His sympathetic treatment of faith made him a rock star among Christ-following academics.
In 1966, a Viennese-born sociologist, not quite 40 years old, produced a scholarly work that changed the world. Or more precisely, it changed the way we see and shape the world. The Social Construction of Reality, named one of the top five sociology publications of the 20th century by the International Sociological Association, became required reading for graduate students around the world soon after its publication. Moreover, Peter Berger (who coauthored the book with Thomas Luckmann) became one of the most recognized social scientists of the last century. On June 27, Berger passed away at his home in suburban Boston, concluding a lifetime of scholarly influence and a career that made him one of the most notable scholars of his generation.
It was Berger’s fascination with religion that made him and his work so significant to evangelical Christians. He called himself an “incurable Lutheran,” and his liberal Protestant theology might have placed him at odds with many evangelical leaders 100 years ago. But in our increasingly pluralistic world, Berger’s sympathetic treatment of spirituality and faith made him something of a rock star among Christ-following academics.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Berger’s work underscored the importance of social structures—and how they come to be through human actions (what social scientists refer to as individual “agency”). Culture, he argued, is most powerful when it is taken for granted. In The Sacred Canopy (1967) Berger explained how religion helped people make sense of the world by providing a “sheltering” tent under which all of life could make sense. But over time (in Europe, tracing an historical arc from the 1755 Lisbon earthquake …