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A Rumor of Angels: Modern Society and the Rediscovery of the Supernatural Paperback – January 6, 1970


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A Rumor of Angels: Modern Society and the Rediscovery of the Supernatural + The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion + The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 103 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; 1st edition (January 6, 1970)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385066309
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385066303
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.3 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #686,711 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

With unparalleled creativity and impeccable scholarship, this path-breaking classic confronts head-on the thesis that "God is dead." The new essays include discussions on religious politicization and the dilemmas of hardline morality. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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50 of 51 people found the following review helpful By Wayne C. Lusvardi on March 20, 2003
Format: Paperback
Perhaps one of the reasons that this little book is only a minor classic is its title: "A Rumor of Angels." The book is not about angels or the disembodiment of humans. Neither is it a study of rumor networks or gossip. Nor should the book be taken whimsically or trivially as if it had something to do with fairy tales, ghost stories, or apparitions. Concerned that his earlier book - The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion - "could be read as a treatise on atheism," in 1969 Berger wrote a Rumor of Angels as a sequel and antidote.
Berger explains how worldviews are built up and maintained by conversation and what he calls "plausibility structures." Without such social support structures one's knowledge of the world can be seen as deviant or even pathological. Berger tells us that there is an allegation in modern secular society that conversation about religion has shifted from a dialogue to a monologue. The process of secularization is alleged to have reduced the transcendent dimension of life to the status of an unconfirmed "rumor." Berger traces these rumors to their source and calls our attention to five "signals of transcendence" embedded into the fabric of society that indicate a transcendent dimension: order, hope, play, humor and damnation. These five signals aren't like the mystical symbol systems of the Christian Trinity (God, son, spirit), or of Marxism (thesis, antithesis, synthesis), or psychoanalysis (id, ego, superego), or of democracy (executive, judicial, legislative).
Without a social order life becomes meaningless, homeless, and loveless, even malevolent. The propensity to hope in the face of suffering and death is another example of the transcendent.
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28 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Gary Scott on January 8, 2004
Format: Paperback
A sociological look at religion in the 20th century, the process of secularization and its affects on religion, as well as it's philosophical and theological implications of it. The title of the second chapter sums up this book: "Relativizing the Relativizers." In other words, if Marx and Freuerbach turned Hegel on his head, here's an effort to do the same in turn to them. In other words, it deals with the issue of whether religion is a human projection. "Yes," says Berger, "But that doesn't necessarily invalidate it," he continues.
This is not some "God-is-dead" theological exercise, nor is it liberal, secular theology a la Harvey Cox's "The Secular City." It does provide sociology's point of view on religion from a sociologist who is himself a believer. It takes seriously the threat posed to traditional dogma that sociology so forcefully poses, concedes its weaknesses, and yet doesn't conceded the fallacy and futility of religious belief.
All this leads up to a pluralistic view of religion: fundamentalists and literalists beware.
Surprisingly, the best part of the book is when Berger switches hats and becomes a bit of a philosopher of religion. While he doesn't call them "proofs," he does provide in the second half of the book "signals" that the divine exists.
This is one of my favorite books, and it has withstood the test of multiple reads through the years.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By wolvie05 VINE VOICE on November 25, 2006
Format: Paperback
Peter Berger's book is an undisputed classic for several reasons: in it Berger gives an acute sociological diagnosis of the contemporary demise of the supernatural, which he defines as the "belief that there is an other reality, and one of ultimate significance for man, which transcends the reality within which our everyday experience unfolds" (p.2), he sketches a brief sociology of religious knowledge, accounting for the waxing and waning of religious thought in terms of 'plausibility structures' and the tension associated with being in a 'cognitive minority' and finally suggests an 'anthropological starting point' for theological method, in which an empirical study may reveal 'rumors of transcendence' within human experience, or "phenomena that are to be found within the domain of our 'natural' reality but that appear to point beyond that reality" (p.66).

Peter Berger makes some particularly insightful comments on the so-called threat of sociological relativization which threatens the integrity of religious belief. The problem, he says, is that too often the relativizers do not apply their own tools of analysis to themselves. The upshot is that "When everything has been subsumed under the relativiziing categories in question...the question of truth reasserts itself in almost pristine simplicity. Once we know that all human affirmations are subject to scientifically graspable socio-historical processes, which affirmations are true and which are false?" (p.50) Sociology may present a challenge to traditional religious understanding, but this has little to do with whether that understanding is accurate. Sociology is descriptive but not prescriptive: "We may agree, say, that contemporary consciousness is incapable of conceiving of either angels or demons.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Steven H Propp TOP 100 REVIEWER on May 2, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Peter Ludwig Berger (born 1929) is an Austrian-born American sociologist who has written/cowritten books such as Adventures of an Accidental Sociologist: How to Explain the World Without Becoming a Bore, The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge, The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion, etc.

He wrote in the Preface to this 1969 book, "This book is concerned with the possibility of theological thinking in our present situation. It asks whether such thinking is possible at all today and, if so, in what way. The first question is answered affirmatively, and the answer is, up to a point, supported by an argument that derives from sociology."

He observes, "The supernatural elements of the religious traditions are more or less completely liquidated, and the traditional language is transferred from other-worldly to this-worldly referents." (Pg. 25) He argues that theological thought "is inevitably affected by the kinds of knowledge that bring about the peculiar ecstasies of the time---regardless of whether these ecstasies are true or false ones by some extraneous criteria of validity, and pretty much regardless of whether theological thought seeks our or resists the same ecstacies." (Pg. 36)

He later argues that "world views remain firmly anchored in subjective certainty to the degree that they are supported by consistent and continuous plausibility structures." (Pg.
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More About the Author

Peter L. Berger (Boston, MA) is University Professor of Sociology, Emeritus, at Boston University and the founder and Senior Research Fellow of the Institute on Culture, Religion, and World Affairs. He has written numerous books on sociological theory, the sociology of religion, and Third World development. Among his more recent books are In Praise of Doubt (with Anton Zijderveld); Religious America, Secular Europe? (with Grace Davie and Effie Fokas); Questions of Faith; Many Globalizations (edited with Samuel Huntington); and Redeeming Laughter: The Comic Dimension of Human Experience. Professor Berger has received honorary degrees from Loyola University, University of Notre Dame, University of Geneva, University of Munich, Sofia University, and Renmin University of China.

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A Rumor of Angels: Modern Society and the Rediscovery of the Supernatural
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