Peter Berger's Sacred Canopy

Chapter 1 -- Religion and World-Construction

Michael R. Leming, Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology
Spring Semester 1998

  1. Society is a human product that yet continuously acts back upon its producer. The individual produces society and yet the individual becomes a person only within a societal context.
  2. Society is brought about by 3 processes; externalization, objectivation, and internalization.
  3. The human is "unfinished" at birth due to his underspecialized and undirected instinctual structure. Consequently, man must make a "world" for himself--Externalization.
  4. The "World" or "Nomos" is always characterized by a built-in instability. Man does not have a given relationship to his world and therefore must continue to establish a relationship with it (socialization and resocialization).
  5. In creating a "World" or social order (Nomos), and locating his biography in it, the human not only provides order for his society but also for himself. This socially created order is what sociologists call CULTURE.
  6. The collective enterprise of creating culture produces an objectified entity or "reality" for those who recognize it. Once produced, culture or the Nomos, cannot be wished away because it stands outside of the subjectivity of the individuals who produced it (Sui Generis). This pertains both to material and non-material culture.
  7. The Normative Order (Nomos), once objectified, becomes a "shared facticity." The cultural world is not only collectively produced, but it remains real by virtue of collective recognition (both objectively and subjectively). To be in culture means to share in a particular world of "objectivities" with others.
  8. The final test of the process of objectivation is the ability of the socially created "reality" to impose itself upon the reluctance of individuals. The fundamental coerciveness of society lies not in its machineries of social control, but in its power to constitute and to impose itself as a reality (internalization).
  9. The individual's own biography is objectively real only insofar as it may be comprehended within the significant structures of the social world.
  10. Society provides individuals with behavioral expectations (social roles--e.g., father, teacher, etc.). As individuals take on these roles, they alter their identities. The person is not only expected to perform the role but to be it.
  11. Society perpetuates the social order through the socialization process. The individual not only learns the objectivated meanings but identifies with and is shaped by them. He draws them into himself and makes them his meanings (internalization). Society cannot be maintained without a means of effective socialization.
  12. The individual is not molded as a passive, inert thing. Rather, he actively appropriates his world and identity as a participant. The individual is a co-producer of both the social world and himself. This is a never-ending process--socialization and resocialization.
  13. The socially constructed world is above all, an ordering of experience. A meaningful order, or nomos, is imposed upon the discrete experiences and meanings of individuals.
  14. Even if individuals deny the reality of their part in the co-production of the world and themselves, this fact is not any less true.
  15. Every Nomos has a tendency to expand into wider areas of meaning. Even the future attains meaning by virtue of the nomos' being projected into it.
  16. The Nomos in its most important function may be understood as society's shield against terror. This can be seen best in the marginal situations of life--death, war, natural disasters, etc.
  17. The Nomos will be successful in repelling chaos if it acquires a "taken-for-granted status" by the members of society. When this happens, the meanings of society come to be considered the fundamental meanings of the universe. The Nomos becomes the COSMOS.
  18. The Cosmos stabilizes the tenuous nomic constructions--the social world and the individual's identity.
  19. Religion is the Human enterprise by which the sacred cosmos (the transcendent projected nomos) is established.
  20. The cosmos posited by religion thus both transcends and includes man. The sacred cosmos is confronted by man as an immensely powerful reality other than himself. Yet this reality addresses itself to him and locates his life in an ultimately meaningful order.
  21. On a deeper level, the sacred has another opposed category, that of chaos. To be in a "right" relationship with the Cosmos is to be protected against the threat of chaos. To fall out of such a "right" relationship is to be abandoned on the edge of the abyss of meaninglessness.


Religion implies the farthest reach of man's self-externalization, of his infusion of reality with his own meanings. Religion implies that human order is projected into the totality of being. Put differently, religion is the audacious attempt to conceive of the entire universe as being humanly significant--THE SACRED CANOPY

Go to Peter Berger's Sacred Canopy, Chapter 2 -- Religion and World-Maintenance


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