Peter Ludwig Berger
(born March 17
) is an American sociologist
and Lutheran theologian
well known for his work The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge
(New York, 1966), which he co-authored with Thomas Luckmann
Berger was born in Vienna
and later emigrated to the United States
shortly after World War II
. In 1949 he graduated from Wagner College
with a Bachelor of Arts
. He continued his studies at the New School for Social Research
in New York (M.A. in 1950, Ph.D. in 1954).
In 1955 and 1956 he worked at the Evangelische Akademie in Bad Boll, Germany. From 1956 to 1958 Berger was an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina; from 1958 to 1963 he was an associate professor at Hartford Theological Seminary. The next stations in his career were professorships at the New School for Social Research, Rutgers University, and Boston College. Since 1981 Berger has been University Professor of Sociology and Theology at Boston University, and since 1985 also director of the Institute for the Study of Economic Culture, which transformed, a few years ago, into the Institute on Culture, Religion and World Affairs.
Berger is perhaps best known for his view that social reality
is a form of consciousness
. Central to Berger's work is the relationship between society
and the individual
. In his book The Social Construction of Reality
, Berger develops a sociological theory: 'Society as Objective Reality and as Subjective Reality'. His analysis of society as subjective reality describes the process by which an individual's conception of reality is produced by his or her interaction with social structures. He writes about how new human concepts or inventions become a part of our reality through the process of objectivation
. Often this reality is then no longer recognized as a human creation, a process Berger calls reification
His conception of social structure revolving around the importance of language, "the most important sign system of human society," is similar to Hegel's conception of Geist..
Like most other sociologists of religion of his day, he mistakenly predicted the all-encompassing secularization of the world. This he has quite humorously admitted on a number of occasions, concluding that the data in fact proves otherwise. By the late 1980s, Berger publicly recognized that religion (both old and new) was not only still prevalent, but in many cases was more vibrantly practiced than in periods in the past. While recognizing that religion is still a powerful social force, he points to the fact that pluralism and the globalized world fundamentally change how the individual experiences faith, with the taken-for-granted character of religion often being replaced by an individual's search for a personal religious preference.
Despite the rise of a "new paradigm" in the sociology of religion, which draws upon insights from rational choice theory in explaining the behavior of religious firms (churches) and consumers (individuals), Berger's thought has influenced many significant figures in the field of sociology of religion today, including his colleague at Boston University, Robert Hefner, former students Michael Plekhon, James Davison Hunter, and Nancy Ammerman.
The influential sociological works of Berger include:
- The Noise of Solemn Assemblies (1961)
- Invitation to Sociology: A Humanistic Perspective (1963)
- The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge (1966) with Thomas Luckmann, ISBN 0-385-05898-5
- The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion (1967). Anchor Books 1990 paperback: ISBN 0-385-07305-4
- A Rumor of Angels: Modern Society and the Rediscovery of the Supernatural (1969). Anchor Books (in print): ISBN 0-385-06630-9, 1990 expanded edition (now out of print): ISBN 0-385-41592-3
Today he writes mainly on the sociology of religion and capitalism:
- The Homeless Mind: Modernization and Consciousness (1973) with Brigitte Berger and Hansfried Kellner. Random House, ISBN 0394484223
- Many Globalizations: Cultural Diversity in the Contemporary World (1974) with Samuel P. Huntington
- Pyramids of Sacrifice: Political Ethics and Social Change (1974)
- Other Side of God (1981). ISBN 0-385-17424-1
- The Capitalist Spirit: Toward a Religious Ethic of Wealth Creation (editor, 1990)
- Redeeming Laughter: The Comic Dimension of Human Experience (1997), ISBN 3110155621
- The Desecularization of the World: Resurgent Religion and World Politics (editor, et al., 1999). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, ISBN 0-8028-4691-2
- A Far Glory: The Quest for Faith in an Age of Credibility (1992)
- Heretical Imperative: Contemporary Possibilities of Religious Affirmation
- The Limits of Social Cohesion: Conflict and Mediation in Pluralist Societies: A Report of the Bertelsmann Foundation to the Club of Rome
- Peter Berger and the Study of Religion (2001)
- Questions of Faith: A Skeptical Affirmation of Christianity (2003). Blackwell Publishing, ISBN 1-4051-0848-7
- Four Faces of Global Culture (The National Interest, Fall 1997).
Berger is doctor honoris causa of Loyola University, Wagner College, the University of Notre Dame, the University of Geneva, and the University of Munich. He is an honorary member of many scientific associations.
- James D. Hunter, Stephen C. Ainley. Making Sense of Modern Times: Peter L. Berger and the Vision of Interpretive Sociology
- Robert Wuthnow. Cultural Analysis: The Work of Peter L. Berger, Mary Douglas, Michel Foucault, and Jurgen Habermas