatedly outline situations in which “the
continuity of everyday reality is interrupted by a problem” (ibid., 24–25,
102–3)—situations in which the unproblematic becomes problem-
atic. In other words, as Helmuth Plessner notes in his preface to the
German edition of
The Social Construction
of Reality
Die Soziale Kon-
struktion der Wirklichkeit,
1969), the authors do not focus narrowly
on the construction of
reality. Following Alfred Schutz, they
define knowledge as “the certainty that phenomena are real and that
they possess specific characteristics” (1966a: 1), thereby underlining
the broadness of their knowledge concept. The subject matter of the
sociology of knowledge is knowledge, irrespective of whether it is based
on experience, opinion, belief, imagination, etc. In contrast to episte-
mological and positivistic sociology-of-knowledge positions, what is
decisive for Berger and Luckmann is not whether the knowledge in
question is true, but whether it passes for knowledge in a particular
society and is thus socially approved as true (cf. Schutz & Natanson
1982: 349). In the latter work (loc. cit.) we find a concept (“the relative
natural conception of the world”) that is very similar to what Scheler
(1980: 74) calls the “
natural worldview” (cf. also Berger &
Luckmann 1966a: 8). Scheler (loc. cit.) notes that:
to the relative natural worldview of a group subject . . . belongs
whatever is generally ‘given’ to this group
without question
and every
object and content of meaning within the structural forms ‘given’
without specific spontaneous acts, a givenness which is universally
held and felt to be
unneedy and incapable of justification
. But pre-
cisely such objects and contents can be
entirely different
for different
groups and for the same groups during various developmental stages.
This social relativity—in other words, the fact that “specific agglom-
erations of ‘reality’ and ‘knowledge’ pertain to specific social contexts”
(Berger & Luckmann 1966a: 3)—justifies sociology’s interest in a
complex of themes that touches also on philosophical questions, and
legitimates the existence of the sociology of knowledge. The empirical
agenda of the sociology of knowledge, which derives from the afore-
mentioned plurality of “agglomerations of ‘reality’ and ‘knowledge,’”
reveals that this sub-discipline cuts across sociological sub-disciplines
that focus on just one concrete subject (for example, education, the
family, or consumption). This is because the social relativity of reality
Knowledge and Reality
and knowledge—a basic tenet of the sociology of knowledge—is inher-
ent in all sociological problems. However, as Berger and Luckmann
(ibid., 186) stress, not every empirical study needs an injection of a
sociology-of-knowledge “angle”. Indeed, “in many cases this would be
unnecessary for the cognitive goal at which these studies aim” (loc. cit.).
The agenda for the sociology of knowledge formulated by Berger
and Luckmann (ibid., 3) is not limited to “
analysis of the social con-
struction of reality.
” Rather, the authors propose that the discipline of
sociology be given a sociology-of-knowledge foundation: “In sum, our
conception of the sociology of knowledge implies a specific concep-
tion of sociology in general” (ibid., 189).
They contend that the task of
the sociology of knowledge is to “seek to understand the processes by
which [human knowledge is developed, transmitted, and maintained
in social situations, MP] in such a way that a taken-for-granted ‘reality’
congeals for the man in the street” (ibid., 3).
From a sociology-of-knowledge perspective, knowledge is consti-
tutive of the construction of reality insofar as: “What is real is a mat-
ter of social definition, and the form this definition takes is what is
deemed to be reality” (Knoblauch 2005: 156; our translation).
knowledge and reality are complementary terms, as are meaning and
life-world. This differentiation is the key to understanding
The Social
Construction of Reality
because the authors’ category of knowledge
is understandable only with recourse to meaning. Indeed, Knoblauch
(2005: 155) argues that “It is no distortion of [Berger and Luckmann’s,
MP] ideas to describe knowledge as socially relevant, socially objec-
tivated, and socially transmitted meaning.” Berger and Luckmann’s
analysis seeks to understand the way in which this reality-defining
knowledge develops through processes of habitualization, typification,
institutionalization, legitimation, and socialization. These processes
must be understood in their interdependence with the construction
of reality based on the dialectic of externalization, objectivation, and
internalization. In other words, they must be viewed in the context
of the interrelationship between knowledge and activity. That is what
Knoblauch (2005: 17) means when he describes this approach as an
integrative sociology of knowledge.
Two apparently contradictory phenomenological insights are
fundamental to this understanding of knowledge: (a) all knowledge
is constituted in consciousness, and (b) most knowledge is socially
derived. This apparent contradiction can be resolved with the help of
Schutz’s notion of typification. Typification denotes those processes of
e New Sociology of Knowledge
consciousness in which current experiences and actions are compared
with remembered experiences and actions. In this way, the unknown
is transformed into the known.
In its most general form, the consti-
tution of meaning is therefore nothing more than relating something
to something else.
However, as the correlate of our subjective experience, the life-
world comprises not only our own experiences but also the experi-
ences of others transmitted mainly through language, the typifying
medium par excellence. Berger and Luckmann (1966a: 30–31) point
out that “The reality of everyday life contains typificatory schemes
in terms of which others are apprehended and ‘dealt with’ in face-to-
face encounters. . . . The typificatory schemes entering into face-to-
face situations are, of course, reciprocal.” Alfred Schutz (Schutz &
anson 1982: 13–14) notes that, because the individual’s biographi-
cal situation in everyday life is always a historical situation:
Only a very small part of my knowledge of the world originates
within my personal experience. The greater part is socially derived,
handed down to me by my friends, my parents, my teachers and
the teachers of my teachers. I am taught not only how to define my
environment . . ., but also how typical constructs have to be formed
in accordance with the system of relevances accepted from the
anonymous unified point of view of the in-group. This includes ways
of life, methods of coming to terms with the environment, efficient
recipes for the use of typical means for bringing about typical ends
in typical situations.
Typifications are not only basic forms of knowledge. They are also the
link between one’s access to the social world, which, by definition, is
always subjective, and its intersubjective validity (cf. Srubar 1979: 47).
Berger and Luckmann (1966a) acknowledge that the construction
of reality is not a
creatio ex nihilo
, nor is it random. Rather, it must
be understood as limited by the possibilities of the actor and the
possibilities of the action. Hence, they combine Schutz’s notion that
all knowledge is grounded in subjective meaning with fundamental
insights of philosophical anthropology furnished by Arnold Gehlen
and Helmuth Plessner. Knoblauch (2005: 154) refers to Gehlen
and Plessner’s approach as “negative anthropology.” This paradigm
emphasizes human beings’ instinctual deficiencies; the plasticity of
their needs and wants; the biological world-openness of human exis-
tence, “which is, and always must be, transformed by the social order
into a relative world-closedness”; and the separation of consciousness
Knowledge and Reality
from bodily existence, that is, “eccentric positionality.” These char-
acteristics limit human action and the social construction of reality.
Berger and Luckmann (1966a) were convinced that a sociology of
knowledge that narrowly equates knowledge with theoretical thinking,
and concerns itself only with the problem of existential determination
), was wasting its potential, Hence, when develop-
ing their theory for the sociology of knowledge, they picked up and
developed a thread spun by the early Marx, from whom “the sociology
of knowledge derived its root proposition—that man’s consciousness
is determined by his social being” (ibid., 5–6). The thread in question
is Marx’s twin concepts of “substructure/superstructure” (
). In the authors’ view, later Marxism’s (for example Lenin’s)
tendency to identify the substructure with economic structure, and
to regard the superstructure as a direct reflection thereof, was a
misrepresentation of Marx’s thought—not least because it failed to
recognize the dialectical character of the determination that Marx
had in mind: “What concerned Marx was that human thought is
founded in
human ac
tivity (‘labor in the widest sense of the word’)
and in the social
ations brought about by that activity” (ibid., 6) . . .
tant point for a theoretical sociology of knowledge is the
dialectic between knowledge and its social base” (ibid., 200, Note 56).
This Marxian insight corresponds to what the authors (ibid., 66) call the
“fundamental dialectic of society,” which they elaborate on as follows:
The important principle for our general considerations is that the
relationship between knowledge and its social base is a dialectical
one, that is, knowledge is a social product and knowledge is a factor
in social change. (ibid., 87)
With the insight that society is a human product, Berger and Luckmann
follow Marx and, especially, Helmuth Plessner (1982: 385), because
the human world created by human hand becomes “second nature”
for its producers.
The Social Construction of Reality
(1966a), the authors supple-
ment the concepts of “externalization” and “objectivation,”
were derived from Marx, with the concept of “internalization,” the
“third moment” in the dialectical process of the construction of reality
(ibid., 61). They acknowledge that the social-psychological presupposi-
tions on which their analysis of the internalization process are based
were greatly influenced by George Herbert Mead and the symbolic-
interactionist school of American sociology (ibid., 17). The authors
e New Sociology of Knowledge
owe to Mead their insight into the dialectic of social structure and
psychological reality. Mead posited that the individual experiences
his identity in socially defined terms and these definitions become
subjectively real to him. Hence, the self and identity are socially con-
structed. This Meadian notion is an integral part of Berger and Luck-
mann’s theoretical edifice, and the symbolic-interactionist tradition of
social psychology constitutes an important addition to the sociology
of knowledge—whose orientation is, as a result, no longer exclusively
phenomenological (cf. Berger 1973a).
Knowledge is, in a sense, the transmission belt of the social construc-
tion of reality.
Moreover, as Berger and Luckmann (1966a: 66) note:
It “programs” the channels in which externalization produces the
objective world. It objectifies this through language and the cogni-
tive apparatus based on language, that is, it orders it into objects
to be apprehended as reality. It is internalized again
valid truth in the course of socialization. Knowledge about society
is thus a
in the double sense of the word, in the sense
of apprehending the objectivated social reality, and in the sense of
ongoingly producing this reality.
For this reason, before analyzing the role of knowledge in the fun-
damental dialectic of society, Berger and Luckmann—in their intro-
duction to the book—provide an insight into their understanding of
the tasks of the sociology of knowledge. This is followed, in Section I,
by a phenomenological description of the “Foundations of Knowledge
in Everyday Life.” In Section II (1.a), they explain with recourse to
philosophical anthropology why social order is an anthropological
necessity. In Section II (1.b) they investigate the “Origins of Insti-
tutionalization.” Their chronological, or biographical, starting point
is not the socialized individual—not the individual who is “thrown
into” a “socio-historical
a priori
” (Luckmann 1983: 109) and who
has always been exposed to socialization and
rather the “solitary individual on the proverbial desert island who
habitualizes his activity while he attempts to construct a canoe out of
matchsticks” (Berger & Luckmann 1966a: 53). The decision in favor
of this approach stems, first, from the necessity to present in linear
form what is actually a dialectic process, and, second, from the fact
that it is the only evident access to the world:
The fact that even such a solitary individual, assuming that he has
been formed as a self (as we would have to assume in the case of our
Knowledge and Reality
matchstick-canoe builder), will habitualize his activity in accordance
with biographical experience of a world of social institutions pre-
ceding his solitude need not concern us at the moment. (ibid., 54)
Here lie the origins of institutionalization, which occurs “whenever
there is a reciprocal typification of habitualized actions by types of
actors. Put differently, any such typification is an institution” (loc. cit.).
