World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Peter L. Berger

Peter Ludwig Berger
Born (1929-03-17) March 17, 1929
Vienna, Austria
Fields Sociology, Theology
Institutions Boston University
Alma mater Wagner College (B.A. 1949)
The New School (M.A. 1950, Ph.D. 1954)
Known for Co-author of The Social Construction of Reality
Influences Max Weber, Alfred Schütz

Peter Ludwig Berger (born March 17, 1929) is an Austrian-born American sociologist known for his work in the sociology of knowledge, the sociology of religion, study of modernization, and theoretical contributions to sociological theory. He is best known for his book, co-authored with Thomas Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge (New York, 1966), which is considered one of the most influential texts in the sociology of knowledge, and played a central role in the development of social constructionism. The book was named by the International Sociological Association as the fifth most influential book written in the field of sociology during the 20th century.[1] In addition to this book, some of the other books that Berger has written include: Invitation to Sociology: A Humanistic Perspective (1963); and A Rumor of Angels: Modern Society and the Rediscovery of the Supernatural (1969).[2] Berger has spent most of his career teaching at The New School for Social Research, Rutgers University, and Boston University. Before retiring, Berger was at Boston University since 1981, and was the director of the Institute for the Study of Economic Culture.[3]


  • Biography 1
    • Family life 1.1
    • Education and career 1.2
  • Sociological thought 2
    • The Social Construction of Reality 2.1
      • The Reality of Everday Life 2.1.1
      • Society as Objective and Subjective 2.1.2
    • Humanistic Perspective 2.2
  • Religion and society 3
    • Religion and the Human Problems of Modernity 3.1
    • Transcendence 3.2
    • Secularization Theory 3.3
  • Theoretical contributions 4
  • Influences 5
  • Honors 6
  • Works 7
  • References 8
  • Further reading 9
  • External links 10


Family life

Peter Ludwig Berger was born on March 17, 1929, in Vienna, Austria, to George William and Jelka (Loew) Berger. He emigrated to the United States shortly after World War II in 1946 at the age of 17[3] and in 1952 he became a naturalized citizen. On September 28, 1959, he married Brigitte Kellner, herself an eminent sociologist who was on the faculty at Wellesley College and Boston University, was author of Societies in Change (1971), The Homeless Mind (1974), The War over the Family (1984), and The Family in the Modern Age (2002). Brigitte Kellner Berger died in 2015.[4] They had two sons, Thomas Ulrich and Michael George.

Education and career

Berger attended Wagner College for his Bachelor of Arts and received his M.A. and Ph.D. from the New School for Social Research in New York in 1954.[5] 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 at Greensboro; 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. Recently retired as a professor, since 1981 Berger was the University Professor of Sociology and Theology at Boston University. In 1985 he founded the Institute for the Study of Economic Culture, which later transformed into the Institute on Culture, Religion and World Affairs (CURA), and is now part of the Boston University Pardee School of Global Studies.[6] He remained the Director of CURA from 1985 to 2010.[6]

Berger is a moderately Christian Lutheran conservative whose work in theology, secularisation and modernity has been somewhat distanced from contemporary mainstream sociology which tends to lean away from any right-wing political thinking. Ultimately though, Berger's perspective in sociology is a humanist one with special emphasis on "value-free" analysis.[7]

Sociological thought

The Social Construction of Reality

The Reality of Everday Life

Berger and Luckmann present this as the sphere of reality that presents itself upon human existence most intensely and immediately. Everyday life is contrasted with other spheres of reality – dreamworlds, theatre – and is considered by a person to be the objective, intersubjective (shared with others) and self-evident. Life is ordered spatially and temporally. Spatial ordering allows interaction with other people and objects; the human ability to manipulate zones of space can intersect with another's ability.

Social interactions in everyday life favour personal, face-to-face encounters as the best scenarios where human beings can actually connect with each other through interactions. Humans perceive the other in these interactions as more real than they would themselves; we can place a person in everyday life by seeing them, yet we need to contemplate our own placement in the world as it is not so concrete.

Language is imperative to the understanding of everyday life. We understand knowledge through language. The knowledge relevant to us is the only necessary knowledge to our survival, but humans interact through sharing and connecting the relevant structures of our lives with each other.[8]

Society as Objective and Subjective

Objectively, social order is a product of our social enterprise: it is an ongoing process that results from human activity. Institutions are a product of the historicity and need to control human habitualization (the repeated behaviours or patterns). The shared nature of these experiences and their commonality results in sedimentation, meaning they lose their memorability. Many behaviours lose sedimented institutional meanings. Institutional order involves specified roles for people to play. These roles are seen as performing as this objective figure – an employee is not judged as a human but by that role they have taken.

