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Peter Berger lecture at CEU, June 10, 2009

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Uploaded on Aug 17, 2009

This week the departments of IRES and Sociology & Social Anthropology, in cooperation with the Religious Studies Program, organized a seminar and lecture with the renowned American sociologist and author of The Social Construction of Reality and The Sacred Canopy, Peter L. Berger.

The topic of the seminar was Bergers most recent (co-authored) book, entitled Religious America, Secular Europe?. Published in 2008, the work addresses some common assumptions about the levels of religiosity in the US and Europe and attempts to trace their bases. After a brief introduction to Bergers current and past work, the audience (consisting mostly of CEU PhD students and professors) was invited to direct their questions to the leading scholar on secularization theory.

At the center of the discussion was the theory of multiple modernities (Eisenstadt), or the idea that while modernity does have some universal features, which impact the social and cultural sphere, it comes in more than one version (Berger et al., 142), as is evidenced by the comparative study of Europe and the US. Europe, Berger and Grace Davie argue, is the exception to the rule in its comparative secularity, rather then the US in its comparative religiosity.

As the comparison of Europe and the US reveals, secularization is not necessarily entailed by the process of modernization, as had been previously assumed (an assumption which Berger himself shared in the 60s). Such revision to the classical perspective on modernity, which assumed an organic link between secularization and modernization, poses a number of challenging questions, with implications for domestic as well as foreign policy:

- What role does religion play in US-European relations?

- Is religion part of the problem, as Europeans are inclined to think, or part of the solution, as Americans tend to believe?

- Taking into account the American understanding of democracy, what attitude should the US assume towards countries that define themselves in religious terms?

- What problems does religion pose to Turkeys admission to the EU?

-How can a secular state accommodate the manifestation of Islam, which has not only been a faith but a system of political and social organization? (Berger et al., 135)

Other concerns raised during the seminar included things left undiscussed in Bergers book, such as the status of Orthodoxy in Russia and its effects on foreign policy. Broader themes included religious pluralism, the relationship between religion and upward social mobility, Fundamentalism and Pentecostalism.

The lecture provided a fitting closure to the seminar, giving Bergers sociological discoveries a more biographical tinge.

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