In Berger and Luckmann’s concept of institutionalization, action
and knowledge form a single entity. As points out, institutions rep-
resent patterns of action crystallized as “a typical sequence that is
binding upon two or more actors,” in which these actors participate as
incumbents of roles.
These action patterns “detach themselves from
the subjectivity of the producers and become objectivated elements
of reality, which are realized in action and are rendered predictable
by the typicality of the patterns of activity” Knoblauch (2005: 158; our
tion). As soon as they are transmitted to the others, such pat-
terns of activity confront not only the recipients but also—by a mirror
ect—the producers of this institutional world as an objective reality.
Hence, it is with the acquisition of historicity that institutions acquire
objectivated character (Berger & Luckmann 1966a: 58).
are transmitted to others as practical knowledge, so to speak.
In other
words, “The objectivated meanings of institutional activity are con-
ceived of as ‘knowledge’ and transmitted as such” (ibid., 70) by certain
socially defined types of transmitters to certain socially defined types
of recipients. The structures of the distribution of knowledge (which
types transmit which knowledge to whom) differ from society to
Expressed radically, this means “that social institutions—and
social facts in general—are nothing other than the socially distributed,
generally shared, collectively and bindingly defined, and—in one way
e New Sociology of Knowledge
or another—permanently installed knowledge about them or about the
action patterns appropriate to them” (Hitzler 1988: 68f; our transla-
tion). This pretheoretical primary knowledge about individual institu-
tions and the institutional order in general is not complex. Rather, it is
simply structured in easily memorized formulae, expressions, sayings,
stylized tales, etc. These can be more easily transmitted by the social
types defined as knowers or transmitters—sometimes using physical
objects (such as fetishes) and/or symbolic actions (such as rites and
rituals) as mnemotechnical aids—and more readily accepted and
memorized by the types defined as recipients.
Berger and Luckmann (1966a: 92) use the term legitimation to
denote the process whereby institutions are covered with a layer of
second-order objectivations and are thereby successfully integrated
into an institutional order:
Legitimation produces new meanings that serve to integrate the
meanings already attached to disparate institutional processes. The
function of legitimation is to make objectively available and subjec-
tively plausible the “first-order” objectivations that have been institu-
tionalized. While we define legitimation by this function,
of the specific motives inspiring any particular legitimating process,
it should be added that “integration,” in one form or another, is also
the typical purpose motivating the legitimators.
The authors (ibid., 94–95) distinguish analytically between four
levels of legitimation: First, self-evident knowledge built into the
vocabulary: “For example, the transmission of a kinship vocabulary
ipso facto
legitimates the kinship structure.” Second, rudimentary
theoretical propositions in the form of wise sayings, proverbs, sagas,
etc. Third,
licit legitimating theories. For example, a clan may have
“an elaborate economic theory of ‘cousinhood’, its rights, obligations
and standard operating procedures.” And finally, fourth, symbolic
universes of
ning—that is, bodies of theoretical tradition with
great integrative and explanatory power—and theoretical universe-
maintenance structures, namely mythology, theology, philosophy, and
science. The similarities between these four levels of legitimation and
Scheler’s (1980: 76) typology of “
relatively artificial, or ‘learned’ world-
view forms
” are evident.
However, Berger and Luckmann elaborate
on their levels of legitimation with reference to the transmission of
knowledge, that is, to “meaningful, objectivated channels via which
action structures are transmitted. Or, more precisely, [these levels]
Knowledge and Reality
represent the
municatively transmitted meaning dimension of
actions” (Knoblauch 2005: 159; our translation; for a fundamental
analysis cf. Luckmann 1986). Theoretical constructions are not the only
structures that support symbolic universes. Social organization—in
other words increasing division of labor and the “concomitant organi-
zation of personnel for the administration of the specialized bodies of
knowledge”—are also machineries of universe maintenance (Berger &
Luckmann 1966a: 116–17). The authors (ibid., 118–19) give a dramatic
account of the manner in which, under pluralistic conditions, resent-
ment on the part of practitioners or laymen toward experts, and rivalry
between experts exacerbate social conflict.
No comprehensive description of the social construction of reality
would be complete without an analysis of the process by which objec-
tivated social reality is entrenched in consciousness. Section III of
Social Construction of Reality
(ibid., 129f.) is devoted to this process.
In their analysis, Berger and Luckmann draw heavily on Mead and
Cooley’s insights into processes of socialization and mirroring, in the
course of which the self and a personal identity are formed. Hence,
they understand internalization as:
the immediate apprehension or interpretation of an objective event
as expressing meaning, that is, as a manifestation of another’s sub-
jective processes which thereby becomes subjectively meaningful
to myself. (ibid., 129)
The fact that internalization is a
is reflected in the authors’
description of the transition from “significant other” to “generalized
other.” On completion of this process, a symmetry is established
ween objective and subjective reality. However, they stress that
this symmetry cannot be complete: “The two realities correspond to
each other, but they are not coextensive. . . . No individual internalizes
the totality of what is objectivated as reality in his society” (ibid., 133).
The gradual nature of internalization is also clearly underlined by the
differentiation between primary and secondary socialization. In the
latter stage, not only is the world of the generalized other internalized
but also institutional or institution-based subworlds (ibid., 138).
Language—or conversation—plays a fundamental role not only in
the socialization process but also in the maintenance of subjective
reality. As Berger and Luckmann (ibid., 152) argue, “One may view the
ividual’s everyday life in terms of the working away of a conversa-
tional apparatus that ongoingly maintains, modifies, and
e New Sociology of Knowledge
his subjective reality.” Or, more generally, specific plausibility struc-
tures, that is, supportive interchanges with more or less relevant
form the basis of the maintenance of subjective reality.
However, these
structures do not guarantee that individuals will be able to cope with
crisis situations—especially, but not exclusively, marginal situations
such as death—where subjective reality threatens to collapse.
And, finally, Berger and Luckmann analyze the phenomenon of the
“transformation” of subjective reality. They use the term “alternation”
to denote the extreme case, that is, the near-total exchange of one sub-
jective reality for another, which calls for processes of re-
similar to primary socialization (ibid., 156–57). They argue that:
“maximal success in socialization is likely to occur in societies with
very simple division of labor and minimal distribution of knowledge”
(ibid., 164) rather than in modern societies, where different socializing
personnel may mediate contradictory versions of objective realities to
the individual, or where there may be a discrepancy between primary
and secondary socialization (ibid., 167ff.) The connection between
internalization and social structure is ultimately revealed by the fact
that specific social structures generate specific identity types. This is
due, not least, to the fact that the more complex and socially estab-
lished theories about identity are, the greater their reality-generating
or socializing potency (ibid., 178). One example of such a potent theory
is psychoanalysis in America (cf. Berger 1965b).
With regard to the concept of knowledge outlined in
The Social
Construction of Reality
(1966a), one could view the book as a contri-
bution to what Plessner in his preface to the German-language edi-
tion calls the “sociology of the quasi-natural worldview.” That would
render its interpretation easier—at first. However, it would not do
justice to the authors’ achievement, because, with their concept of
knowledge, they spanned a bridge between micro- and macrosociol-
ogy. In so doing, they offered American sociology, in particular, a way
to overcome the divide between structural functionalism, which had
cut itself off from the micro-level, and social psychology—including
tionism—which was suspicious of the macro-level
(cf. Wuthnow et al. 1985: 54). However, the authors’ most exceptional
achievement is that they identified the field of conflict between the
constituting consciousness of the individual actor and socially objec-
tivated constructions of reality, and marked it out for future research
(cf. Luckmann 1999; for an overview, cf. Dreher 2007).
Knowledge and Reality
5.3 What Is New about the New Sociology of Knowledge?
“If the sociology of knowledge is to be true to its name, it must deal
with everything that passes for knowledge in society.” This remark,
made more or less in passing by Alfred Schutz during a lecture on the
sociology of knowledge, so impressed Peter L. Berger that he can still
quote it verbatim. It provided the impetus for
The Social Construction
of Reality
(1966a), the book that was to lay the foundations of the new
sociology of knowledge. In the Introduction, Berger and Luckmann
(1966a: 16) acknowledge their indebtedness to their teacher Alfred
Schutz, to whom they owed the insight into the necessity to rede-
fine the scope of the sociology of knowledge. They quote Schutz &
anson (1982: 149), who argued that “typifications of common-
sense thinking,” rather than ideas and ideologies, are the genuine
subject-matter of the sociology of knowledge. These typifications “are
themselves integral elements of the concrete socio-cultural
within which they prevail as taken for granted and as socially approved”
(loc. cit.). Although Berger and Luckmann (1966a: 15) regard the exag-
geration of the importance of theoretical thought as a “natural failing
of theorizers,” they consider it “all the more necessary to correct this
intellectualistic misapprehension.”
Berger and Luckmann (ibid., 12) follow Werner Stark (1958) when
they argue that the task of the sociology of knowledge is not
, that is, “the debunking or uncovering of socially produced
distortions.” However, in their view, Stark’s sociology of knowledge
focuses too narrowly on “the sphere of ideas, that is, of theoretical
thought” (1966a: 13) and on the problem of truth.
The concept of knowledge on which the authors base their trea-
tise is broad rather than sharply contoured. It does not concern itself
with whether knowledge is true, but rather with that which is given
the status of knowledge in a particular society, and is thus socially
approved as knowledge. In this way, they avoid the distinction between
inherent in epistemology
a distinction that is
untenable from a sociology-of-knowledge perspective. They also avoid
positivistic conception of knowledge” (Knoblauch 2005: 113)
that can be found in Stark’s approach and that is inherent—in a much
more naive form—in concepts of the “knowledge society” (ibid., 256).
Hence, their sociology of knowledge is “an enormous elaboration of
Pascal’s insight into the social relativity of human notions of truth. Put
differently, the sociology of knowledge understands and studies the
e New Sociology of Knowledge
character of what human beings mean by ‘reality’” (Berger &
Kellner 1981: 59).
Although Peter L. Berger acknowledges that Werner Stark’s
sociology of knowledge exerted quite a considerable influence on the
Sociological Construction of Reality
(1966a), the two approaches are,
nonetheless, incompatible. According to Stark (1991 [1958]: 107), the
subject matter of the sociology of knowledge lies in the area between
the poles of consciousness and objective reality. Therefore, what Stark
(ibid., 108) calls the “categorial layer of the mind” and “the physical
apparatus of perception” is excluded from the area of competence
of the sociology of knowledge.
