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Plausibility structure

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In sociology and especially the sociological study of religion, plausibility structures are the sociocultural contexts for systems of meaning within which these meanings make sense, or are made plausible. Beliefs and meanings held by individuals and groups are supported by, and embedded in, sociocultural institutions and processes.



The term was coined by Peter L. Berger, who says he draws his meaning of it from the ideas of Karl Marx, G. H. Mead, and Alfred Schutz.[1] For Berger, the relation between plausibility structure and social "world" is dialectical, the one supporting the other which, in turn, can react back upon the first. Social arrangements may help, say, a certain religious world appear self-evident. This religious outlook may then help to shape the arrangements that contributed to its rise.

Decline of religious plausibility


Berger was particularly concerned with the loss of plausibility of the sacred in a modernist/postmodern world.[2] Berger considered that history "constructs and deconstructs plausibility structures", and that the plurality of modern social worlds was "an important cause of the diminishing plausibility of religious traditions."[3]



Critics have argued that Berger pays too much attention to discourse analysis and not enough to the institutional frameworks that continue to support religious belief.[4]

Berger may also underestimate the role of self-selected reference groups in maintaining one's plausibility structures,[5] as well as the erosion of the modernist trend of secularization that took place with postmodernism.[6]

See also



  1. ^ Peter Berger, The Sacred Canopy - Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion (1967) p. 45 and p. 192
  2. ^ "Peter Berger's the Homeless Mind thesis". Archived from the original on 2012-08-20. Retrieved 2012-06-13.
  3. ^ Peter Berger, A Rumour of Angels (1971) p. 121 and p. 61
  4. ^ Robert Wuthnow, Rediscovering the Sacred (1992) p. 30
  5. ^ E. R. Smith/D. M. Mackie, Social Psychology (2007) p. 319-20
  6. ^ T. R. Phillips/D. L. Okholm, Christian Apologetics in the Postmodern World (1995) p. 186

Further reading

  • Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann. The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge. New York: Doubleday, 1966.
  • James W. Sire, Naming the elephant: worldview as a concept, InterVarsity Press, 2004, ISBN 0-8308-2779-X, p. 112-113