Influential Christian Sociologist Peter Berger Dead at 88

(Photo: YouTube/Screengrab)Renowned sociologist Peter Berger gives remarks at The Veritas Forum at Harvard Divinity School, 2015.

Peter Berger, a distinguished and prolific writer who specialized in the sociology of religion, passed away at age 88 on Tuesday evening.

Boston University, the academic institution where Berger held the title of Professor Emeritus of Sociology, Religion and Theology, announced the news on Wednesday.

"Prof. Peter Berger was an eminent sociologist whose prolific writings on sociological theory, the sociology of religion, and Third World development have been translated in many languages," stated BU.

"His book The Social Construction of Reality (1966) is considered a classic. The book is considered one of the most influential texts in its field and was named by the International Sociological Association (ISA) as the fifth most influential book written in the field of sociology during the 20th century."

Other sociological books authored by Berger include Redeeming Laughter: The Comic Dimension of Human ExperienceModernity, Pluralism and the Crisis of Meaning; and The Capitalist Revolution: Fifty Propositions About Prosperity, Equality and Liberty.

Born in Austria in 1929, Berger immigrated to the United States after the Second World War. He received a bachelor's degree in philosophy from Wagner College in 1949 and later both his master's and doctorate degrees in sociology from the New School for Social Research.

In 1985, Berger founded Boston University's Institute on Culture, Religion and World Affairs (CURA) and served as its director until 2009.

"CURA has carried out more than 140 research projects in forty countries. Its network of researchers and projects spans five continents," noted the Institute.

"Its projects have resulted in some 145 books, many of which have become major points of reference in academia and policy circles."

Among his notable work, Berger argued that contrary to popular assumptions, modernization was not contributing to the decline of religious belief. Rather, if anything, the opposite was occurring.

"Ever since the Enlightenment, intellectuals of every stripe have believed that the inevitable consequence of modernity is the decline of religion. The reason was supposed to be the progress of science and its concomitant rationality, replacing the irrationality and superstition of religion," wrote Berger in a 2008 essay published by First Things.

"Not to put too fine a point on it, they were mistaken. Modernity is not intrinsically secularizing ... Simply put: Modernity is not characterized by the absence of God but by the presence of many gods."

In a 2013 interview hosted by The Center for Faith and Inquiry at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts, Berger described his religious beliefs as being "incurably Lutheran," yet also considered himself "very comfortable with evangelicals."

"And between evangelicals and Mainline Protestants, I prefer evangelicals for reasons theologically," noted Berger.

In the same interview, Berger described the fast-growing global movement of Pentecostalism to be an "enormously significant" entity in sociology.

"I would say Pentecostalism is the fastest growing religious movement in history ... its enormous influence, economically and politically, especially of course in the Global South," said Berger.

"In the United States, it's a little different. It's been around a long time. It's not as important, but in black Africa, Latin America, and parts of Asia, it's terribly important."

YouTube/Open Road Media
"I think a good sociologist is the kind of person who looks through keyholes and reads other people's mail," says Peter Berger, who is no stranger to the field. Berger's groundbreaking tome The Social Construction of Reality (1966), co-authored with Thomas Luckmann, cemented his reputation as one of the most important thinkers of the twentieth century. Berger talks with Open Road Media in 2011.
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