Peter L. Berger, The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion (New York: Doubleday, 1967), chapters 1-4.

Summary by David A. deSilva

I. Religion and World-Construction Berger understands society in dialectic terms -- human beings are a product of society and society is a product of human beings. This process consists of three steps, but at the outset it should be noted that the process is ongoing. Humans are continually engaged in this process of world-construction. These steps are externalization, objectivation, and internalization. Unlike other animals, humanity has no "given" world ordered by instinctual patterns. They must create an order for themselves, and shape their experience into meaning. They must continually be making it, as such an order has an inherent instability, unlike instinctual order, hence the need for a second section on "world-maintenance." This world is culture, the result of both the material and non-material productive efforts of humanity, and society is a part of the nonmaterial production. It is a privileged part, however, as human beings are social animals. Together, in society with one another, people invent tools, construct languages, and, in short, give shape to the cosmos. All the structures of society -language, family, "state," etc. -- are in fact the sum total of human activities, of human meaning externalized in human action. This aspect of society is lost to its participants, however, and society becomes a force which confronts human beings, and gains objective status to the point where it defines, limits, and promotes certain human activity. "Once produced, this world cannot simply be wished away." The non-material products are just as objectified as the material ones. Just as a plow, a product, becomes a force to shape how agriculture is done, so language, a non-material product, shapes how all communication is to take place. The people who, in essence, created language find themselves subject to language's rules of grammar and syntax. Culture, or society, becomes an extrinsic "reality" because of the social nature of human life. Culture and its demands are "real" because there are multiple witnesses to its power and forms. The individual's own life becomes meaningful only insofar as it is given meaning and form by the "structures" and values of those "structures" present "out there" in the social order.

or anomy. This is the process of socialization.Internalization occurs when this objectively apprehended order becomes the formative agent for individual consciousness. as long as the individual is "in a right relationship" with the sacred. This continual response from the "others" is essential to maintaining the plausibility of the constructed world. and provides the individual with a stronghold against chaos. The sacred is immensely powerful. but more importantly finds its deeper antonym in chaos. This dialectic not only sustains a person's subjective and objective meaning within a society. and while these constructions may stand firm without religious anchorings. whereby each new generation not only learns about the meaning in culture and how to participate in its established tasks and roles. yet related to her. As Berger discusses later. in which state an individual would lose moral. the marginal experiences of pain. or meaninglessness. and provides a subjective ordering for the individual's experience in the process of socialization. too. ontological. an ordering of experience both in the sense of providing meaning and prescribing form. The socially constructed world comprises a nomos. such as dreams and fantasy. but rather shapes his or her own self-awareness by those meanings." Cosmization happens when the socially established nomos is taken for granted. The sacred stands powerfully above individuals. keeping the tenuous construction alive and meaningful. Religion is the "apotheosis" of the nomic constructions. This. yet gives them a place in an ultimately meaningful order. The impetus for all this activity is the threat of anomy. need to be ordered in relation to the "objective knowledge" of society if these are not to threaten it. The sacred is something totally other then the individual. suffering. Religion is thus a powerful force in the fixing of the social nomos in an anchored cosmic order." The nomos objectively imposes order upon experience by prescribing the forms it will take. and roles. and death (the marginal experience par excellence) must be incorporated into the "knowledge" of the social order as well if it's plausibility is to remain an effective shield against anomy. Religion acts as a powerfully objectivizing force. yet relationships with the sacred can be cultivated and its power harnessed for the exigencies of daily life. tasks. or equated with the natural order of things. Its creation springs from a human drive for meaning which "has the force of instinct. This conversation is the dynamic source for internalization. happens in the social dialectic between the initiate and those significant others given the charge of her or his socialization. yet religion has historically functioned to strengthen the social . Marginal experiences. The sacred stands over against the profane. and effective socialization entails a never-ending dialectic of this sort from birth to death. Here religion comes in to Berger's discussion as "the human enterprise by which a sacred cosmos is established. It is also the way in which individuals function as co-producers of the society. and cognitive bearings separated from the objective "knowledge" provided by a social order which becomes the ground of being. even dangerous. The sacred cosmos opposes chaos from its inception.

