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The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion Paperback – September 1, 1990


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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

This important contribution to the sociology of religion provides an analysis that clarifies the often ironic interaction between religion and society. Berger is noted for his concise and lucid style.

From the Inside Flap

This important contribution to the sociology of religion provides an analysis that clarifies the often ironic interaction between religion and society. Berger is noted for his concise and lucid style.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (October 1, 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385073054
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385073059
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #181,801 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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.

Customer Reviews

3.5 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

67 of 74 people found the following review helpful By Gretchen Koch on May 2, 2000
Format: Paperback
"The Sacred Canopy" is an excellent introduction to Peter Berger, as well as a good way to gain a new perspective on how we construct a sacred reality for ourselves. Berger's goal in this book is not to get us to abandon our religious faith, but to examine it as at least partially social projection which we then accept as objective and subsequently internalize. He then goes on in the second half to examine the phenomenon of secularization and its impact on the power which religious traditions hold over their adherents. This is a scholarly book, but it is not by any means esoteric-- due mainly to Berger's exceptional writing style. This would be a good one to keep on the shelf for multiple readings.
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50 of 56 people found the following review helpful By ProgSociologist on January 28, 1999
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is a must for anyone interested in the study or experience of religion in the modern world. Part one highlights the human need for meaning and order that is rooted in something less transient than human existence, and the way religion functions as a "shield" against various existential terrors. Although somewhat dated, the analysis of modern religion presented in part two is valuable for its discussions of how secularization has roots within religion itself, and how the relationships between religious denominations and the rest of society can be profitably described in terms borrowed from market economics. The book is highly readable, frequently funny, and provides a lucid introduction to a particular sociology of knowledge as well as a useful perspective on religion.
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26 of 29 people found the following review helpful By K. Allan on May 6, 2004
Format: Paperback
There are few books that lift the veil surrounding religion--Berger's book is one of them. Religion is not simply a spiritual phenomenon, it is a social one as well. Berger zeros in on this social aspect and allows us to see one of the reasons that every society has, and undoubtedly will continue to have, religion. Berger argues that human beings live in a peculiar world; it is a cultural world, a world of meaning, and religion plays a specific role in creating and maintaining this world. Is the book difficult to read as some commentators have said? Yes. Is it worth the effort? Undoubtedly. After reading this book, the reader will never view their world or religion in quite the same way.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Ashtar Command on July 3, 2010
Format: Paperback
Ha ha. Good old Peter Berger and his sacred canopy. Years ago, when I took comparative religion classes, this book was required reading already at the very first course, which included students fresh out of senior high.

Don't worry. None of us understood it either. The poor professor (a competent Indologist, by the way) had to spend an entire lecture explaining Berger's opus.

But no, the book isn't incomprehensible. Not really. However, unless you are pretty grounded in Hegel, Weber, Durkheim, Luckmann or Marx (not necessarily in that order), you might find this a hard read. When I re-read parts of the book this week, I thought it was easier than average scholarly literature. But then, that's me. I also noticed Berger's uncanny humour, which I didn't ten years ago. As when the author writes: "My communication with denizens of the realm of theology has, much to my regret, shrunk in recent years. But I would like to mention James Gustafson and Siegfried von Kortzfleisch as two theologians in whom I have always found an unusual openness to sociological thinking for which I have been grateful on more than one occasion".

Siegfried...who?

:D

The book itself is difficult to summarize, but here goes.

(SECTION ONE)

The first part is a theoretical exposition of Berger's sociological theory of religion. Berger believes that humans are biologically fated to "exteriorize" and fill their world with meaning, i.e. create a culture, which is then "interiorized" by a process of socialization. Often, this leads to "alienation", since humans start to regard products of their own activity as natural, unchanging and eternal objects "out there". Humans suffer the constant dread of anomie, a terror of meaninglessness.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Andrew Tatusko on April 12, 2008
Format: Paperback
A seminal work in sociological theory. Berger's argument that the process of being religious comes from a deep seated biological need for humans to structure their environments is both empirically demonstrable as it is important for theologians in order to understand the assumptions that govern doctrine.

The process is a dialectic from externalizing structures of understanding reality that create order. These are then apprehended as objects by others and internalized. From this internalization new structures will then emerge as the process continues. Epistemologically, this process is then regulated in terms of plausibility and legitimation. As structures of order are created, different ways of knowing and understanding the world are made plausible and thus different forms of knowledge are seen as legitimate ways of understanding and maintaining order in the world. The end of this process is to make the world a habitable place by mitigating the effects of disorder or "anomy".

The last piece on secularization traces the division of the numinous reality of God and the spiritual things of God and the physical structures of experience. This begins in the radical division between Yahweh and Israel, is re-united in medieval Catholicism, and then re-divided in Protestantism. Rationalism in the Nineteenth century then creates a challenge where theology is forced to define itself against a more plural environment where the plausibility of religious dogma is challenged by other equally plausible structures of reality. Maintaining these religious plausibility structures is legitimated in terms of marketing their respective value rather than assuming that one's dogma must be true in itself.
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