Peter Berger's Sacred Canopy

Chapter 2 -- Religion and World-Maintenance

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

  1. What is meant by "legitimation?" How is the nomos legitimated?
  2. What is meant by the statement, "The essential purpose of all forms of legitimation may thus be described as reality-maintenance, both on the objective and the subjective levels."
  3. What is the "plausibility structure" or "social base?" How is the nomos dependent upon the plausibility structure? "The reality of the Christian world depends upon the presence of social structures within which this reality is taken for granted and with in which successive generations of individuals are socialized in such a way that this world will be real to them."
  4. Explain the following: "The less firm the plausibility structure becomes,the more acute will be the need for world-maintenance legitimations."
  5. Explain the founding of St. Olaf College from the perspective of creating a plausibility structure for religious and cultural reality.
  6. Explain the following quotations:
    1. "Religion legitimates social institutions by bestowing upon them an ultimately valid ontological status, that is, by locating them within a sacred and cosmic frame of reference." (page 33)
    2. "Institutional order is the reflected or manifested form of the divine cosmos." "Religion in the process of legitimation acts in the capacity of locating human experience within the cosmic frame of reference."
    3. "The inherently precarious and transitory constructions of human activity are thus given the semblance of ultimate security and permanence."
    4. "When the socially defined reality has come to be identified with the ultimate reality of the universe, then its denial takes on the quality of evil as well as madness."
    5. Religious ritual has been a crucial instrument of this process of 'reminding'." Religious ideation is embedded in ritual activity.""Religious acts and religious legitimations, ritual and mythology serve to recall the traditional meanings embodied in the culture and its major institutions."
    6. "On an individual level as well as on a societal level, there are events which provide massive threats to the reality previously taken for granted. At such times religious legitimations almost invariably come to the front."
    7. "Religion is the establishment, through human activity, of an all-embracing sacred order, that is, of a sacred cosmos that will be capable of maintaining itself in the ever-present face of chaos."
    8. "Every human society is, in the last resort, men banded together in the face of death. The power of religion depends, in the last resort, upon the credibility of the banners it puts in the hands of men as they stand before death, or more accurately, as they walk, inevitably, toward it."

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

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