Subjectively, we experience first and second socialisation into society. Firstly, we are socialised into the world and secondarily we internalise institutional "sub worlds." We maintain our subjective world through reaffirmation with social interactions with others. Our identity and the society are seen as dialectically related: our identity is formed by social processes, which are in turn ordered by our society.[8]

Humanistic Perspective

The humanistic perspective is generally outside of mainstream, contemporary sociology. It is considered as a view that relates more to the humanities – literature, philosophy – than to social science. Its ultimate purpose lies in freeing society of illusions to help make it more humane. In this sense, we are the "puppets of society," but sociology allows us to see the strings that we are attached to, which helps to free ourselves. Berger's "Invitation to Sociology" outlines his approach to the field of sociology in these humanistic terms. Methodologically, sociologists should attempt to understand and observe human behaviour outside the context of its social setting and free from whatever influence a sociologists' personal biases or feelings might be. The study of sociology, Berger posits, should be value-free. Research should be accrued in the same manner as the scientific method, using observation, hypothesis, testing, data, analysis and generalisation. The meaning derived from the results of research should be contextualised with historical, cultural, environmental, or other important data.[9]

Religion and society

Religion and the Human Problems of Modernity

Berger believes that society is made aware of what he refers to as the nomos, or the patterns a particular society wants its members to see as objectively right and to internalize. The nomos is all the society's knowledge about how things are, and all of its values and ways of living. This is upheld through legitimacy, either giving special meaning to these behaviors or by creating a structure of knowledge that enhances the plausibility of the nomos. The existence of an eternal cosmic entity that legitimizes a nomos makes the nomos itself eternal; an individual's actions within its set society are all based on a universal and orderly pattern based on their beliefs.[10]

Modern pluralization, which has stemmed from the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, set forth a new set of values, including: separation of the religious and secular spheres of life, a person's wealth as a determinant of value, maximizing freedom to enhance wealth, increasing prediction and control to increase wealth, identifying oneself as a member of a nation-state. This, in turn, spread capitalism and its ideals and beliefs of individualism and rationalization and separated Christians from their Gods. With globalization, even more beliefs and cultures were confronted with this.[10]

Berger's believes that modernity – technological production paradigms of thinking and bureaucracy, namely – alienate the individual from primary institutions and force individuals to create separate spheres of public and private life. There is no plausibility structure for any system of beliefs in the modern world, we are made to choose our own with no anchors of to our own perceptions of reality. This lowers feelings of belonging and forces our own subjectivities onto themselves. Berger calls this a "homelessness of the mind." It is the product of the modern world, he believes, as it has transformed the technology of production into our consciousness, making our cognition componential, always searching for a "means to an end." Ideas and beliefs are varied in the modern world, and an individual, not sharing their system of beliefs with the public whole relegates any behaviors that are contingent on it to their private life.[11]

The socialist myth, a non pejorative term of Berger's, actually arises from intellectual leftism masking a need to resolve the lacking sense of community in the modern world through the promise to destroy the oppression of capitalism. Berger believes resolving community in modern society needs to emphasize the role of "mediating structures" in their lives to counter the alienation of modernity. Human existence in the age of modernity requires there to be structures like church, neighbourhood and family to help establish a sense of belonging rooted in a commitment to values or beliefs. This builds a sense of community and belonging in an individual. In addition, these structures can serve a role in addressing larger social problems without the alienation that larger society creates. Mediating structures role in civil society is both private and public, in this sense.[12]


In our daily lives, we experience symbols and glimpses of existence beyond empirical order, of transcendent existence, Berger calls these "rumours of angels." We feel in times of great joy, in our never-ending pursuit of order against chaos, in the existence of objective evil, and in our sense of hope that there exists some supernatural reality beyond that of human existence. People who choose to believe in the existence of a supernatural other require faith – a wager of belief against doubt – in the modern rationalised world. Knowledge can no longer sufficiently ground human belief in the pluralized world, forcing people to wager their own beliefs against the current of doubt in our society.[13]

Secularization Theory

Like most other sociologists of religion of his day, Berger once predicted the all-encompassing secularization of the world.[14] He has admitted to his own miscalculations about secularisation, concluding that the existence of resurgent religiosity in the modernised world has proven otherwise.[15] The Desecularization of the World, he cites both Western academia and Western Europe itself as exceptions to the triumphant desecularization hypothesis: these cultures have remained highly secularized despite the resurgence of religion in the rest of the world. Berger finds that his and most sociologists' misconsensus about secularisation may have been the result of their own bias as members of academia, which is a largely atheist concentration of people.[16]

Theoretical contributions

In "Making Sense of Modern Times: Peter L. Berger and the Vision of Interpretive Sociology", James Davison Hunter and Stephen C. Ainlay, their social theories are built upon those of Berger's. Hunter and Ainlay use Berger's ideologies as a foundation and framework for this particular book. Nicholas Abercrombie begins by examining his reformation of the sociology of knowledge. Shifting his focus on the subjective reality of everyday life, Berger enters a dialogue with traditional sociologies of knowledge – more specific, those of Marx and Mannheim. Abercrombie digs deeper into this dialogue Berger brings up, and he considers ways in which Berger goes beyond these figures. Stephen Ainlay then pursues the notable influence on Berger's work.[17]

in the field of sociology Berger has been somewhat excluded from the mainstream; his humanistic perspective was denounced by much of the intellectual elite in the field, though it sold well over a million copies. Berger's leftist criticisms do not help him much in that regard either. Berger's theories on religion have held considerable weight in contemporary neoconservative and theological fields of thinking, however.[18]


