PETER BERGER

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CURIOSITY: The desire to enlarge oneself is the desire to embrace
more and more possibilities, to be constantly learning,
to give oneself entirely over to curiosity.

   

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9 BERGERS WITH EVERYTHING

Aside from being a pain in the neck amateur theologian and philosopher, it turns out I have some hidden affinity for sociology, at least according to “Invitation to Sociology” by Peter Berger. Here are some selected passages:

1. The sociologist is a person intensively, endlessly, shamelessly interested in the doings of people … his own questions have so taken possession of him that he has little choice but to seek answers.

2. The sociologist will occupy himself with matters that others regard as too sacred or as too distasteful … He will concern himself with matters that others may find too boring … until one is suddenly brought up against an insight that questions everything one had previously assumed.

3. The fascination of sociology lies in the fact that its perspective makes us see in a new light the very world in which we have lived all our lives. This also constitutes a transformation of consciousness.

4. For the sociologist, his own life, inevitably, is part of his subject matter.

5. It can be said the first wisdom of sociology is this: Things are not what they seem.

6. Social reality turns out to have many layers of meaning. The discovery of each new layer changes the perception of the whole.

7. The experience of sociology is like that of being an explorer in a strange land, only the "strange" land is home:* The experience of sociological discovery could be described as "culture shock" minus geographical displacement.

(*”The Truman Show!” And Walker Percy’s novel, “The Moviegoer.”)

8. People who like to avoid shocking discoveries, who prefer to believe that society is just what they were taught in Sunday School, who like the safety of rules and the maxims of what Alfred Schuetz has called ‘the world as taken for granted,’ should stay away from sociology; they will find it unpleasant or at any rate unrewarding.

9. Sociology is more like a passion. The sociological perspective is more like a demon that possesses one, that drives one compellingly, again and again, to the questions that are his own. An introduction to sociology is, therefore, an invitation to a very special kind of passion.

10 BERGERS TO GO

1. We would say sociology is so much in tune with the temper the modern era precisely because it represents the consciousness in a world in which values have been radically relativized. This relativization has become so much a part of our everyday imagination that it is difficult for us to grasp fully how closed and absolutely binding the world view of others cultures have been -- and in some cases still are.

2. The traditional mind is one that cannot even imagine how one could be anything different than exactly what he is. The modern mind, by contrast, is mobile, participates vicariously in the lives of others differently located from oneself, and easily imagines itself changing occupation or residence.

3. Another way of putting this is to say that traditional societies assign definite and permanent identities to their members. To live in modern society means to live in a kaleidoscope of ever-changing roles.

4. The unprecedented rate of geographical and social mobility in modern society means that one becomes exposed to an unprecedented variety of ways of looking at the world. No doubt this sophistication is commonly only superficial and does not extend to any real grappling with alternate ways of life.

5. The awareness of relativity, which probably in all ages of history has been the possession of a small group of intellectuals, today appears as a broad cultural fact reaching far down into the lower reaches of the social system.

6. It is impossible to exist with full awareness in the modern world without realizing that moral, political and philosophical commitments are relative, that, in Pascal's words, what is truth this side of the Pyrenees, is error on the other.

7. Intensive occupation with the more fully elaborated meaning systems available in our time gives one a truly frightening understanding of the way in which these systems can provide a total interpretation of reality.

8. The individual's choice of viewpoint will determine the way he looks back upon his own biography. And the meaning system he enters provides him with an interpretation of his existence and his world, including a critique of other belief systems. The meaning system also provides him with tools to combat his own doubts … this allows the individual to interpret his doubts in terms derived from the meaning system, thus keeping him within it.

9. On lower levels of sophistication there also will be various means to cut off questions that might threaten the individual's allegiance to a system.

10. If one resists the temptation to accept such dialectics and is willing to face squarely the experience of relativity, then one comes into possession of yet another crucial dimension of sociological consciousness: the awareness that not only identities but ideas (beliefs and morals) are relative to specific social locations.

 

 




QUOTES

UNCERTAINTY: Living with no supernatural justifications,
no complete explanations, no promise of permanent
stability, with guides of merely probable validity.