Born in Australia, Dr. Peter L. Berger is a famous American Sociologist. “He is currently a professor of religion and sociology, and the director of The Institute for the Study of Economic Culture at Boston University” (Xiao, 1999, p. vii)…
Renowned in the world of academia, he is the celebrated author of a great many pieces of work related to sociology and religion, one of which is The Heretical Imperative. The purpose of my essay is to elucidate on his theory of heretical imperative. In order for us to understand what that is, we must first understand the key concepts of secularization, modernity, and religion since they play an important part in Mr. Berger’s theory of the heretical imperative. Dr. Peter Berger has written a lot regarding sociology of religion. Therefore, now the question arises, what is religion? According to Berger, “Religion is the human enterprise by which a sacred cosmos is established...sacred here, meaning a quality of mysterious and awesome power, other than man and yet related to him, which is believed to reside in certain objects of experience” (Berger, 1990, pp. 3-28). Religion is universally agreed to be born of faith in something that is bigger than anything we can ever conceive. A set of guiding rules are established from this faith. Religion helps us by making use of these rules, to create a sacred world for us; sacred because it is a world of mystical occurrences, not directly linked to us but a big part of us. A person can be sacred; an institution, a book, or perhaps a statue too. Anything or any being with which we attach a mystical and awesome power is, in all essence, sacred. And that sacredness is what Berger believes to be religion. In his book, Berger explains the other two vital concepts: modernity and secularization. In sociology, modernity is something that arose post industrial era. It is the phasing out of feudalism by people and their entering into the world that is similar to ours. It is losely linked with modernity is secularization. In Berger’s perspective - and in most sociologists’ as well - secularization marks the movement of the world from living with a close affiliation with religious beliefs to non-religious beliefs and secular states. Berger believes that it is pluralism that caused modernity and secularization. So what do these concepts have to do with the concept of heretical imperative? “Religion itself becomes a matter of choice; of necessary choice insofar there are few taken-for-granted religious ‘facts’ to fall back upon. In other words, religion becomes a heretical imperative” (Knepper, 2001). Here Knepper writes a review by using some of Berger’s own words to describe what a heretical imperative is. We live with a heretical imperative because of the pluralism that exists in our lives. The great numbers of institutions, religions, theories, paradigms give us too many choices. Religion itself is a matter of choice now. “Berger argues in his book that to face up to the relativity of theological knowledge requires that one affirm certain elements of the tradition and reject others; that is the heretical imperative” (Woodhead, 2001, pp. 1-9). According to Woodhead, Peter Berger has explained in his book that in traditional cultures (of the pre-modern man) people were exposed to a certain set of fundamental principles and rules. It is true that the so many cultures existing today are based on different religious and mythological epistemologies, but each culture, according to Berger, has an internal, underlying consistency; it must have it if it wishes to survive. To challenge this underlying mythology is called heresy. Berger explains heresy to mean to choose for one's self. The irony here, obviously, is that one will be heretical whether they choose traditional values or not. This is because when one chooses any values, or makes any kind of decision regarding religion, the substitutes and other choices are taken into ...
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