Berger's work is notably influenced by Max Weber. Weber focused on the empirical realities of rationality as a characteristic of action and rationalization. In comparison, Berger proposed that we use the word 'options' rather than freedom as an empirical concept. Therefore, much of the empirical work of Berger and Weber have revolved around the relationship between modern rationalization and options for social action. Weber argued that rationalism can mean a variety of things at the subjective level of consciousness and at the objective level of social institutions. The connection between Berger's analysis of the sociology of religion in modern society and Max Weber's "The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism" aligns. Weber saw capitalism as a result of the Protestant secularisation of work ethic and morality in amassing wealth, which Berger integrates into his analysis about the effects of losing the non-secular foundations for belief about life's ultimate meaning.

Berger's own experiences teaching in North Carolina in the 50's showed the shocking American prejudice of that era's Southern culture and influenced his humanistic perspective as a way to reveal the ideological forces from which it stemmed.[18]


Berger was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1982.[19] He is doctor honoris causa of Loyola University, Wagner College, the University of Notre Dame, the University of Geneva, and the University of Munich, and an honorary member of many scientific associations.

In 2010 he was awarded the Dr. Leopold Lucas Prize by the University of Tübingen.[20][21]


Berger's influential sociological works include:

More recently he has written broadly but with particular emphasis on the sociology of religion and capitalism:

  • Sociology (1972) with Brigitte Berger. Basic Books. – Dutch translation: Sociologie (1972). Basisboeken
  • The Homeless Mind: Modernization and Consciousness (1973) with Brigitte Berger and Hansfried Kellner. Random House
  • Pyramids of Sacrifice: Political Ethics and Social Change (1974)
  • Facing Up to Modernity: Excursions in Society, Politics and Religion (1979)
  • The Heretical Imperative: Contemporary Possibilities of Religious Affirmation (1979)
  • The Other Side of God: A Polarity in World Religions (editor, 1981).
  • The War Over the Family: Capturing the Middle Ground (1983) with Brigitte Berger
  • The Capitalist Revolution (1986) New York: Basic Books.
  • The Capitalist Spirit: Toward a Religious Ethic of Wealth Creation (editor, 1990)
  • A Far Glory: The Quest for Faith in an Age of Credulity (1992)
  • Redeeming Laughter: The Comic Dimension of Human Experience (1997)
  • Four Faces of Global Culture (The National Interest, Fall 1997)
  • The Limits of Social Cohesion: Conflict and Mediation in Pluralist Societies: A Report of the Bertelsmann Foundation to the Club of Rome (1998)
  • The Desecularization of the World: Resurgent Religion and World Politics (editor, et al., 1999)
  • Peter Berger and the Study of Religion (edited by Linda Woodhead et al., 2001; includes a Postscript by Berger)
  • Many Globalizations: Cultural Diversity in the Contemporary World (2002) with Samuel P. Huntington. Oxford University Press
  • Questions of Faith: A Skeptical Affirmation of Christianity (2003). Blackwell Publishing
  • In Praise of Doubt: How to Have Convictions Without Becoming a Fanatic (2009) with Anton Zijderveld. HarperOne
  • Dialogue Between Religious Traditions in an Age of Relativity (2011) Mohr Siebeck
  • The Many Altars of Modernity. Towards a Paradigm for Religion in a Pluralist Age" (2014)


  1. ^ ISA – Books of the Century. ToP Ten
  2. ^ Aeschliman, M.D. June 2011. A Contemporary Erasmus: Peter L. Berger. Modern Age, Vol 53, pp. 5–14
  3. ^ a b Allan, Kenneth. Contemporary Social and Sociological Theory: Visualizing Social Worlds. Sage Publications Inc, 2011, pp. 28–45
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ a b
  7. ^
  8. ^ a b
  9. ^
  10. ^ a b
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^ a b
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^

Further reading

  • Hein, David. "Christianity and Honor." The Living Church, August 18, 2013, pp. 8–10. [analysis and application of Berger's "On the Obsolescence of the Concept of Honor" (1970)]
  • 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

External links

  • Description at Boston University Religious Faculty
  • Peter Berger's blog
  • Peter L. Berger Room
  • Peter Berger Resources at the Wayback Machine (archived October 27, 2009)
  • From Religion-Online
    • Protestantism and the Quest for Certainty
    • The Class Struggle in American Religion
    • Cakes for the Queen of Heaven: 2,500 Years of Religious Ecstasy
    • Protestantism and the Quest for Certainty
    • Epistemological Modesty: An Interview with Peter Berger
    • Reflections of an Ecclesiastical Expatriate
  • Dialectical Social Science Conservative humanism of Berger circle compared to tradition of Western Marxism.
  • Appearances on C-SPAN
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.