Peter Berger's Sacred Canopy

Chapters 5, 6, and 7 -- SECULARIZATION

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

  1. What are the two dimensions of meanings for the concept "SECULARIZATION?" Why does Berger see the need for two dimensions? Relate this concept to his other writings.
  2. What does Berger mean when he says that secularization is not uniformly distributed even though it is a global phenomenon of modern societies?
  3. Berger discusses two "carriers" of secularization, what are they? How does each contribute to the secularization of modern American society?
  4. Discuss the following quotation:

The radical transcendence of God confronts a universe of radical immanence, of "closedness" to the sacred. Religiously speaking the world becomes very lonely indeed.

  1. Discuss the following quotations:

A sky empty of angels becomes open to the intervention of the astronomer and, eventually, of the astronaut. Probably for the first time in history, the religious legitimations of the world have lost their plausibility not only for a few intellectuals and other marginal individuals but for broad masses of entire societies. There has arisen a problem of "meaningfulness" not only for such institutions as the state or of the economy but for the ordinary routines of everyday life. Christian theodicy of suffering lost its plausibility and thereby the way was opened for a variety of secularized soteriologies, most of which, however, proved quite incapable of legitimating the sorrows of individual life even when they achieved some plausibility in the legitimation of history.

  1. What does Berger mean when he says, "Secularization then passes from the economic to the political sphere in a near-inexorable process of 'diffusion.' The religious legitimations of the state are then either liquidated altogether, or remain as rhetorical ornamentations devoid of social reality."
  2. Why does religion have a reality potential in the social sphere of the family and social relationships? At this point what the social base of religion?


Such private religiosity, however "real" it may be to the individuals who adopt it, cannot any longer fulfill the classical task of religion, that of constructing a common world within which all of social life receives ultimate meaning binding on everybody. Instead, this religiosity is limited to specific enclaves of social life that may be effectively segregated from the secularized sectors of modern society. "INSOFAR AS RELIGION IS COMMON IT LACKS 'REALITY,' AND INSOFAR AS IT IS 'REAL' IT LACKS COMMONALITY.

  1. Explain the following quotation:

Religious pluralism in America has created a situation where religious groups are tolerated by the state and engage in free competition with each other. These religious groups are also compelled to compete with various non-religious rivals in the business of defining the world, some of them highly organized.

  1. What is the effect of pluralism and privatism upon the "objective" status of religion (taken-for-granted status)? How is religion "subjectivized" in a double sense? (see page 152)
  2. How does secularization lead to what Berger calls "the crisis of theology" and the "crisis of the church" in contemporary society?

Go back to Peter Berger's Sacred Canopy, Chapters 3 and 4 -- Theodicies and Alienation

Go back to Discussion Questions

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