Professor Peter L. Berger, one of the twentieth century’s most influential sociologists, died on 27 June 2017. In the 1960s his classic in the sociology of religion, The Sacred Canopy, became one of the principal articulations of what has been termed ‘secularisation theory’ – the idea that as societies modernise, they will inevitably become less religious. Yet, in a remarkable about-turn, Professor Berger published The Desecularization of the World in 1999 declaring that, with a couple of exceptions (Western Europe and a global secularised elite), the world remains “as furiously religious as it ever was.”
Our recently finished Jameel scholar Dr Riyaz Timol relied extensively on Professor Berger’s work in his PhD. He was also privileged to enjoy an extended correspondence with him over the last two years of his life. In this blog piece, published on the Sociological Review site, Dr Timol shares his journey through Professor Berger’s works and considers his legacy for the academic study of Islam in Europe.
Professor Berger’s 2014 book The Many Altars of Modernity: Toward a Paradigm for Religion in a Pluralist Age presents his latest thinking on the relationship between religion and modernity. You can read Dr Timol’s review of the book, published in the Journal of Contemporary Religion, here.
I cannot remember this incident – my parents told me about it. I must have been four or five years old. For my birthday or for Christmas I was given the present of a very sophisticated electric toy train. One could control its movements through multiple tracks and tunnels across a miniature landscape. I had no interest in the mechanical wonders of this toy. I did not even turn on the electricity. Instead I lay flat on the ground and talked with imaginary passengers on the train.
One might say that I have continued this conversation ever since. I never regretted it. It has been a lot of fun. It still is.
Peter L. Berger
I first discovered Peter Berger late in 2014. I’d passed the halfway point of my PhD and was busy generating reams of ethnographic data dripping with ‘thick description.’ My supervisor at this point was insisting I need to find a ‘theoretical hook’ on which to hang all this lovely data. So I cast my net around in the sociology of religion hoping it would dredge something up. It was Woodhead and Heelas’ excellent edited anthology Religion in Modern Times that first sparked my interest. Nestled amid excerpts from all the key thinkers in the discipline, Berger’s incisive prose struck a chord. So I followed up by procuring the source books from which his extracts were drawn. And, from that point on, I was hooked.
Read the entirety of the post at The Sociological Review Blog.