By contrast, Berger and Luckmann
contend that the sociology of knowledge cannot restrict itself to false
consciousness or valid knowledge. Rather, it must concern itself with
commonsense knowledge—that is, “with everything that passes for
‘knowledge’ in society” (1966a: 14–15), while bearing in mind that all
knowledge is constituted in consciousness.
In the classical sociology of knowledge, “knowledge and structure
were analyzed separately, and the focus of the sociological analysis
was the correlation between the two” (Kieserling 2010: 435; our
translation). In the new sociology of knowledge established by Berger
and Luckmann, on the other hand, knowledge and social structure
are not considered to be separate spheres that are correlated by vir-
tue of the fact that the individual’s location, position, or anchorage
in the social structure (social class, generation, political party, etc.)
determines thought. Rather, knowledge is deemed to be constitutive
of social
er and of the entire construction of reality, insofar as it
is knowledge that congeals as reality. Hence, knowledge and social
structure—like meaning and action—form an indissoluble entity.
new sociology of knowledge takes up the thread spun in Marx’s early
writings, in which he emphasizes the permanent dialectic between
human activity (substructure) and the world produced by that activity
(superstructure). This contrasts sharply with later Marxism’s politi-
cally motivated distinction between—or rather strict counterposing
of—substructure and superstructure. In contradistinction to Scheler’s
moderate sociology of knowledge, and to Mannheim’s radical sociol-
ogy of knowledge, the new sociology of knowledge can be regarded
as even more radical because—in contrast to these two correlation-
oriented approaches—it breaks new ground by taking an integrative
approach to the sociology of knowledge (cf. Knoblauch 2005: 17 and
McCarthy 1996: 12).
Knowledge and Reality
The decision to exclude questions concerning the existential
ermination of sociological thought from empirical sociology and to
relegate them to the methodology of the social sciences—that is, to the
area of competence of philosophy (Berger & Luckmann 1966a: 13)—
can be regarded as an inadmissible restriction of the sociology of
wledge. Because sociology concerns itself with social order, it must
furnish answers to two fundamental questions: (a) How is
ial order
possible? and (b) How is sociological knowledge possible?
to Kieserling (2010), Berger and Luckmann’s sociology of knowledge
answers only the first question, while Mannheim’s classical sociology of
knowledge answers only the second one. At the same time, Kieserling ar-
gues that the development of a sociological theory of knowledge—in other
words, of a sociology of philosophy or of the history of ideas—is a genuine
task of the sociology of knowledge that cannot simply be transferred to
philosophy. In his view, therefore, the price Berger and Luckmann have to
pay for their decision is that they can concern themselves with everything
that passes for knowledge except their own (sociological) knowledge.
However, Berger and Luckmann’s decision can also be considered
as a step into independence. Tänzler (2006: 318; our translation)
s that:
The new sociology of knowledge emancipates itself from its in-
ferior position as maid-servant to philosophy, to which it was
condemned until Mannheim, and rises to the rank of mistress
in its own house—which is quite paradoxical considering that it
does so when formulating a theory of knowledge and reality of
philosophical relevance.
As Tänzler sees it, Berger and Luckmann forgo the quest for an
standpoint and opt for the resolute acceptance of the relativist conse-
quences (ibid., 325). Plessner (1985: 65; our translation) asserts that
“Empirical sociology must link this acceptance with the methodologi-
cally stipulated restriction to the limits of empirical control.” Plessner,
too, regards
Social Construction of Reality
(1966a) as an act of
liberation from the sociology of knowledge of the 1920s associated
with Scheler and Mannheim. In its effort to protect non-partisan
understanding from the accusation of ideological distortion, the
iology of knowledge of Scheler and Mannheim had been “a theory
of bad conscience towards Marx,” as Plessner notes in his preface to
the German-language edition of
The Social Construction of Reality
(Berger & Luckmann 1969: xi).
e New Sociology of Knowledge
Berger and Luckmann’s insistence that epistemological questions be
excluded from the sociology of knowledge is not intended as a retreat
from this problem. On the contrary, the new sociology of knowledge,
in particular, has paid great attention to the methodology of the social
sciences and to self-reflection on the part of the sociology of knowl-
edge. The hermeneutic sociology of knowledge, in which Hans-George
Soeffner, in particular, has been an integrative driving force, is devoted
to the empirical analysis of the ontological relationship between the
individual and the world as he sees it rather than to a critical theory of
existential determination.
Methodologically speaking, it aims to de-
velop a theory of the understanding of understanding (
) that
takes the interpretation of acts and acts of interpretation into
(cf. Soeffner 1989). The epistemological significance of the herme-
neutic sociology of knowledge lies “in a ‘reform’ of social scientific
thought in general that begins with a critical analysis of its own prac-
tice” (Hitzler et al. 1999: 11; our translation). In this context, not only
has the problem of the validity of qualitative social research become
the subject of self-reflection on the part of the sociology of knowl-
edge and therefore a “sociology of sociology” (Reichertz 2006: 294)
but rather, all sociological findings are assigned the epistemological
status of constructions. Hence the conviction that the attitude of
methodological skepticism (cf. Berger & Kellner 1981) must not only
be assumed with regard to the objectivity of social constructions,
but must also be extended to scientific constructions. This is what
is meant by a “self-reflective sociology of knowledge.” However, as
Hitzler (1999: 304; our translation) stresses:
This does not imply that in every concrete sociological analysis of
constructions of reality the constructed nature of these analyses must
be also be analyzed, and so on. In other words, it does not imply that
every discipline-specific why-question must be followed by a why-
question about the why-question, thereby constantly—and vainly—
attempting to push the bus one is riding, as Berger and Luckmann
(1966a: 13) put it. Rather, it “merely” means that we should follow
Soeffner’s advice (cf. 1989) and use a “laxative against fundamental
considerations”—also, and especially, when our own professional
blinkers are what is causing us problems.
Alexander von Schelting (1934: 84), on the other hand, suggested that the
ciology of knowledge be renamed the “sociology of thinking.” Werner Stark
(1991 [1958]: 123) disagrees. Following Scheler, he argues “that the social, i.e.
Knowledge and Reality
the axiological factor is operative in the inception and constitution of a world-
view (in our coming-to-know reality) rather than its further elaboration.”
appears to have a type of triangulation in mind here. Jo Reichertz
(2006: 294–95; our translation) points out that Berger and Luckmann un-
derstand epistemology “mainly as the interpretation of society
whereas Soeffner and later protagonists of the sociology of knowledge have
focused on “scientists’
self-observation and self-interpretation.”
hnow et al. (1984: 33) also point out that Berger’s concept of objectivity
is not Popperian.
“If it i
s to be a science of reality—what Max Weber called the ‘sociology of
reality’—sociology must always also be sociology of knowledge—a theory of
social knowing and not-knowing. It combines self-reflection with reflection
about social knowledge and, in so doing, inevitably encounters the limits
of knowledge and the limitations of sociological perception” (Tänzler,
Knoblauch & Soeffner 2006: 7; our translation).
In vie
w of the misunderstandings that the concept of construction has
caused among readers and critics of the book, Berger now tends to think
that the term “definition” or “interpretation” might have been a better
choice because what he and Luckmann had proposed was that “all reality
is subject to socially derived interpretations” and not that “there is nothing
here but our constructions” (Berger & Zijderveld 2009: 66).
“In everyd
ay life, the type [is] a situational interpretation for action that
assigns neutral operations to familiar meaning contexts, thereby transform-
ing them into specific sequences—that is, into sequences imbued with a
specific meaning. This occurs without the necessity of special activities of
consciousness—the assignment takes place automatically” (Srubar 1979:
45; our translation). However, that does not mean that it is an arbitrary
process. Although typification processes take place without our active
input, they are regulated by the relevances that have formed in previous
activities of consciousness (cf. Knoblauch 2005: 144).
mann (1999: 17) attributes this thought to Giambattista Vico, whose
thesis “verum ipsum factum” (“truth itself is constructed”) is inherently
“objectivation” Berger and Luckmann (1966a: 60) understand: “The
process by which the externalized products of human activity attain the
character of objectivity.” The term is derived from the Hegelian/Marxian
(ibid.,197, Note 28) and is explicitly
related to “what
Marx called a reification (
), that is, an undialectical distortion
of social reality” (ibid.,198, Note 29; cf. also Note 58: 200). In the authors’
view, then contemporary American sociology, and especially structural
functionalism, contributed to further obscuring the fact that “the man on
the street” does not realize that institutional order originates in human
activity (cf. also Berger & Pullberg 1965e).
“Knowledge transf
orms subjective meaning into social facts, and knowl-
edge transforms social facts into subjective meaning” (Hitzler 1988: 65;
our translation).
his detailed account of the social-constructivist line of argument
h (2005: 157) begins by noting “that institutionalization builds
on the analysis of the interaction.”
e New Sociology of Knowledge
“Institutions are embodied in individual experience by means of roles. . . . By
ying roles, the individual participates in a social world. By internalizing
these roles, the same world becomes subjectively real to him” (Berger &
Luckmann 1966a: 74). Each role has its own socially defined stock of
knowledge. Therefore, roles impart special extracts from the social stock
of knowledge (cf. Pfadenhauer 1998).
In thi
s sense, Kieserling (2010: 434) is correct in describing the thematic
history of the sociology of knowledge as movement from “theoretical to
practical knowledge.”
se historically specific structures of the distribution of social knowledge
are termed the “social stock of knowledge.” The complementary term is
the “subjective stock of knowledge” (cf. Schutz & Luckmann 1973). The
subjective stock of knowledge comprises both experiential—first-hand—
knowledge and knowledge elements that are not constituted by the individ-
ual’s own consciousness but rather transmitted by others, i.e. second-hand
knowledge (Hitzler 1988: 62; cf. Schutz & Luckmann 1973). Gurwitsch
(1971: xxiii; our translation) puts it even more explicitly: “Everything that
I have acquired personally, that I have appropriated, presupposes a socially
derived ‘available stock of knowledge,’ insofar as these acquired elements
must be integrated into that socially derived framework and must find their
place there. Personally acquired [knowledge] is never isolated.”
ler (1980: 76) enumerates the types of artificial world-view forms by
their degree of artificiality, starting with the least-artificial type: “1.
and legend
; . . . 2. the knowledge implicit in everyday
natural language
; . . .
3. the
religious knowledge . . .
from pious, emotive and vague intuition up
to the fixated dogmas of a priestly church; 4. the basic forms of
; 5.
The simil
arity between plausibility structures and what Goffman (1971:
62) terms “supportive interchanges” is striking. Luckmann (2007a: 90; our
translation) refers to the “credibility structure that supports the worldview.”
