Peter L. Berger, fully Peter Ludwig Berger

Peter L.
Berger, fully Peter Ludwig Berger

Austrian-born American Sociologist, Professor at Rutgers University, Boston College and New School for Social Research

Author Quotes

Anthropologists use the term "culture shock" to describe the impact of a totally new culture upon a newcomer. In an extreme instance such shock will be experienced by the Western explorer who is told, halfway through dinner, that he is eating the nice old lady he had been chatting with the previous day--a shock with predictable physiological if not moral consequences. Most explorers no longer encounter cannibalism in their travels today. However, the first encounters with polygamy or with puberty rites or even with the way some nations drive their automobiles can be quite a shock to an American visitor. With the shock may reflect not only disapproval or disgust but a sense of excitement that things can really be that different from what they are at home.

Most of us are sane enough not to carry out strange, intrusive thoughts. Jon McGee was not able to do that in the hotel room.

This crime should not be singled out from others. The defendants of this crime, who are normally law-abiding citizens, already face very severe penalties. Why not assess these costs, if they are going to be assessed at all, to other police calls which may include violent acts by a hardened criminal?

Even if one is interested only in one's own society, which is one's prerogative, one can understand that society much better by comparing it with others.

My most recent book - Redeeming Laughter, about the comic in human life - takes up directly from where I ended in A Rumor of Angels, referring to humor as one of the signals of transcendence. I think it's a very important signal.

To ask sociological questions, then, presupposes that one is interested in looking some distance beyond the commonly accepted or officially defined goals of human actions.

Even in a society as tightly controlled as Singapore's, the market creates certain forces which perhaps in the long run may lead to democracy.

Once I present the case to the jury I totally accept their verdict. I'm at peace with either of the two verdicts that they could have rendered. They really worked hard on this. I don't look at it as a compromise. I think the evidence would have supported either verdict, second-degree murder or not guilty by reason of insanity. That's what juries are for.

When certain branches of the economy become obsolete, as in the case of the steel industry, not only do jobs disappear, which is obviously a terrible social hardship, but certain cultures also disappear.

He had no specific intent to kill Mr. Graham. He was going over there to have sex.

One can't understand the Christian Right and similar movements unless one sees them as reactive - they're reacting to what they call secular humanism.

Yes, the concept of mediating structures or intermediating institutions covers more or less the same ground as civil society.

He went into the hospital to seek treatment.

Our institute's agenda is relatively simple. We study the relationship between social-economic change and culture. By culture we mean beliefs, values and lifestyles. We cover a broad range of issues, and we work very internationally.

I think what I and most other sociologists of religion wrote in the 1960s about secularization was a mistake. Our underlying argument was that secularization and modernity go hand in hand. With more modernization comes more secularization.

Since Rumor of Angels the only reasonable way I can describe myself theologically is as part of a liberal Protestant tradition.

I would like to emphasize once more that anyone who approaches religion with an interest in its possible truth, rather than in this or that aspect of its social manifestations, would do well to cultivate a measure of indifference in the matter of empirical prognoses. History brings out certain questions of truth, makes certain answers more or less accessible, constructs and disintegrates plausibility structures. But the historical course of the question about transcendence cannot, of itself, answer the question. It is only human to be exhilarated if one thinks one is riding on the crest of the future. All too often, however, such exhilaration gives way to the sobering recognition that what looked like a mighty wave of history was only a marginal eddy in the stream of events. For the theologian, if not for the social scientist, I would therefore suggest a moratorium on the anxious query as to just who it is that has modernity by the short hair. Theology must begin and end with the question of truth.

Some people think that as the Chinese economy becomes more and more capitalistic it will inevitably become more democratic.

If the cultural elite has its way, the U.S. will be much more like Europe.

The cultural situation in America today (and indeed in all Western societies) is determined by the cultural earthquake of the nineteen-sixties, the consequences of which are very much in evidence. What began as a counter-culture only some thirty years ago has achieved dominance in elite culture and, from the bastions of the latter (in the educational system, the media, the higher reaches of the law, and key positions within government bureaucracy), has penetrated both popular culture and the corporate world. It is characterized by an amalgam of both sentiments and beliefs that cannot be easily catalogued, though terms like 'progressive,' 'emancipators or 'liberationist' serve to describe it. Intellectually, this new culture is legitimated by a number of loosely connected ideologies? leftover Marxism, feminism and other sexual identity doctrines, racial and ethnic separatism, various brands of therapeutic gospels and of environmentalism. An underlying theme is antagonism toward Western culture in general and American culture in particular. A prevailing spirit is one of intolerance and a grim orthodoxy, precisely caught in the phrase "political correctness.?

If you say simply that pressures toward democracy are created by the market, I would say yes.

The encounter with bureaucracy takes place in a mode of explicit abstraction... This fact gives rise to a contradiction. The individual expects to be treated ?justly.? As we have seen, there is considerable moral investment in this expectation. The expected ?just? treatment, however, is possible only if the bureaucracy operates abstractly, and that means it will treat the individual ?as a number.? Thus the very ?justice? of this treatment entails a depersonalization of each individual case. At least potentially, this constitutes a threat to the individual?s self-esteem and, in the extreme case, to his subjective identity. The degree to which this threat is actually felt will depend on extrinsic factors, such as the influence of culture critics who decry the ?alienating? effects of bureaucratic organization. One may safely generalize here that the threat will be felt in direct proportion to the development of individualistic and personalistic values in the consciousness of the individual. Where such values are highly developed, it is likely that the intrinsic abstraction of bureaucracy will be felt as an acute irritation at best or an intolerable oppression at worst. In such cases the ?duties? of the bureaucrat collide directly with the ?rights? of the client?not, of course, those ?rights? that are bureaucratically defined and find their correlates in the ?duties? of the bureaucrat, but rather those ?rights? that derive from extra-bureaucratic values of personal autonomy, dignity and worth. The individual whose allegiance is given to such values is almost certainly going to resent being treated ?as a number.?

I'm not jumping up and down, but it's a fair verdict.

The experience of sociological discovery could be described as "culture shock" minus geographical displacement. In other words, the sociologist travels at home--with shocking results. People who like to avoid shocking discoveries, who prefer to believe that society is just what they were taught in Sunday school, who like the safety of the rules...should stay away from sociology. People who feel no temptation before closed doors, who have no curiosity about human beings, who are content to admire scenery without wondering about the people who live in those houses on the other side of that river, should probably also stay away from sociology. And people whose interest is mainly in their own conceptual constructions will do just as well to turn to the study of little white mice. Sociology will be satisfying, in the long run, only to those who can think of nothing more entrancing than to watch men and to understand things human

I'm satisfied with it and I think it's a fair verdict. Clearly, this was not a first-degree murder case. The state could not prove that Mr. McGee committed premeditated murder against Mr. Graham.

Author Picture
First Name
Peter L.
Last Name
Berger, fully Peter Ludwig Berger
Birth Date

Austrian-born American Sociologist, Professor at Rutgers University, Boston College and New School for Social Research