Peter L. Berger

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Peter Ludwig Berger
Born (1929-03-17) March 17, 1929 (age 85)
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 (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]


Family life[edit]

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. They had two sons, Thomas Ulrich and Michael George.

Education and career[edit]

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.[3] 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, and since 1985 has also been the 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.[citation needed]


Social reality: society and the individual[edit]

Berger is perhaps best known for his view that perceived reality is constructed by social consensus. Berger and Thomas Luckmann's short book The Social Construction of Reality (1966) presents its basic thesis in its title: human beings construct a shared social reality. This reality includes everything from ordinary language to large-scale institutions. Social reality exists on two levels for Berger and Luckmann. Subjectively, it's something we find personally meaningful; such as a friendship; objectively, it exists in social institutions and structures like government bureaucracies and large corporations. These two levels roughly parallel Alfred Schütz 'we' relations and 'they' relations: 'we' are part of our friendship but deal with the government bureaucrat as part of the 'they', even though the state supposedly represents the people. So the actor experiences social reality as both created by human beings (as in the friendship) and objectively 'out there' (as in the bureaucracy).[4] Berger and Luckmann wanted to understand the connection between individual acts and larger structures by looking at three moments: externalization, objectification, and internalization.

Externalization, objectification, and internalization[edit]

Externalization occurs when social actors knowingly create their social worlds.[4] The externalization part of social construction involves the actors building something and knowing what they are building. Objectification is when we look at some social practice or institution and see it as an objective reality that for the most part can't be changed.[4] An objective reality would be language, because we do not have the option to choose which language to speak, and once we speak a certain language we have to adjust the words we use in that particular language to be understood. Finally, internalization comes close to what the functionalists mean by socialization, where the social actor internalizes norms and values and accepts them as givens, as valid both for the 'they' and the 'we'.[4] In the process of internalization, we have made something that was once an external objective reality into our own reality. In this last moment, we need to be careful of a process Berger calls reification, where reality is no longer recognized as a human creation.[5]

Types of socialization[edit]

There were two types of socialization that Berger and Luckmann argued that individuals go through: primary socialisation and secondary socialisation. Primary socialisation takes place during childhood through family and friends. While secondary socialisation happens during adult life, when we are already involved in the subjective life world.[5]


Like most other sociologists of religion of his day, Berger once predicted the all-encompassing secularization of the world.[6] He has admitted this quite humorously on a number of occasions, concluding that the data in fact proves otherwise.[7] 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, particularly in the United States.

He does, however, qualify these concessions. 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. Likewise, in 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.

Despite the rise of a new paradigm in the sociology of religion,[8] 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, and former students Michael Plekon of Baruch College, CUNY, James Davison Hunter, and Nancy Ammerman. Additionally, Berger portrays two opposite, contradictory aspects in relation to work done by Karl Marx and Max Weber, images regarding the 'homeless mind' theory, saying that it reconciles 'iron' and 'melting/crumbling' portrayals.[9]

Sociology of knowledge[edit]

Both Berger and Luckmann were concerned with the study of human reality, and as a result of their concern, they studied into the sociology of knowledge and phenomenology. The sociology of knowledge posits that society and social position have a tendency to affect what we know. On broader terms, the sociology of knowledge is concerned with the epistemological foundations of knowledge, the history of knowledge production, and the uses to which knowledge is applied- more specifically, the history of science and the ideology of the ruling class. Berger and Luckmann's approach to reality is based on a philosophical tradition called phenomenology. Social phenomenology assumes that most if not all human experience of phenomena is essentially social and cultural. It asks us to notice how a social phenomenon presents itself to us apart from any scientific or philosophy. Berger and Luckmann focused on everyday "common" knowledge, those things that "everybody knows".[10]

Theoretical contributions[edit]

In "Making Sense of Modern Times: Peter L. Berger and the Vision of Interpretive Sociology", by 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. He also recognizes the notable influence of Berger's popularization of a variety of phenomenological concepts, in which Berger actually avoids certain areas of analysis.[11]

Study of modernization[edit]

Berger has made many notable contributions to the study of modernization. Anton Zijderveld extends the relationship of technology and bureaucracy to modern consciousness - which are familiar concepts in Berger's work. Zijderveld expands and discusses even further Berger's handling on such issues in relationship to classical figures such as Marx, Weber, Pareto, and Gehlen. Additionally, James Hunter explored the 'malaise' that is argued to be a cost of modernity. He studied Berger's own brand of social criticism by discussing a half century of writing on the modern world. Therefore, Berger contributed and laid the foundation for Hunter to explore the interplay between political ideology and social criticism (Berger's particularly) and the importance of this connection in order to understand modern life.[12]