And Berger and Kellner (1981: 60) note that “The social context for any set
of norms or alleged bodies of ‘knowledge’ is the plausibility structure.”
In his
theory for the sociology of knowledge, Stark takes as his starting
point the social
a priori
or the “axiological system,” which, in his view, is
co-extensive with the society’s system of values. It enables “those search-
ing for socio-historical truths” to distinguish between the important and
the unimportant. Hence, Stark does not completely ignore consciousness.
However, he is interested only in the social determination of consciousness
and of the contents of consciousness. Like Scheler, Stark is interested in the
value-determination (
) of knowledge rather than its exis-
tential determination (
). In this way, he integrates Weber’s
theory of elective affinity as “gradual convergence between substructure
and superstructure” (Eisermann 1960: vii) into the functionalist notion
of society: “On the one hand, institutions form themselves and achieve
Knowledge and Reality
comparative fixity, on the other hand modal ideas; and both poles thus
produced—ideas and institutions—are determined by, and characteristic
of, the parent reality, which has brought them forth” (1991 [1958]: 244).
is the reason why Kieserling (2010: 436) criticizes this concept of
knowledge as “indifferent.”
ling derives his prognosis that the sociology of sociological knowl-
edge will remain in a bad way from a sociology-of-knowledge argument.
He asserts that, because contemporary sociologists of knowledge no longer
have a solid basic education in philosophy, they are no longer inclined to
concern themselves with philosophical questions.
e also Tänzler (2006). Berger and Luckmann’s interest in religion
meant that the social world structured by meaning became the focus of
attention as a “world of culture.” As Berger (1967: 6–7) notes: “Culture
consists of the totality of man’s products. . . . Society is that aspect of the
[non-material, MP] culture that structures man’s ongoing relations with
his fellow-men.”
Identity as a Problem in the
Sociology of Knowledge
e New Sociology of Knowledge
from the treatment of the sociology of knowledge, while in the cases
of Sherif and Shibutani there appears to be no conscious connection
with the sociology of knowledge at all.
Understandable historically, this segregation is theoretically
lorable. Social psychology has been able to show how the subjective
reality of individual consciousness is socially constructed. The sociol-
ogy of knowledge, as Alfred Schutz has indicated, may be understood
as the sociological critique of consciousness, concerning itself with
the social construction of reality in general.
Such a critique entails
the analysis of both “objective reality” (that is, “knowledge” about the
world, as objectivated and taken for granted in society) and its subjec-
tive correlates (that is, the modes in which this objectivated world is
subjectively plausible or “real” to the individual). If these shorthand
descriptions of the two sub-disciplines are allowed, then integration
between them is not an exotic miscegenation but a bringing together
of two partners by the inner logic of their natures. Obviously this paper
cannot develop the details of such a project of theoretical integration,
but it may indicate some general directions and implications.
Social psychology has brought about the recognition that the
sphere of psychological phenomena is continuously permeated by
social forces, and more than that, is decisively shaped by the latter.
“Socialization” means not only that the self-consciousness of the indi-
vidual is constituted in a specific form by society (which Mead called
the “social genesis of the self”), but that psychological reality is in an
ongoing dialectical relationship with social structure. Psychological
reality refers here,
to scientific or philosophical propositions
psychological phenomena, but to the manner in which the individual
apprehends himself, his processes of consciousness and his relations
with others. Whatever its anthropological-biological roots, psychologi-
cal reality arises in the individual’s biography in the course of social
processes and is only maintained (that is, maintained in consciousness
“reality”) by virtue of social processes. Socialization not only ensures
that the individual is “real” to himself in a certain way, but that he will
ongoingly respond to his experience of the world with the cognitive
and emotive patterns appropriate to this “reality.” For example, suc-
cessful socialization shapes a self that apprehends itself exclusively and
in a taken-for-granted way in terms of one or the other of two socially
defined sexes, that “knows” this self-apprehension to be the only “real”
one, and rejects as “unreal” any contrary modes of apprehension or
emotionality. Self and society are inextricably interwoven entities.
Knowledge and Reality
Their relationship is dialectical because the self, once formed, may
act back in its turn upon the society that shaped it (a dialectic that
Mead expressed in his formulation of the “I” and the “me”). The self
exists by virtue of society, but society is only possible as many selves
continue to apprehend themselves and each other with reference to it.
Every society contains a repertoire of identities that is part of the
“objective knowledge” of its members. It is “known” as a matter “of
course” that there are men and women, that they have such-and-
such psychological traits and that they will have such-and-such
psychological reactions in typical circumstances. As the individual is
socialized, these identities are “internalized.” They are then not only
taken for granted as constituents of an objective reality “out there”
but as inevitable structures of the individual’s own consciousness.
The objective reality, as defined by society, is subjectively appropri-
ated. In other words, socialization brings about symmetry between
objective and subjective reality, objective and subjective identity. The
degree of this symmetry provides the criterion of the successfulness
of socialization. The psychological reality of the successfully socialized
individual thus
subjectively what his society has objectively
defined as real. He is then no longer required to turn outside himself
for “knowledge” concerning the nature proper of men and women.
He can obtain that result by simple introspection. He “knows who
he is.” He feels accordingly. He can conduct himself “spontaneously,”
because the firmly internalized cognitive and emotive structures make
it unnecessary or even impossible for him to reflect upon alternative
possibilities of conduct.
This dialectic between social structure and psychological reality may
be called the fundamental proposition of any social psychology in the
Meadian tradition. Society not only defines but creates psychological
reality. The individual
himself in society—that is, he recognizes
his identity in socially defined terms and these definitions
as he lives in society. This fundamentally Meadian dialectic
makes intelligible the social-psychological scope of W. I. Thomas’
concept of the “definition of the situation” as well as of Merton’s of
the “self-fulfilling prophecy.”
The sociology of knowledge is concerned with a related but broader
dialectic—that between social structure and the “worlds” in which
s live, that is, the comprehensive organizations of reality
within which individual experience can be meaningfully interpreted.
Every society is a world-building enterprise. Out of the near-infinite
e New Sociology of Knowledge
variety of individual symbolizations of experience society constructs
a universe of discourse that comprehends and objectivates them.
Individual experience can then be understood as taking place in an
intelligible world that is inhabited also by others and about which it is
possible to communicate with others. Individual meanings are objecti-
vated so that they are accessible to everyone who coinhabits the world
in question. Indeed, this world is apprehended as “objective reality,”
that is, as reality that is shared with others and that exists irrespective
of the individual’s own preferences in the matter. The socially available
definitions of such a world are thus taken to be “knowledge” about it
and are continuously verified for the individual by social situations in
which this “knowledge” is taken for granted. The socially constructed
world becomes the world
tout court
—the only real world, typically
the only world that one can seriously conceive of. The individual is
thus freed of the necessity of reflecting anew about the meaning of
each step in his unfolding experience. He can simply refer to “com-
mon sense” for such interpretation, at least for the great bulk of his
biographical experience.
Language is both the foundation and the instrumentality of the
social construction of reality.
Language focalizes, patterns and objec-
tivates individual experience. Language is the principal means by which
an individual is socialized to become an inhabitant of a world shared
with others and also provides the means by which, in conversation with
these others, the common world continues to be plausible to him.
On this linguistic base is erected the edifice of interpretative schemes,
cognitive and moral norms, value systems and, finally, theoretically
articulated “world-views” which, in their totality, form the world of
“collective representations” (as the Durkheimian school put it) of any
given society.
experience. Only in a world of social
order can there develop a “collective consciousness” which permits
the individual to have a subjectively meaningful life and protects him
from the devastating effects of
that is, from a condition in
which the individual is deprived of the social ordering processes and
thus deprived of meaning itself. It is useful to remind oneself of the
linguistic base of all social order whenever one theorizes about the
latter, because language makes particularly clear just what is meant
by the social construction of an objectively real world. Language is
undeniably a social invention and a linguistic system cannot be cred-
ited with an ontological status apart from the society that invented it.
Nevertheless, the individual learns his language (especially, of course,
Knowledge and Reality
his native language) as an objective reality.
He cannot change it at
will. He must conform to its coercive power. Typically, he is unable
to conceive of either the world or of himself except through the con-
ceptual modalities which it provides. But this facticity, externality and
coerciveness of language (the very traits that constitute the Durkheim-
or thing-like character, of social phenomena) extends to
all the objectivations of society. The subjective consequence is that
the individual “finds himself” (that is, apprehends himself as placed,
willy-nilly) in the social world as much as in nature.
It is important to stress that the social construction of reality
takes place on both the pre-theoretical and the theoretical levels of
consciousness, and that, therefore, the sociology of knowledge must
concern itself with both. Probably because of the German intellectual
situation in which the sociology of knowledge was first developed, it
has hitherto interested itself predominantly in the theoretical side
of the phenomenon—the problem of the relationship of society and
This is certainly an important problem. But only very few
people are worried over “ideas,” while everyone lives in some sort of
a world. There is thus a sociological dimension to the human activ-
ity of worldbuilding in its totality, not only in that segment of it in
which intellectuals manufacture theories, systems of thought, and
Thus, in the matter under discussion here, the
sociology of knowledge has an interest not only in various theories
psychological phenomena (what one may call a sociology of
psychology) but in these phenomena themselves (what one may then,
perhaps impertinently, call a sociological psychology).
The relationship between a society and its world is a dialectic one
because, once more, it cannot be adequately understood in terms of a
one-sided causation.
The world, though socially constructed, is not a
mere passive reflection of the social structures within which it arose.
In becoming “objective reality” for its inhabitants it attains not only
a certain autonomy with respect to the “underlying” society but even
the power to act back upon the latter. Men invent a language and then
find that its logic imposes itself upon them. And men concoct theories,
even theories that may start out as nothing but blatant explications
of social interests, and then discover that these theories themselves
become agencies of social change. It may be seen, then, that there is
a theoretically significant similarity between the dialectics of social
psychology and of the sociology of knowledge, the dialectic through
e New Sociology of Knowledge
which it engages in world-building. Both dialectics concern the rela-
tionship between objective and subjective realities, or more precisely,
between socially objectivated reality and its subjective appropriation.
In both instances, the individual internalizes facticities that appear to
him as given outside himself and, having internalized them to become
given contents of his own consciousness, externalizes them again as
he continues to live and act in society.
These considerations, especially in the compressed form in which
they have had to be presented here, may at first seem to be excessively
abstract. Yet, if one asks about the combined significance of these root
perspectives of social psychology and the sociology of knowledge
for the sociological understanding of identity, one may answer in a
rather simple statement:
Identity, with its appropriate attachments
of psychological reality, is always identity within a specific, socially
constructed world.
