Date of Award

1-1-1994

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts

Faculty

Faculty of Arts

First Advisor

Dr Martin Wiltshire

Second Advisor

Professor Cynthia Dixon

Third Advisor

Dr Iain Gardner

Abstract

This thesis seeks to provide an overview and examination of the thought of the significant contemporary sociologist, Peter L. Berger. Berger is concerned with the issue of how meaning is constructed in modern, secular, bureaucratic society. Furthermore, this thesis seeks to outline, and trace the development of, Berger's thought. To achieve this the thesis examines Berger's use of the disciplines of the sociology of knowledge and religion, along with contemporary studies in religion and theology. Berger, by linking the function of a theodicy with that of making meaning, allows for theodicies to be conceived of in the broader context of making meaning in contemporary society. As such, a contemporary theodicy needs to include (indeed, it needs to be inclusive, rather than exclusive) such factors as the relationship between self, others, the world, and the transcendent so as to provide some basis for an authentic and meaningful existence. There is a need for a more inclusive theodicy (other than the traditional individualistic type) which has hermeneutic concern for the 'whole' (wholeness of self, wholeness in relationships with others, wholeness with the world/environment, and wholeness with the transcendent). However, this 'wholeness' will not be provided by over-arching, public, structures or systems; it will need to be through chosen, private means which reflect the Post-Modernist situation where 'closure' on a grand scale is unobtainable (Marshall, 1992, pp. 192 -193). Berger's work provides the possibility for this legitimation of a theodicy (or theodicies) which will provide meaning in Post-Enlightenment society. The construction of meaning in contemporary society needs an ability to cope with complexity, it needs to be reasonable, as well as contemporary (to cope with the plurality in modern society), and it is on the way (that is, not given to closure). Therefore any contemporary theodicy, or system of meaning, must be able to be historically concerned (that is, conscious of its origins and open to the future), empirical (that is, open to scrutiny and review), inductive (that is, dealing with concrete reality, not abstract theory), and concerned with people's lived experience. Berger's signals of transcendence allow for the legitimation of this private, deinstitutionalized religion; that is, they legitimate a meaningful theodicy for contemporary humanity. This theodicy, which is able to accommodate the wider view current in modern society provided by the ecological movement, interaction between the various religious traditions, the feminist movement, the reality of multi-culturalism, and the resulting pluralism from the above factors, can provide some basis for a meaningful and authentic existence in contemporary society. The signals of transcendence are able to correlate people's lived experience (their 'natural reality') to a reality which is "in, with and under" that natural reality (Berger, 1992, p. 155).

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