As categories of philosophical discourse, reason and freedom are not empirically available for scientific study. 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 redundantly that rationalism can mean a variety of things at the subjective level of consciousness and at the objective level of social institutions. In terms of rationality described by Weber, the threats to freedom come mainly from one: the objectified, formal rationality of rules and regulations. These threats are predominantly notable in two institutional spheres: the bureaucratization of the state and the machine production of individuals. This rationality in the bureaucratization of the state and the machine production of individuals ultimately limits the opportunity for personal choice amongst human beings.[citation needed]

On the other hand, although Berger is no less worried about the possible threats to freedom from modern rationality, Berger paints a different picture for possible options for action. Berger and Luckmann argued that technologization and bureaucratization encounter consequences at the micro-level that are more complex than what Weber had realized at his macro-historical focus. Through work being removed from the home, modernization has divided experience between public and private spheres. As the spheres were separated, the public sphere of technological production and bureaucratic management became exceedingly rationalized, whereas the private sphere placed heavy emphasis on traditional and emotional bonds. However, Berger largely accepted Weber's analysis of the rationality of the public sphere. Therefore, Weber and Berger respectively hold different views about rationalization on options for individual actions. Weber explained how bureaucratization and technologization would take away the individuality and differentiated behavior. However, Berger argues that modernity has created unprecedented options, especially in the private sphere, warning that these options can truly have a negative impact on individuals.[13]


Berger was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1982.[14] 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.[15][16]


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, ISBN 90-263-2006-X
  • The Homeless Mind: Modernization and Consciousness (1973) with Brigitte Berger and Hansfried Kellner. Random House, ISBN 0-394-48422-3
  • 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). ISBN 0-385-17424-1
  • 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), ISBN 3-11-015562-1
  • 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). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, ISBN 0-8028-4691-2
  • 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. ISBN 978-0-19-515146-6
  • Questions of Faith: A Skeptical Affirmation of Christianity (2003). Blackwell Publishing, ISBN 1-4051-0848-7
  • In Praise of Doubt: How to Have Convictions Without Becoming a Fanatic (2009) with Anton Zijderveld. HarperOne. ISBN 978-0-06-177816-2
  • Dialogue Between Religious Traditions in an Age of Relativity (2011) Mohr Siebeck, ISBN 978-3-16-150792-2


  1. ^ ISA - Books of the Century. ToP Ten
  2. ^ Aeschliman, M.D. June 2011. A Contemporary Erasmus: Peter L. Berger. Modern Age, Vol 53, pgs 5-14
  3. ^ a b c Allan, Kenneth. Contemporary Social and Sociological Theory: Visualizing Social Worlds. Sage Publications Inc, 2011, pgs. 28-45
  4. ^ a b c d Mann, Douglass. A Survey of Modern Social Theory. Oxford University Press, 2011, pgs 207-210
  5. ^ a b "The Social Construction of Reality". Google Books. Retrieved 8 June 2013. 
  6. ^ Berger, Peter L. (1979). The heretical imperative : contemporary possibilities of religious affirmation (1 ed.). Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Press. ISBN 0-385-14286-2. 
  7. ^ Berger, Peter L. (1996). "The Secularism in Retreat". The National Interest 46. 
  8. ^ Warner, R. Stephen (Mar 1993). "Work in Progress Toward a New Paradigm for the Sociological Study of Religion in the United States". American Journal of Sociology 98 (5): 1044–93. doi:10.1086/230139. 
  9. ^ Woodhead, Linda (2001). Peter Berger and the Study of Religion. New York, NY: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-21532-3. 
  10. ^ Allan, Kenneth (2006). Contemporary Social and Sociological Theory: Visualizing Social Worlds. USA: Pine Forge Press. pp. 27–47. 
  11. ^ Ainlay, Stephen C. (1986). Making Sense of Modern Times: Peter L. Berger and the Vision of Interpretive Sociology. New York, NY: Routledge & Kegan Paul. pp. 5–6. ISBN 0-7102-0826-X. 
  12. ^ Ainlay, Stephen C. (1986). Making Sense of Modern Times: Peter L. Berger and the Vision of Interpretive Sociology. New York, NY: Routledge & Kegan Paul. p. 6. ISBN 0-7102-0826-X. 
  13. ^ Ainlay, Stephen C. (1986). Making Sense of Modern Times: Peter L. Berger and the Vision of Interpretive Sociology. New York, NY: Routledge & Kegan Paul. pp. 102–104. ISBN 0-7102-0826-X. 
  14. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter B". American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved June 16, 2011. 
  15. ^ Seifert, Michael (29 Jan 2010). "Dr. Leopold Lucas-Preis 2010 geht an Peter L. Berger, Boston" [Dr. Leopold Lucas Prize 2010 goes to Peter L. Berger, Boston]. Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen (in German). Retrieved 26 December 2012. 
  16. ^ Berger, Peter L. (2011). Dialog zwischen religiösen Traditionen in einem Zeitalter der Relativität (1.Aufl. ed.). Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck. p. 124. ISBN 978-3-16-150792-2. 

Further reading[edit]

  • 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[edit]