Why Christian Scholars Loved Peter Berger

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His sym­pa­thet­ic treat­ment of faith made him a rock star among Christ-fol­low­ing aca­d­e­mics.

In 1966, a Vien­nese-born soci­ol­o­gist, not quite 40 years old, pro­duced a schol­ar­ly work that changed the world. Or more pre­cise­ly, it changed the way we see and shape the world. The Social Con­struc­tion of Real­i­ty, named one of the top five soci­ol­o­gy pub­li­ca­tions of the 20th cen­tu­ry by the Inter­na­tion­al Soci­o­log­i­cal Asso­ci­a­tion, became required read­ing for grad­u­ate stu­dents around the world soon after its pub­li­ca­tion. More­over, Peter Berg­er (who coau­thored the book with Thomas Luck­mann) became one of the most rec­og­nized social sci­en­tists of the last cen­tu­ry. On June 27, Berg­er passed away at his home in sub­ur­ban Boston, con­clud­ing a life­time of schol­ar­ly influ­ence and a career that made him one of the most notable schol­ars of his gen­er­a­tion.

It was Bergers fas­ci­na­tion with reli­gion that made him and his work so sig­nif­i­cant to evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tians. He called him­self an incur­able Luther­an, and his lib­er­al Protes­tant the­ol­o­gy might have placed him at odds with many evan­gel­i­cal lead­ers 100 years ago. But in our increas­ing­ly plu­ral­is­tic world, Bergers sym­pa­thet­ic treat­ment of spir­i­tu­al­i­ty and faith made him some­thing of a rock star among Christ-fol­low­ing aca­d­e­mics.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Bergers work under­scored the impor­tance of social structuresand how they come to be through human actions (what social sci­en­tists refer to as indi­vid­ual agency). Cul­ture, he argued, is most pow­er­ful when it is tak­en for grant­ed. In The Sacred Canopy (1967) Berg­er explained how reli­gion helped peo­ple make sense of the world by pro­vid­ing a shel­ter­ing tent under which all of life could make sense. But over time (in Europe, trac­ing an his­tor­i­cal arc from the 1755 Lis­bon earth­quake

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