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Author: Carmen Hendershott, Librarian, The New School
Peter Ludwig Berger (b. March 17, 1929), one of America’s foremost sociologists of religion, both studied and taught at the New School. After earning a B.A. from Wagner College/Staten Island in 1949, Berger pursued graduate studies at the New School, where he could attend school in the evening. He studied under many German Jewish refugee scholars, and was especially influenced by Albert Salomon, Carl Mayer, and Alfred Schutz, as he recounts in his memoir, Adventures of an Accidental Sociologist. At the New School, he wrote a M.A. thesis on “Religion in the Puerto Rican Community of New York City” (1950) and a dissertation on “From Sect to Church: A Sociological Interpretation of the Baha’i Movement” (1954). He started his New School teaching career with a course in “Principles of Sociology” in Summer 1955 in the Adult Division; he added “Sociology of Religion” in Summer 1957 in the Adult Division, open to graduate students. Other courses at that time included “Religion in Modern Society” (Summer 1963); “Basic Problems of Sociology (Spring 1965); and a lecture, “Can Organized Religion Survive the 20th Century?” (Spring 1968).
Berger followed the courses open to graduate students in 1957 and 1963 with courses specifically at the Graduate Faculty, starting with “Sociology of Occupations” and “Sociology of Knowledge” in 1963-64. Other courses included “Theory of the Social Role”; “Selected Problems in the Sociology of Knowledge”; “Sociology of Religion”; “Sociology of Knowledge”; “Sociology of the Old Testament”; “Secularization”; and “Psychotherapy as a Social Institution.”
Berger also rose in the ranks of the Graduate Faculty, becoming an associate professor by 1963 and a full professor by 1967. In his last full academic year at the school, 1969-1970, he was Chair of the Sociology department. He published four books during his time as a New School faculty member, including the extremely popular Invitation to Sociology (1963); The Social Construction of Reality (1966), co-authored with his former classmate, Thomas Luckmann, and now ranked as one of the most influential books in sociology ever written; The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion (1967); and A Rumor of Angels: Modern Society and Rediscovery of the Supernatural (1969). Berger’s time at the New School was significant both for his own intellectual development and for the development of sociology of religion in particular.
Berger later distinguished himself as a faculty member at Rutgers University (1970-1979), Boston College (1979-1981), and Boston University (1981-2009), and as director of the Institute on Culture, Religion and World Affairs (1985-2009).
Peter L. Berger, Adventures of an Accidental Sociologist: How to Explain the World without Becoming a Bore (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 2011)
Institute of Culture, Religion and World Affairs, “Peter Berger” [http://www.bu.edu/cura/faculty-staff/founder/bergercv/]
International Association of Sociologists, “Books of the XX Century” (1998). Online opinion survey available at http://www.isa-sociology.org/en/about-isa/history-of-isa/books-of-the-xx-century/ and accessed November 2, 2016. In this survey, ISA respondents ranked The Social Construction of Reality as the fifth most influential book in their discipline.
Course catalogs, The New School