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STILLPOINT Archive: last updated 12/05/2013


Religion and Other Curiosities

As part of a two-day discussion of religion and the contemporary world, Gordon’s Center for Faith and Inquiry welcomed sociologist Peter Berger, professor emeritus of religion, sociology and theology at Boston University and also director of BU’s Institute on Culture, Religion, and World Affairs. Berger, a native of Austria, holds a Ph.D. from the New School for Social Research and is the author of many books pertaining to sociology, religion, and economic development. One of his early books, co-authored with Thomas Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge (1966), is a seminal text in the sociology of knowledge.

Berger was interviewed by Associate Professor Gregor Thuswaldner (German and linguistics; and Center for Faith and Inquiry Fellow). Like Berger, Thuswaldner is Austrian, and they share a scholarly interest in the tensions at the intersection of culture and Christianity.

Thuswaldner asked Berger to explain how he changed his views on secularization theory—that is, the view that modernity inevitably produces secularism. Berger noted a thorough answer could take 10 hours, but offered a “four-minute version.” As a young sociologist in the ’60s, Berger explained, he and nearly everyone in his field accepted this theory. But over the next two decades of his research, he concluded that data indicates that “the world today is not, in fact, heavily secularized.”

“Berger is one of the most preeminent scholars of religion in the world today,” says Professor Thomas A. (Tal) Howard (history), who has employed Berger’s works in a number of classes. “He’s a sociologist by training but very interdisciplinary, and especially insightful in thinking about the relationship between religion and modernity.” Berger was a mentor to 1977 Gordon graduate James Davison Hunter, author of books on the sociology of religion including the highly influential Culture Wars: The Struggle To Define America (1992).

A second conversation between Berger and Thuswaldner is scheduled for spring 2014.

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Peter Berger