Or, as seen from the viewpoint of the individual:
One identifies oneself as one is identified by others, by being located
in a common world.
Socialization is only possible if, as Mead put it, the individual “takes
the attitude” of others, that is, relates to himself as others have first
related to him. This process, of course, extends to the establishment
of identity itself, so that one may formulate that social identification
both precedes and produces self-identification. Now, it is possible
that the Meadian process of attitude- and role-taking occurs between
individuals who do not share a common world—for instance, between
Columbus and the very first American Indians he met in 1492. Even
they, however, soon identified each other within a world which they
inhabited together, or more accurately, they together established such
a world as they dealt with each other. Socializing each other in terms
of this world, they could then take on the attitudes and roles appropri-
ate within it. Columbus and his Spaniards, being (like parents in this
respect) the stronger party, had the edge in this game of “
others had to identify themselves in the Spaniards’ terms, namely as
while the Spaniards were probably little tempted to identify
themselves with the mythological creatures as which they in turn
were first identified by the others. In other words, the American
Indian identified himself by locating himself in the Spaniard’s world,
though, to be sure, that world was itself modified as he became its
co-inhabitant. In the more normal cases of socialization, occurring
between individuals who already co-inhabit the same world, it is even
easier to see how identification entails location in that world from the
Knowledge and Reality
beginning. The parents give their child a name and then deal with him
in terms appropriate to this identification. The literal act of “naming,”
of course, is already location in this sense (its exactitude depending
upon the culture” John Smith” being less satisfactory as an “address”
than “Ivan Ivanovitch, Village-Idiot,” and so forth). However, as the
full implications of the name and its location unfold in the course of
socialization, the child appropriates the world in which he is thus
located in the same process in which he appropriates his identity—
a moral universe as he identifies himself as a “good baby,” a sexual
universe as a “little boy,” a class universe as a “little gentleman”—and
so on. One may expand the Meadian phrase, then, by saying that the
individual takes the world of others as he takes their attitudes and
roles. Each role implies a world. The self is always located in a world.
process of socialization generates the self and internalizes
the world to which this self belongs.
The same reasoning applies to psychological reality in general.
Just as any particular psychological reality is attached to a socially
defined identity, so it is located in a socially constructed world. As
the individual identifies and locates himself in the world of his society,
he finds himself the possessor of a pre-defined assemblage of psy-
chological processes, both “conscious” and “unconscious” ones, and
even some with somatic effects. The “good baby” feels guilty after a
temper tantrum, the “little boy” channels his erotic fantasies towards
little girls, the “little gentleman” experiences revulsion when some-
one engages in public nose-picking—and this revulsion may, under
the proper conditions, affect his stomach to the point of vomitation.
Every socially constructed world thus contains a repertoire of identi-
ties and a corresponding psychological system. The social definition
of identity takes place as part of an overarching definition of reality.
The internalization of the world, as it occurs in socialization, imposes
upon consciousness a psychological as well as a cognitive structure,
and (to a degree which has as yet not been adequately clarified scien-
tifically) even extends into the area of physiological processes.
indicated the root problem of the sociology of knowledge when he
observed that what is truth on one side of the Pyrénées is error on
the other. The same observation applies to the good conscience and
the bad (including the “unconscious” manifestations of the latter),
to the libidinously interesting and the libidinously indifferent, as well
as to what upsets and what relaxes the gastric juices. And, of course,
a French identity differs appreciably from a Spanish one.
e New Sociology of Knowledge
A third dialectic may be analyzed if one now turns to the theoretical
level of consciousness—that between psychological reality and psycho-
logical models. Men not only experience themselves. They also explain
themselves. While these explanations differ in their
rees of sophis-
tication, it would be difficult to conceive of a society without some
theoretical explication of the psychological nature of man. Whether
such explication takes the form of proverbial wisdom, mythology,
metaphysics or scientific generalization is, of course, a different ques-
tion. What all these forms have in common is that they systematize
the experience of psychological reality on a certain level of abstraction.
They constitute psychological models, by means of which individual
psychological processes can be compared, typified and thus “prepared
for treatment.” For example, individuals in a society may have all kinds
of visionary experiences. Both the individuals themselves and those
with whom they live are faced with the question of what these experi-
ences signify. A psychological model that “explains” such occurrences
allows them to compare any particular experience with the several
species codified in the model. The experience may then be classified
in terms of this typology—as a case of demon possession, say, or as
a mark of sacred status, or as merely crazy in a profane mode. This
application of the psychological model (the “diagnosis”) then permits
a decision on what to do about the occurrence (the “therapy”—to
cise the individual, to beatify him, or possibly to award him the
role of buffoon and of menace to disobedient children. In other words,
the psychological model locates individual experience and conduct
within a comprehensive theoretical system.
It goes without saying that each psychological model is embed-
ded in a more general theoretical formulation of reality. The model
is part of the society’s general “knowledge about the world,” raised
to the level of theoretical thought. Thus a psychological model that
contains a typology of possession belongs to a religious conception
of the world as such and a psychological theory of “mental illness,” as
understood by contemporary psychiatry, is located in a much wider
“scientific” conception of the world and of man’s place in it.
logical “knowledge” is always part of a general “knowledge about the
—in this proposition lies the foundation of what, a little earlier,
was called the sociology of psychology. The import of this proposition
can be conveyed by referring to the psychiatric concept of “reality
orientation.” A psychiatrist may decide that a certain individual is
not adequately “oriented to reality” and, therefore, “mentally ill.” The
Knowledge and Reality
sociologist may then accept this description, but must immediately
“which reality?”
Just as cultural anthropology has been able to
demonstrate that the manifestations of the Freudian “pleasure prin-
ciple” vary from one society to another, so the sociology of knowledge
must insist an a similar socio-cultural relativization of the Freudian
“reality principle.”
This sociological perspective has far-reaching implications for the
analysis of psychological theories. As has been indicated, every socially
constructed world contains a psychological model. If this model is to
retain its plausibility, it must have some empirical relationship to the
psychological reality objectivated in the society. A demonological
model is “unreal” in contemporary society. The psychoanalytic one is
not. It is important to stress once again the matter of empirical verifica-
tion. Just as the individual can verify his socially assigned identity by
introspection, so the psychological theoretician can verify his model
by “empirical research.” If the model corresponds to the psychologi-
cal reality as socially defined and produced, it will quite naturally be
verified by empirical investigation of this reality. This is not quite the
same as saying that psychology is self-verifying. It rather says that the
data discovered by a particular psychology belong to the same socially
constructed world that has also produced that psychology.
Once more, the relationship between psychological reality and
psychological model is a dialectic one. The psychological reality pro-
duces the psychological model, insofar as the model is an empirically
verifiable representation of the reality. Once formed, however, the
psychological model can act back upon the psychological reality. The
model has
potency, that is, it can create psychological real-
ity as a “self-fulfilling prophecy.” In a society in which demonology is
ially established, cases of demon possession will empirically multi-
ply. A society in which psychoanalysis is institutionalized as “science”
will become populated by people who, in fact, evince the processes
that have been theoretically attributed to them. It should be clear that
this self-fulfilling character of psychological models is grounded in the
same dialectic of socialization that Mead first formulated with incisive
clarity and which can be summarized by saying that men become that
as which they are addressed.
The purpose of these brief considerations has been to indicate
what theoretical gains might be expected from an integration of the
approaches of social psychology in the Meadian tradition and the
sociology of knowledge. This is obviously not the place to discuss
e New Sociology of Knowledge
the methodological issues or the numerous possibilities of empirical
exploration arising from such integration.
Suffice it to say, in conclu-
sion, that the theoretical viewpoint expressed here implies a serious
reconsideration of the relationship between the two disciplines of
sociology and psychology. This relationship has been characterized,
at least in this country, by a theoretically unjustified timidity an the
side of the sociologists and by a spirit of oecumenical tolerance that
may have beneficial consequences for inter-departmental amity, but
which has not always been conducive to clear sociological thinking.
On the “diffusion” of Meadian social psychology among American sociolo-
sts, cf. Anselm STRAUSS (ed.), George Herbert Mead on Social Psychol-
ogy (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1964), pp. vii sqq. For a critique of
this Meadian “establishment,” from a psychoanalytically oriented viewpoint,
cf. Dennis WRONG, “The Over-Socialized Conception of Man in Modern
Sociology,” Psychoanalysis and the Psychoanalytic Review, XXXIX (1962),
pp. 53 sqq.
Among Americ
an sociologists, the sociology of knowledge has remained
rather narrowly associated with its conception by Karl Mannheim, who
served as its principal “translator” from the context of German Geisteswis-
senschaft to that of English-speaking social science. The writings of
Max Scheler on Wissenssoziologie (the term was coined by him) remain
ranslated today. American sociologists have also, in the main, remained
unaffected by the development of the sociology of knowledge in the work
of Alfred Schütz, not to mention recent contributions in the positivistic
tradition (mainly by sociologists writing in German) and by Marxists
(mainly in France). For the Mannheim-oriented reception of the sociology
of knowledge in America, cf. Robert MERTON, Social Theory and Social
Structure (Glencoe, III., Free Press, 1957), pp. 439 sqq., and Talcott PAR-
SONS, “An Approach to the Sociology of Knowledge,” Transactions of the
Fourth World Congress of Sociology (Louvain, International Sociological
Association, 1959). For a conception of the sub-discipline more in the line
of Scheler than of Mannheim (and with which the present writer would
not associate himself fully, either), cf. Werner STARK, The Sociology of
Knowledge (Glencoe, III., Free Press, 1958).
MERTON, OP. Cit. pp. 225 sqq.; Muzafer SHERIF and Carolyn SHERIF,
An Outline of Social Psychology (New York, Harper, 1956); Tamotsu
SHIBUTANI, “Reference Groups and Social Control,” in Arnold ROSE
(ed.), Human Behavior and Social Processes (Boston, Houghton Mifflin,
1962), pp. 128 sqq.
understanding of the scope of the sociology of knowledge, a much
broader one than that of the Mannheim-oriented approach, has been
strongly influenced by the work of Alfred Schütz.
Alfred SCHÜTZ,
sinnhafte Aufbau der sozialen Welt
(Vienna, Springer, 1960);
The Problem
of Social Reality
(The Hague, Nijhoff, 1962);
Studies in Social Theory
Hague, Nijhoff, 1964).
Knowledge and Reality
This dialectic between self and society can also be formulated in
for example, Joseph GABEL,
La fausse conscience
(Paris, Éditions
de Minuit, 1962), and Jean-Paul SARTRE,
PULLBERG, “Reification and the Sociological Critique of Consciousness,”
History and Theory,
IV (1965).
