Great Throughts Treasury

This site is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Alan William Smolowe who gave birth to the creation of this database.

Peter L. Berger, fully Peter Ludwig Berger

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

"In science as in love, too much concentration on technique can often lead to impotence."

"The consciousness of abiding safety in the bosom of the Church is one of the most serious obstacles to an honest confrontation with the Christian faith."

"There are times in history when the dark drums of God can barely be heard amid the noises of this world. Then it is only in moments of silence, which are rare and brief, that their beat can be faintly discerned. There are other times. These are the times when God is heard in rolling thunder, when the earth trembles and the treetops bend under the force of [God’s] voice. It is not given to men [and women] to make God speak. It is only given to them to live and to think in such a way that, if God’s thunder should come, they will not have stopped their ears."

"I have sometimes asked myself how a gynecologist could manage to have sexual intercourse; by the same token, one could ask how a New Testament scholar could be a Christian"

"His consuming interest remains in the world of men, their institutions, their history, their passions. And because he is interested in men, nothing that men do can be altogether tedious...He will naturally be interested in the events that engage men’s ultimate beliefs, their moments of tragedy and grandeur and ecstasy. But he will also be fascinated by the commonplace, the everyday. He will know reverence, but this reverence will not prevent him from wanting to see and to understand. He may sometimes feel revulsion or contempt , but this will also not deter him from wanting to have his questions answered. his quest for understanding, moves through the world of men without respect for the usual lines of demarcation. Nobility ad degradation, power and obscurity, intelligence and folly -- these are equally interesting to him, however unequal they may be in his personal values or tastes. This his questions may lead him to all possible levels of society, the best and least known places, the most respected and the most despised. ...he will find himself in all these places because his own questions have so taken possession of him that he has little choice but to seek for answers."

"We also have a cultural phenomenon: the emergence of a global culture, or of cultural globalization."

"So I think one can say on empirical grounds – not because of some philosophical principle – that you can’t have democracy unless you have a market economy."

"Some people seem to gravitate from one fundamentalism to another, from some kind of secular fundamentalism into a religious fundamentalism or the other way around, which is not very helpful."

"There is a continuum of values between the churches and the general community. What distinguishes the handling of these values in the churches is mainly the heavier dosage of religious vocabulary involved."

"The basic fault lines today are not between people with different beliefs but between people who hold these beliefs with an element of uncertainty and people who hold these beliefs with a pretense of certitude."

"The negative side to globalization is that it wipes out entire economic systems and in doing so wipes out the accompanying culture."

"Let me say again that the relationship is asymmetrical: there’s no democracy without a market economy, but you can have a market economy without democracy."

"In a market economy, however, the individual has some possibility of escaping from the power of the state."

"But we don’t have an example of a democratic society existing in a socialist economy – which is the only real alternative to capitalism in the modern world."

"A few years ago, a priest working in a slum section of a European city was asked why he was doing it, and replied, 'So that the rumor of God may not completely disappear."

"An individual is generally ready to admit that he is ignorant of periods in the past or places on the other side of the globe. But he is much less likely to admit ignorance of his own period and his own place, especially if he is an intellectual. Everyone, of course, knows about his own society. Most of what he knows, however, is what Alfred Schultz has aptly called ?recipe knowledge??just enough to get him through his essential transactions in social life. Intellectuals have a particular variety of ?recipe knowledge?; they know just enough to be able to get through their dealings with other intellectuals. There is a ?recipe knowledge? for dealing with modernity in intellectual circles; the individual must be able to reproduce a small number of stock phrases and interpretive schemes, to apply them in ?analysis? or ?criticism? of new things that come up in discussion, and thereby to authenticate his participation in what has been collectively been defined as reality in these circles. Statistically speaking, the scientific validity of this intellectuals? ?recipe knowledge? is roughly random."

"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."

"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."

"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."

"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."

"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."

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

"He went into the hospital to seek treatment."

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

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

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

"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."

"I'm sure Putnam is right that there's been a decline in certain kinds of organizations like bowling leagues. But people participate in communities in other ways."

"It can be said that the first wisdom of sociology is this: things are not what they seem. This too is a deceptively simple statement. It ceases to be simple after a while. Social reality turns out to have many layers of meaning. The discovery of each new layer changes the perception of the whole."

"It has been true in Western societies and it seems to be true elsewhere that you do not find democratic systems apart from capitalism, or apart from a market economy, if you prefer that term."

"Most of the world today is certainly not secular. It's very religious. So is the U.S."

"It never ceases to amaze me that people look elsewhere for management."

"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."

"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."

"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."

"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."

"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."

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

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

"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.?"

"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.?"

"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"

"The modern state, even the modern democratic state, is enormously powerful. If to all the enormous power that the state has any way you add the power to run the economy, which is what socialism empirically means, the tendency toward creating some sort of totalitarianism becomes extremely strong."

"The history of Protestantism has shown that real faith, which has to do with God and Christ and redemption and resurrection and sin and forgiveness, is not just a psychological or a political activity, and also that you can have real faith without being in some sort of narrow orthodox mold."

"The past is malleable and flexible, changing as our recollection interprets and re-explains what has happened."

"The problem with liberal Protestantism in America is not that it has not been orthodox enough, but that it has lost a lot of religious substance."

"The verdict makes a lot of sense. I didn't think first-degree murder was really an option in this case."

"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?"

"There's no question that we have an increasingly integrated world economy, and that this has very serious implications, socially and politically."

"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."