After Secularization (special double issue)   /   Spring/Summer 2006   /    Interview

Interview with Peter Berger

You’re known for arguing, most notably in The Sacred Canopy in the 1960s, for a theory of secularization and then for renouncing that theory in the 1990s. What are the distinctively modern characteristics of how religion is lived today?


You’re right, of course, that I changed my mind over the years. It wasn’t a dramatic change—it happened in stages, and it wasn’t due to any change in theological or philosophical position. It was basically the weight of evidence, as I think a social scientist should base his theories on evidence. Much earlier than the 90s—I would say by the late 70s or early 80s—most, but not all, sociologists of religion came to agree that the original secularization thesis was untenable in its basic form, which simply said modernization and secularization are necessarily correlated developments. I followed most people in the field; I went through the same process of rethinking. There are some people who didn’t follow, and there are still some today. Steve Bruce in Britain is a heroic upholder of the old theory, which I greatly respect. He’s a very intelligent and likable fellow, and there are a few others.

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