On the
social structuring of conduct, cf. Arnold GEHLEN, Urmensch und
Spätkultur (Bonn, Athenaeum, 1956), where Gehlen proposes a biologically
grounded theory of social institutions. On this very suggestive theory, which
to date has remained practically unknown to American sociologists, also
cf. Arnold GEHLEN, Anthropologische Forschung (Hamburg, Rowohlt,
1961), and Studien zur Anthropologie und Soziologie (Neuwied/Rhein
Luchterhand, 1963).
mas well-known dictum on the “real consequences” of social definition
was presumably intended, and has been generally understood as intending,
to say that once a “reality” has been defined, people will act as if it were
indeed so. To this important proposition must be added an understanding
of the realizing (that is, reality-producing) potency of social definition. This
social-psychological import of Thomas’ “basic theorem” was developed by
Merton, op. cit. pp. 421 sqq. The sociology of knowledge, as this paper tries
to indicate, would extend this notion of the social construction of “reality”
even further.
TZ, Problem of Social Reality, pp. 207 sqq.
Cf. ibid. pp. 3 sqq.
Cf. ibid. pp.
287 sqq. Also, cf. Ernst CASSIRER, An Essay on Man (New
Haven, Yale University Press, 1962), pp. 109 sqq. The problem of language
and “reality,” neglected by American sociologists, has been extensively
discussed in American cultural anthropology, vide the influence of Edward
Sapir and the controversy over the so-called “Whorf hypothesis.” It has been
a central problem for sociologists and cultural anthropologists in France
ever since the Durkheim school. Cf. Claude LÉVI-STRAUSS, La pensée
sauvage (Paris, Plon, 1962).
the maintenance of “reality” by means of the “conversational apparatus,”
Peter BERGER and Hansfried KELLNER, “Le mariage et la construction
de la realité,”
XLVI (1964), pp. 3 sqq.
One may
say that the Durkheimian theory of “collective consciousness” is
the positive side of the theory of
locus classicus
of this is, of
course, Durkheim’s
Elementary Forms of the Religious Life.
For important
developments of this (all of great relevance for the sociology of knowl-
Marcel GRANET,
La pensée chinoise
(Paris, Albin Michel, 1950);
Les cadres sociaux de la mémoire
(Paris, P.U.F.,
1952); Marcel MAUSS,
The f
ullest evidence on the “objectivity” of the child’s language learning is
to be found in the work of Jean Piaget.
fixation of the sociology of knowledge on the theoretical level of
consciousness is well expressed in the subtitle of the previously cited work
by Stark—“An Essay in Aid of a Deeper Understanding of the History
of Ideas.” The present writer would consider Schutz’s work as essential
e New Sociology of Knowledge
for arriving at a broader conception of the sub-discipline. For a broader
approach based on Marxian presuppositions,
de la vie quotidienne
(Paris, L’Arche, 1958–1961). For a discussion of the
possibility of using Pareto for a critique of pre-theoretical consciousness in
s problem is, of course, dealt with by Marx in his well-known conception
of sub- and super-structure. The present writer would argue that, at least
in Marx’s early writings (as in the
Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts
of 1844),
the relationship between the two is clearly a dialectic one. In
later Marxism, the dialectic is lost in a mechanistic understanding of sub-
and super-structure in which the latter becomes a mere epiphenomenon
(Lenin—a “reflection”) of the former. On this “reification” of Marxism in
Communist ideology (perhaps one of the great ironies in the history of
for example, Joseph GABEL,
Formen der Entfremdung
Fischer, 1964), pp. 53 sqq. Probably the most important work, within the
Marxian tradition, which has tried to recapture the original dialectic in
dealing with this problem is Georg LUKÁCS’
Geschichte und Klassenbe-
(1923), now virtually unobtainable in German, but available in
an excellent French translation—
Histoire et conscience de classe
Éditions de Minuit, 1960).
The overar
ching dialectic of sociation indicated here can be analysed in
terms of three “moments”—externalization, objectivation and internaliza-
tion. The dialectic is lost whenever one of these “moments” is excluded
from social theory.
loc. cit.
For indic
ations of the intriguing possibilities of such a “socio-somatics,”
Georg Simmel’s discussion of the “sociology of the senses,” in his
(Berlin, Duncker & Humblot, 1958), pp. 483 sqq. Also,
Mauss’ essay on
the “techniques of the body,” in his
op. cit.
pp. 365 sqq.
is not intended here to propose a “sociologistic” view of reality as
a social construction. Within the sociology of knowledge, however, it
is possible to bracket the final epistemological questions.
On the
sociology-of-knowledge implications of diagnostic typologies, cf.
Eliot FREIDSON, The Sociology of Medicine (Oxford, Blackwell, 1963),
pp. 124 sqq.
a critique of the contemporary concept of “mental illness,” coming from
within psychiatry itself, cf. Thomas SZASZ, The Myth of Mental Illness
(New York, Hosber-Harper, 1961).
Cf. Pe
ter L. BERGER and Thomas LUCKMANN,
The Social Construction
(Garden City, Doubleday, 1966).
Reception and Impact of the
New Sociology of Knowledge
This concluding chapter is devoted to a brief analysis of the reception
and impact of Peter L. Berger’s work, in particular his sociology of
knowledge. I shall be focusing only on the reception of his best-known
works, and sharing some impressions gleaned from my encounters
with Berger over the last five years.
Berger has produced four bestsellers in his time, all of which were
written in the 1960s, and all of which have been translated into many
foreign languages:
Invitation to Sociology
The Social Construc-
tion of Reality
(Berger & Luckmann 1966a),
The Sacred Canopy
Rumor of Angels
(1969a). He himself attributes their success to the
fact that, at the time of publication, their content was very much in
tune with the prevailing
. This was particularly striking in the
case of
The Social Construction of Reality
(1966a), whose publication
coincided with the height of the left-wing protest movement. The book
was carried along by the wave of revolutionary enthusiasm that was
spreading to broad sections of the population at the time. Berger recalls
that this was really brought home to him one day in 1968 when his
secretary informed him with a look of trepidation that “two bearded,
possibly dangerous men” wanted to see him. When he asked them in,
he noticed that one of them was armed—with the Spanish-language
edition of
The Social Construction of Reality
. The man announced that
he and his companion were revolutionaries from a country in Latin
America, and said, “You write about the construction of society. We
want to
construct society. Our leader thinks that you might give us
advice for our revolutionary project.” Berger explained that the book
was a theoretical exercise and that he had no useful advice to give:
“They were clearly disappointed and soon left, to my (not to mention
my secretary’s) relief” (2011: 96).
e New Sociology of Knowledge
The reception of
The Social Construction of Reality
focused more
on its theory-of-society orientation—it was perceived as a blueprint
for social constructivism—than on its social theory orientation, that
is, the authors’ reformulation of the sociology of knowledge. In other
words, readers tended to focus on action rather than knowledge.
What was obviously overlooked was the fact that by “construction”
the authors did not mean the decision of a small group—not to
mention an individual—to change reality or social conditions, but
rather the emergence of reality “in the course of long-term human
activities over generations” (Luckmann 1999: 18; our translation).
Although the misunderstanding was probably caused, in part, by the
title of the book,
the main reason was the
that prevailed
at the time.
The one-sided reception of
The Social Construction of Reality
(1966a) as a social theory, and the failure to recognize its sociology-
of-knowledge implications, was undoubtedly due mainly to the fact
that it was read superficially. However, the interpretation was also
encouraged by the argument structure of the work. Emphasis was
placed on the externalization aspect of the dialectical interplay
ween externalization, objectivation, and internalization. This was
intended as a counterbalance to the overemphasis that Berger had
placed on internalization—in the Durkheimian sense of the program-
ming of the individual by society—in
Invitation to Sociology
And finally, the one-sided interpretation was due also to the fact that,
in subsequent comments, Berger—and, even more so, Luckmann—
gave the impression that the description, and the subtitling, of the
book as “a treatise in the sociology of knowledge” was a (marketing)
ploy. In his preface to the German-language edition (1969: x–xi),
Helmuth Plessner observes that, while many German sociologists
would be irritated by the word “construction” in the title, they would be
appeased by the subtitle, because “the sociology of knowledge is an
old favorite of German readers.” Berger cautiously admits that their
confrontation with the sociology of knowledge had covertly yielded a
theory of society. And in his laudatory speech on the occasion of the
award of the Paul Watzlawick Ring of Honor to Berger in Vienna in
2008, Luckmann stated that
The Social Construction of Reality
an “alternative to the structural functionalism that dominated sociol-
ogy at the time, disguised as a theory for the sociology of knowledge”
(our translation).
Reception and Impact of the New Sociology of Knowledge
Reflecting on
The Social Construction of Realit
y in his career mem-
Adventures of an Accidental Sociologist
(2011: 89), Berger notes that:
this book was successful far beyond anything we could have imagined
when our clique began. It has been described as a “minor classic,”
a phrase that combines a congratulatory noun with an adjectival
putdown. In any case, the book has engendered a whole literature
of commentary, both positive and negative. Its influence has gone
far beyond sociology.
The Homeless Mind
(Berger et al. 1973a) met with a fate similar
to that of
The Social Construction of Reality
as far as the failure to
recognize its sociology-of-knowledge perspective was concerned.
Although it is a genuine contribution to the new sociology of knowl-
edge, highlighting as it does the relationship between the subjective and
the social stock of knowledge in modern consciousness, the book was
read more as a contribution to the diagnosis of psychological home-
lessness resulting from modernity. And yet, it offers a large number
of fundamental concepts that were to prove useful to phenomeno-
logically orientated, sociology-of-knowledge empiricism. Moreover,
it helped to give the new sociology of knowledge clearer contours by
marking its boundaries—not only vis-à-vis the field of sociology as
a whole but also in relation to epistemology. The work reveals, on
the one hand, that the problem of the sociology of knowledge can be
iology are not identical. Put differently, the sociology of
knowledge reaches its boundaries when it comes, for example, to the
study of institutional dynamics—or, more generally, to the unintended
consequences of social action.
Despite the fact that
Invitation to Sociology
(1963a) was “out of step
with the
of early sixties sociology” (Berger 2011: 75), the book
soon became a bestseller and has remained so ever since. In
of an Accidental Sociologist
(2011: 75), Berger notes:
The American Anchor Books edition reached its one million mark
in 1981; I have no idea how many copies it has sold by now. To date
there have been twenty-one translations into foreign languages—not
e New Sociology of Knowledge
just into the obvious major ones but, among others, into Basque,
Lithuanian, and Bahasa Indonesia. I keep running into people who
tell me that this book induced them to become sociologists. This is
often said in an accusatory tone, because they discovered that what
most sociologists do today has little to do with the picture of the
discipline conveyed by the book.