The other is legitimation. historical effects. for anomy. They are thus given meaning within the framework of the constructed order and thus . and difficult for a subgroup to maintain such an alternate order without coming under the punishment of the society. or some such thing.ritual and myth -. Legitimations answer the "why" and "wherefore" posed with respect to institutional arrangements. It also makes a place for those marginal situations which threaten the established order. and so are all the more effective in defining how individuals perceive themselves and the figures around them. These may grow into theoretically well-integrated world-views. proverbs. In all these cases. Socialization is one process by which society ensures its survival. itself a palpable threat. as related to "everyday life" as warnings. This can take the form of the microcosm/macrocosm model.nomos. and covers up the origin of nomos in human activity by placing it in the context of divine and eternal activity. it would be hard for anyone to believe in another construction alone. as it were. Ideas can have important social. becomes linked with the even more threatening powers of chaos and evil. Religion and World-Maintenance Worlds which are constructed are in vigorous need of maintenance. whereby the social order re-enacts the divine order. or follow a more rationalized train as in Israel's radically transcendent God who ordered God's people or in the Greek conception of the soul as the basis for the rational ordering of the world. Religion fixes the social order in a cosmic order. but comes back to act upon that experience. by the anomic experiences which are a part of everyone's life at some point. prophecies. Dreams are incorporated. Religion's two components. They are threatened from without. myths. and from within by deviant and self-interested individuals. however. Now that significant others include not only other people but divine beings as well.serve to reinforce and reenact central aspects of the social order as part of the continuing dialectic which guards against forgetting. along with other "ecstatic" phenomena. The "reality-maintenance" of legitimation has as its most effective tool. Legitimation can take the form of maxims. dromena and legomena -. and folk tales which reinforce the meaning of institutions and roles. Against such a firmly "anchored" world-construction. Religion not only maintains world-constructions. Religious legitimation rises from everyday experience. II. which usually increases as religious theory develops. but there is also need to reinforce these against forgetting and challenging. religion. The institutions and roles are given a divine permanence. individual identity as determined by social roles and the sense of correctness in performing as the social order prescribes are both strengthened immensely. The very existence of these institutions is self-legitimating. It gains a certain autonomy from and over everyday experience. religion served as the primary agent of legitimation. The impetus to avoid transgressing the social order is likewise strengthened.

rests on social structures which support the religion. Death. which will then serve to reinforce the original religious world. Either the religion and cosmic order will crumble. or they will find expression around new structures. Deviants may be liquidated or separated out so as not to provide contaminating and weakening ferment. When these structures are threatened. the legitimation falters. existing in a particular religious world implies existing in the particular social context within which that world can retain its plausibility. and thus focus one's social life around those of the new religious world. In these cases. religion serves to legitimate a social nomos by anchoring it in the cosmic order. these methods will not work in the long run. The former befell the Inca society. Apart from individual crises. whole societies can undergo upheavals. both geographical and cognitive. The first scenario is simpler. who do not consider themselves outside. one must find a sub-group which comes from the same native social context." which may take place between religious monopolies or within a larger society as a subgroup seeks to maintain itself in a pluralistic environment. and the subgroup must take on a sectarian mentality to protect its world-construction from the outside. similarly. III. will often have difficultly accepting such a subgroup in its midst. The power of religion rests in the strength of its plausibility as it brings into order the anomic experiences. The Problem of Theodicy . As the structures become unstable. The religious legitimation. when Pharisaism refocused the center towards more resilient institutions. the need for worldmaintaining legitimations increases. Cross-relations between subgroups with a sectarian character are also greatly strained. "For the individual. religion again assumes a dominant role in interpreting the crisis and relating it to the society's world order. social engineering becomes acute. In sum. In the second scenario." Where one moves from the native social context to another social context or to a context of pluralism. however. In order to maintain one's native religious world. The other option is conversion. becomes intelligible within the framework of the cosmic order such that one can have a "good death" in meaningful relationship to the nomos which has guided one's whole life. as Torah-observance and ritual practices. as well as maintaining internal "purity" of devotion to the respective nomos. Those in the main society. the ultimate of which is death. The one who wishes to remain converted must engineer her or his life around that desire.cannot be mistaken for a "reality" apart from or different from that order. the latter is descriptive of Judaism after the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem. of each plausibility structure. The social institutions and society itself provide a plausibility structure for the religion and thus the legitimation which it brings. Berger here introduces the concept of "social engineering. as it basically consists of defending the territorial boundaries.