The success of
Invitation to Sociology
(1963a) is probably due not
least to the fact that it is an introductory book, and thus belongs to
that genre of academic literature that sells best and is nowadays mainly
encountered in the form of textbooks and handbooks. The intention-
ally uncomplicated language—the book was addressed to a wide audi-
ence, and Berger “avoided as much as possible the technical dialect for
which sociologists have earned a dubious notoriety” (ibid., vii)—and
the humor with which he presents sociology as a kind of “royal game”
(loc. cit.), also played a part in ensuring that the book reached such
a large number of readers outside the field of sociology.
Invitation to
is the work in which Berger most clearly expresses what he
himself describes as his humanistic standpoint, namely his belief that
sociology by its nature belongs to the humanities—a belief that was
influenced by the phenomenology of Alfred Schutz.
The Sacred Canopy
(1967) was also a commercial and academic suc-
cess. As with
The Social Construction of Realit
y (1966a) and
to Sociology
(1963a), it was in tune with the then prevailing sociological
description of social change. This was due, especially, to the seculariza-
tion thesis elaborated in the second part of the book. However, Berger
(2011: 100) notes that, in contrast to the other two “minor classics,”
“if I were to rewrite it, I would not leave the text as it is.” He criticizes
the fact that the language was “unnecessarily complicated” (which
he considers to be a common vice among sociologists) and that the
second part—on secularization—was simply wrong. The book was
read more as a monumental example of his substantial conception
of religion—as opposed to the functionalist perspective adopted by
Luckmann in
Invisible Religion
(1967)—than as a concretization of his
theory for the sociology of knowledge on the basis of religion.
The basic theme of Berger’s sociology—the tension between the
objective and the subjective aspects of human experience of the
ial order, between structure and action, and between coercion and
edom—was already perceptible in
The Precarious Vision
This book distinguishes between
Reception and Impact of the New Sociology of Knowledge
debunk social fictions with the help of Christian faith, and to
the religious legitimation of these social fictions (2011: 73).
s that—in contrast to the typical legitimating function
of religion—a Christian faith committed to truth precisely does not
contribute to validating and sanctifying social roles. In this sense, faith
has more or less the same effect as anti-religious criticism:
Christian faith puts in question the assumptions, the self-righteous-
ness, and with these the bad faith of the social carnival. The preten-
sions of the masquerade collapse in the encounter with the God of
truth. (1961b: 172–73)
Berger pulls no punches in
The Precarious Vision
(1961b), especially
when it comes to choosing illustrative examples. With resounding
clarity, he points out in this early work that religion serves as a means
ial control and as a moral alibi—for capital punishment, for
example. He uses Jean-Paul Sartre’s term “bad faith” (
mauvaise foi
) to
describe the attitude, supported in particular by bureaucratic struc-
tures, that one has no choice, that one is not responsible for one’s
actions, that one is merely doing one’s duty. And he argues that:
Bad faith is so important because it is the other side of freedom. Bad
faith is the denial of freedom, because it deludes men into thinking
that they have no choice in a situation. In reality, there are very few
situations indeed where the words “no option” are literally true. At the
very least, as the Stoics knew, there is the choice of death. (ibid., 94)
In sociological usage, precarious means not only lacking in stability
but also doubtful. This doubtfulness shatters the apparent certainty
of political and religious convictions. Hence, in its ethical dimension,
too, precariousness is just another word for what Berger and Zijderveld
praise as doubt in a book they coauthored in 2009.
In Praise of Doubt
(Berger & Zijderveld 2009) is subtitled
How to
Have Convictions without Becoming a Fanatic
. In this book, the authors
offer ethical instructions on how to find a middle position between
relativism and fundamentalism. Their six-point program (2009: 116ff.)
can be summarized as follows: 1. Differentiate between the core of the
position and more marginal components. 2. Recognize the historical
context of your tradition. 3. Reject relativism to balance out the rejec-
tion of fundamentalism. 4. Accept doubt as having a positive role in
a community of belief. 5. Do not categorize as enemies those who do
e New Sociology of Knowledge
not share your worldview. 6. Develop and maintain institutions of civil
society that enable peaceful debate and conflict solution.
According to Berger and Zijderveld, in an age where there are fewer
and fewer absolute certainties within the taken-for-granted worldview,
doubt with respect to political and religious convictions engenders
a moderate—inclusivist—attitude. This attitude is characterized by
the fact that it “affirm[s] strongly the truth-claims of one tradition
[while] accepting possibilities of truth in other traditions” (ibid., 49).
The authors argue that, under conditions of modernity, absolute
certainty prevails only in the area of fundamental moral convictions.
This certainty finds expression, for example, in the Golden Rule (“that
one should not do to another what is despicable to oneself” (ibid.,
124)), and in Article 1 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of
Germany—“The dignity of man is inviolate.” Hence their assertion that
“there are cognitive and moral limits to doubt” (ibid., 121).
For Berger and Zijderveld, doubt is not merely the opposite of
certainty. Rather, as Berger put it in a radio interview with Daniele
Rehm in 2009, he and his coauthor conceive of doubt as the “willing-
ness to take positions even if you’re not completely certain.” Berger
and Zijderveld (ibid., 46) point out that “What concerns us in this
book is that group who are in quest of an authority that will declare
an absolutely, ultimately correct choice.”
Although reality and knowledge are the key terms, and the basic
theme of
The Social Construction of Reality
(1966a: 1), the concept
of certainty also plays an important role. This is due to the fact that it
is central to Berger and Luckmann’s definition of reality, which they
conceive of as the “certainty that phenomena are real and that they
possess specific characteristics” (loc. cit.). In contrast to the central
focus of the new sociology of knowledge, namely, reality and knowl-
edge, Berger and Zijderveld (2009) take up a basic theme of the
sociology of knowledge—truth and relativism—and thereby enter
epistemological territory.
With an attitude of fundamental skepticism vis-à-vis all -isms,
regardless of their provenance, Berger and Zijderveld prevent the
pendulum from swinging from one extreme (fundamentalism) to
the other (relativism). They argue that, in postmodernist discourse
in particular, the relativization of certainties threatens to turn into
an ethic of “anything goes” that eschews moral judgments and the
acknowledgement of the moral necessity of values. The authors’ dis-
taste for postmodernist theories that replace truth with narrations is
Reception and Impact of the New Sociology of Knowledge
motivated not least by the fact that these theories question facts that
are obvious common sense. They argue:
In short, one can doubt big and important, or small and unimportant,
things. One can harbor doubts about oneself, the world at large, or
God. What these cases have in common is that they question whether
something or someone is reliable, trustworthy, and meaningful—that
is, whether something or someone is “true.” Doubt and truth, in other
words, are about relationships. (ibid., 105)
If relativity is to be considered the central problem of the sociology
of knowledge, and “morality and religion have been the two areas in
which the effects of modern relativity have been most shattering, for
reasons that are not hard to grasp” (Berger & Kellner 1981: 77), then
Peter L. Berger has, in fact, always found himself on the rocky terrain
that straddles the border between the sociology of knowledge and
Apart from
The Social Construction of Reality
(Berger & Luckmann
1966a), which is unquestionably Berger’s most important contribution
to the sociology of knowledge,
The Sacred Canopy
(1967) and
Homeless Mind
(Berger et al. 1973a) contributed to the sociology-of-
knowledge foundation that shaped his later works. These books are
primarily addressed to the sociological community, whereas
to Sociology
(1963a: vii) is “addressed to those who, for one reason or
another, have come to wonder or to ask questions about sociology.” By
contrast, the target audience of
Rumor of Angels
(1969a) comprises
theologians and “religiously musical” laypeople. The special way in
which Berger approaches his subject matter—and his audience—is
the key to explaining the public impact that the book has achieved.
A Rumor of Angels
(1969a) is groundbreaking in the sense that
Berger’s characteristic way of confronting the subject of religion
manifests itself clearly for the first time. In this—and in all subsequent
works relating to religion—he approaches his subject matter both from
a sociological perspective and from the perspective of a theologically
well-versed religious person. The choice of the latter perspective is
informed by Berger’s substantial definition of religion, which reflects
“a specifically supernaturalist worldview” (2011: 97). Discussing the book
Adventures of an Accidental Sociologist
(ibid., 101), Berger recalls:
I made it clear that I was not speaking here as a sociologist but as
a layperson without formal theological credentials. . . . The theo-
logical task . . . is to show how even in this secularized world the
e New Sociology of Knowledge
supernatural may be “rediscovered.” This task cannot be undertaken
with the tools of sociology (or, for that matter, any other empirical
science). But sociology is relevant because it can help to “relativize
the relativizers”—the secular worldview, just like any religion, has
a specific “plausibility structure,” which, when analyzed, loses its
pretension of conveying absolute truth.
Despite the fact that he keeps the two perspectives separate, this
dual approach caused sociologists to view Berger with suspicion. That
his target audience did not share this skepticism is evidenced by the
fact that
A Rumor of Angels
was a resounding success. In his career
memoir (2011: 101–2) he notes, “It was my last truly successful book
of the sixties (and, to date, of any subsequent period). It too is till in
print, with nine foreign translations, including (surprisingly for a book
of Christian theology) into Japanese and Bahasa Indonesia.” Berger
explains that he never could understand why translations of most
of his major books were published by a Muslim publishing house in
Indonesia, until he met the publishers on a visit to Jakarta: “As believing
Muslims they were intrigued by an author who looked at religion from
an empirical perspective and nevertheless affirmed his own religious
faith (never mind that it was Christian)” (loc. cit.).
A closer analysis of Berger’s approach to the treatment of religion
and the “quest for faith” (the title of a book he published in 2004) reveals
that he assumes three roles, and, as a rule, separates them clearly. He
speaks as a sociologist, as a theologically informed layperson, and as
a confessed Christian. As a sociologist of religion, he concerns him-
self with the constructed nature of religious systems. In other words,
he takes a sociology-of-knowledge approach to this subject matter.
However, the sociology of knowledge—and sociology in general—
cannot assess the validity of a religious experience or an account of
such an experience. On the contrary, it can concern itself only with
empirically graspable phenomena. Berger does not conclude from this
that the subject matter of the sociology of religion can, or should, be
limited to the social context, origins, functions, and manifestations
of religion. Rather, a sociologist of religion can attempt to furnish a
phenomenological description of religious experience. Nonetheless,
as Berger and Kellner (1981: 87) stress, when so doing, the ontologi-
cal character of the religious experiences described in the verbal and
written accounts to which one has access must be rigorously brack-
eted. In other words, what is of relevance to the sociology of religion
is the
Reception and Impact of the New Sociology of Knowledge
the act of consciousness (believing) refers to its object. The
aspect of religious experience—that is, the way in which the object
(the believed) appears through the noetic act—is shown only within
brackets in the phenomenological description (cf. Berger & Kellner
1981: 87). By removing the brackets and confirming the ontological
status of what is believed, one switches to a religious frame of refer-
ence and takes on the role of believer.
As a confessed Christian, Berger struggles with the possibility of
faith in an “age of credulity” (cf. the subtitle of
A Far Glory
A Far Glory
, he argues, following Blaise Pascal, that insofar as the
existence of God is by definition “that which one does not know,”
faith is a wager that God exists. Berger’s message, which is related to
Kierkegaard’s “leap of faith” (cf. Berger 1979: 74), is that, while we can-
not obtain certainty in this matter, those who believe gain something
more—the belief in the validity of joy.
As a theologically informed layperson who was dissatisfied with
the reactions of theologians to the signs of the times, Berger sought
“contemporary possibilities of religious affirmation”—the subtitle of
can be recognized if one switches between determinations. Berger
would disagree. He claims “dual citizenship”—as a sociologist, on
the one hand, and as a theological and political actor and religious
believer on the other. And he contends (in Brix & Prisching 2001: 167;
our translation) that “role contamination” is by no means inevitable,
insofar as several perspectives can exist side by side: “The coherence
of one perspective does not rule out the coherence of the other.”
This coherence is facilitated by the fact that, in the preface to his
books and lectures, Berger always outlines his frames of reference. He
clarifies the role(s)—sociologist, theologically and politically informed
layperson, and/or moralist—that he intends to assume. He proves
himself a highly reflective and self-deprecating role player. And he is
serious when he maintains that the positions that he assumes when he
thinks, says, or writes something are standpoints that one can adopt,
e New Sociology of Knowledge
and that one can abandon. With the exception of his own fundamental
moral values, which are non-negotiable, he regards these positions as
tentative. Hence, although he presents his propositions in a compelling
and persuasive way, he is never dogmatic. In my view, this explains
the impact that Peter L. Berger’s books have achieved.
“Perhaps the word ‘construction’ in the Berger/Luckmann volume was
tunate, as it suggests a creation ex nihilo—as if one said, ‘There is
nothing here but our constructions.’ But this was not the authors’ inten-
tion. They were far too much influenced by Durkheim to subscribe to
such a view. What they proposed was that all reality was subject to socially
derived interpretations. What much of postmodernist theory proposes is
that all interpretations are equally valid—which, of course, would spell
the end of any scientific approach to human history and society. And
some postmodern theorists have maintained that nothing exists except or
outside these interpretations—which comes close to the clinical definition
of schizophrenia, a condition in which one is unable to distinguish reality
from one’s fantasies” (Berger & Zijderveld 2009: 66).

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asceticism, 80, 82, 84
- inner-worldly, 4, 80, 82, 84
atheism, 50, 52
- methodological, 2, 4–5, 15, 52,
autonomy, 26, 30, 119
bureaucracy, 18–19, 21, 22
Calvinism, 57, 80
capitalism, 17–18, 21, 74, 78, 80–82, 84,
church, 7, 26, 28, 35–36, 39–42, 54–55,
certainty/certainties, 23, 27, 30, 43, 51, 54,
58, 64–66, 70, 76, 80, 96–98, 131–132,
Club of Rome, 6, 29, 140
cognitive maps, 96
cognitive style(s), 18, 22, 25
commonsense knowledge, 19, 81, 108
communication, 22, 25, 33, 35, 42–43,
componentiality, 22
Confucianism, 72, 75, 82–83
conscience collective
consciousness, 3, 4, 7–9, 13–14, 17–19,
21–24, 27, 31, 37, 41, 49, 51, 53, 55, 56,
58, 62, 94, 99–101, 103, 105–106, 108,
- collective, 3–4, 30, 118, 125
- false, 17, 47, 58, 62, 108
- modern, 4, 8, 15, 17–19, 21–27,
29–31, 38–39, 41–43, 47, 51–54,
56, 63–64, 67, 72, 74–75, 84, 106,
- states of, 49
consciousness structures, 17–18
construction, 5, 14, 26, 48, 93, 98–102, 105,
108, 111, 116, 118–119, 125–128, 136
constructivism, 93, 128
conversion (transformation), 88
cosmization, 48–50
counter-cultures, 24
credibility structure, 112
Culture, 7–8, 13, 28, 47, 77, 79, 85, 113,
CURA, 2, 7–8, 28, 47, 56, 77–78, 80, 82, 83
Davos culture, 79
death, 51, 54, 106, 131
decanonization, 27
deduction, 52
de-institutionalization, 56
Democracy, 25, 33, 41, 44, 67, 73, 78, 80,
Desecularization 45, 47, 55, 58, 61, 68–69,
developing countries, 20
development, 7–8, 12, 13, 17, 28, 31, 74,
75, 77–78, 80, 82, 84–85, 89–90, 94,
e New Sociology of Knowledge
diagnosis, 24, 28, 31, 122, 129
dialectic, 19, 99, 101–103, 108, 117, 119,
disembedding, 30
disenchantment, 56
division of labor, 8, 105, 106
economic culture, 7, 13, 77–78, 85
epistemology, 94, 97, 107, 111, 129, 133
everyday life, 4, 30, 48, 55, 80, 97, 98, 100,
everyday reality, 30, 98
expert, 8
externalization, 93, 99, 101–103, 126, 128
faculty club culture, 79
faits sociaux
freedom of choice, 23
fundamentalism, 41–42, 61, 66, 67, 70,
globalization, 8, 28, 33–34, 44, 45, 78, 80
Graduate Faculty of the New School for
Social Research, 11
habitualization, 99
Hartford Appeal, 7
Hartford Declaration
heresy, 23, 31
man on the street, 111
marginal situations, 48–49, 54, 106
market economy, 25, 67, 75
Marxists, 17–18, 124
McWorld, 79
meaning, 2, 4, 9, 18, 25, 27, 28, 30, 37,
48–49, 58, 72, 81, 87, 98–100, 104, 105,
- crisis of, 3, 6, 27, 31
- provinces of, 30, 48
- purveyors of, 58
- symbolic universes of, 21, 49, 104
meaninglessness, 48
meaning systems, 49
mentality, 22
microsociology, 6
mirroring, 105
mobility ethos, 26
Modernity, 3, 6, 17, 25, 27, 35, 53, 64,
modernization, 7, 13–14, 17–22, 24–25,
27, 29, 31, 56, 58, 62–63, 65, 67–68,
moralization, 28
multiple realities, 4, 30, 48, 55, 98
multi-relationality, 22, 25
mundane phenomenology, 1, 97
New School for Social Research, 11, 126
nirvana, 54
nomization, 48, 50
objectication, 59
objectivation, 5, 27, 49, 59, 93, 99, 101,
objectivity, 94, 110–111, 125
orthodox, 34, 42–43, 50–51, 53, 59, 63,
packages, 19, 58, 82
Paul Watzlawick Ring of Honor, 6, 128
Pentecostalism, 8, 34, 40, 44–45, 58, 67,
permanent reection, 30
phenomenology, 1, 4, 5, 6, 9, 11, 97, 130
philosophy, 1, 5, 8, 9, 49, 94, 104, 109,
philosophy of history, 1
plausibility structure(s), 9, 18, 31, 42, 48,
pluralization, 58
positionality, 101
- eccentric, 101, 115
postmodern, 136
predestination, doctrine of, 81
private sphere, 22, 25–26
projection, 48–50, 52–53
Protestant ethic, 21, 74, 80–81
Protestantism, 13, 33–34, 39–41, 44, 54,
rat race, 26
realities, 4, 15, 30, 48, 53, 55, 67, 98, 105,
- multiple, 4, 23, 30, 48, 55, 64, 98
reality, 1, 5–6, 11–12, 15, 18, 19, 22,
27, 48–49, 93, 97–99, 101, 105–109,
- constructions of, 23, 97, 106, 110
reduction, 52
reference group, 31, 115
reication, 9, 59, 111, 125
relationism, 94
relativism, 83, 131–132
relativity, 51, 93–94, 98, 107, 133
relevance structure, 94–95
religion, 6, 13, 26, 32–39, 47–50, 52,
55–59, 62–71, 73–76, 81, 113, 130,
- privatization of, 59
- concept of, 13, 31, 36, 48, 78, 101,
- sociology of, 1, 3, 58, 97, 107, 115,
revolution, 4, 18, 20, 39, 63–64, 71, 78,
revolution, myth of, 20
rituals, 104
role distance, 22
role player, 135
rule of law, 25
Rutgers University
sacred cosmos, 48
secondary institutions, 26, 28
secularism, 41, 52
secularization, 8, 35, 55–59, 62–63,
e New Sociology of Knowledge
secularization theory, 35, 56–59, 62–63,
skepticism, 29, 54, 74, 110, 132, 134
- methodologically, 94, 109
Social Construction
, 1, 5–6, 11–13, 15,
18–19, 27, 48–49, 93, 97–99, 101,
social constructivism, 93, 128
socialism, 18
socialization, 27, 93, 99, 102–103, 105–
social psychology, 97, 102, 106, 115, 117,
social structure, 102, 106, 108, 116–117
sociological imagination
society, modern, 3–4, 8, 22–31, 33, 37,
39, 40–44, 48, 56, 58, 62–64, 67, 70,
74, 78, 80, 83, 93, 95, 97, 98, 101–103,
105, 107, 108, 111, 112, 116, 117–123,
sociology, empirical, 1–3, 7, 14–15, 58,
94–95, 97, 107, 115, 124, 126–130,
sociology of knowledge, 1–4, 9, 11, 13,
18–19, 47–48, 53, 81, 93–99, 101–102,
107–112, 115–117, 119–121, 123–130,
- hermeneutic, 110
- integrative, 26, 99, 104, 108, 110
structural functionalism, 1, 12, 106, 111,
subjectivity, 30–31, 103
symbolic meaning systems, 49, 56
symbolic universe, 18, 21, 48–49, 104–105
symbols, 49, 56
technology, 18–19, 21, 25, 35, 84
theologizing, 59
- deductive, 51, 59
- inductive, 51–52, 59, 135
- reductive, 51, 59
theology, 4, 8, 50, 52–53, 104, 134
theory of society, 48, 128
ird World, 13, 17–18, 24, 30–31, 78,
transcendence, 4, 31, 48, 51–52, 72, 135
triangulation, 111
truth, 3, 51, 53, 58, 94, 102, 107, 111–112,
typication(s), 99–100, 103, 107, 111
value-freeness, 95–96
- value free, 2, 21, 31, 62, 64, 94–95
values, 3, 9, 21, 27–28, 47, 63, 69–70, 72,
74–75, 77, 79–80, 85, 87, 90, 92, 94,
- set of, 3, 21, 56, 70, 78, 83, 112
(interpretive understanding),
Vienna, 6, 124, 128
, worldview(s), 119
- relative-natural, 96
world of joyful play, 51
world-openness, 100

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