Berger sets out a classification of theodicies from irrational to rationalized. not happiness. is the goal of theodicy. Mysticism involves another sort of theodicy. Theodicies answer not only for individual sufferings. one which regards union with the divine as the only reality. Meaning. thus making this world's experiences of pain and joy alike of no reality. but also for collective crises. and for social problems such as stark class discrepancies. It is the answer to the gaps in human experience which do not fit into the nomos." but we might examine as a seminar exercise our own understanding of the why and wherefore of suffering and evil to see if we embody a post-Christian theodicy already. The problem of theodicy is most acute when one is dealing with monotheism. suffering. understanding all aspects of life as part of the ongoing struggle of evil forces against good forces."How can people act this way" rather than "How can God permit?" Berger does not yet comment on the form of this new "theodicy. and what contours it might be . Theodicy is the explanation in terms of religious legitimation of those anomic experiences common to individuals and collectivities such as pain. One sort involves the complete subjection of the individual to the collectivity. Each of these theodicies is also evaluated by Berger for its conservative and revolutionary possibilities." applying to this other absolute significance. growth. Pain and suffering become more tolerable if the nomos reaches out to give it meaning. Theodicy is universally present where religious legitimation is central to world-maintenance.Theodicy is a crucial component of a world order. according to Berger. Popular forms of Hinduism and Buddhism mitigate the starkness of these theodicies for a wider consumption. whether in this life or a previous one. such as when a foreign power devastates a society. Dualism. and death. The move in our society has been. decay. There is also here a sort of mimetic rhythm of nature's cycle of birth. provides yet another option. They provide meaning for wealth as well as poverty. and evil. This future may be this-worldly or other-worldly. away from theodicy to anthropodicy -. Death is further transcended through conceiving of one's own continuing existence in future generations. but continually reappears as an important aspect of several theodicies. Karma-samsara provides a highly rationalized theodicy in which every experience is regarded as a necessary consequence of other experiences. historical or ahistorical. Alongside these there are theodicies based on the future -. One's own suffering and death are transcended in the ongoing life of the society. and we should discuss Berger's views on the development and failure of the Christian solution in our seminar. but in various degrees of rationalization. Being "in tune" with this is a source of meaning.promise or assurance of future blessedness provides a new perspective from which to understand and endure present distress. Failure of a theodicy to account for these phenomena results in a decay of the legitimation of the order itself. This is "pretheoretical" in terms of theodicy. Berger identifies the masochistic tendency as an important way in which the suffering self transcends its suffering by adoration of an "other.

Biblical religion also .taking. This estrangement may go in two directions. having imposed a "fictitious inexorability upon the humanly constructed world. religion may drastically relativize them. when in fact other options exist and would be possible were the individuals to acknowledge that social role was not coterminous with identity and being. Religion. however. also has the possibility of leading one to de-alienation by the same means -. people identify their social role complex as their full and only identity. Political institutions and their programs are enormously strengthened by this denial of their human origin. It is to be sharply distinguished from anomy. One may reappropriate this "other" self in recollecting that both world and self are products of human activity. expressly hiding the human origins of that world. or out of consideration for the weaker spirit which has not attained to such knowledge.viewing institutions sub specie aeternitatis. insofar as an individual may be aware of herself as a socialized individual. This phenomenon has far-reaching effects in society. or one may miss this essentially dialectical nature of things and so assign absolute objective facticity to both world-construction and socialized self. however. Rather than grant immortality to these institutions." Nevertheless. As effective as religion is in absolutizing the world against anomy through identifying it with divine order. With the removal of ambiguities and the transformation of contingencies into certainties. but "knowing" their ephemeral nature. so effective is it in producing an alienated consciousness in individuals. one is living under a false consciousness. Socialized roles become objective presences within consciousness and may confront the individual as "hard fact" just as external institutions may. One may do this out of convenience. In this way. all the more as an alienated apprehension of the world-construction tends to give it an absolute concreteness. bad faith emerges -. This latter is called alienation. The alienated person continues as vigorously as ever to co-produce the order he or she regards as totaliter aliter. Alienation does not have to be religiously produced. Alienation is a product of false consciousness. IV. Religion and Alienation The process of internalization creates a duplication of consciousness.individuals begin to undergird a course of action with a notion of necessity. one may participate in its institutions "as if" they had reality." The denial of the dialectic does not stop the dialectic. This creates the possibility of an internal confrontation between socialized and non-socialized components of self which reiterate the external confrontation between society and the individual. but religion strengthens considerably the factors which lead to and support alienation. Individually. If the visible world is one of illusion. It results from a faulty social development. one achieves a "psychologically most satisfactory condition. preceding healthy reappropriation rather than coming at a later stage.

contains this possibility as the transcendence of God shows up institutions as "merely" human works and social roles as separate from the deepest identity of people who stand "naked before their God." One must wonder whether or not this secularization has not also brought with it new "objective facticities." new identifications of human constructions with absolute realities." These moves have been instrumental in bringing about the general secularization of consciousness "in which all the de-alienating principles of Western thought have their roots. new possibilities for alienated. and. with these. . false consciousness.

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