Monday, May 18, 2015

Berger on the Sacred Canopy -- Part I Chapter 1 -- World Construction

Religion and World-Construction

Berger locates the role of religion in the fundamental dialectical process of world creation, where man creates the world and the world creates man.
The fundamental dialectic process of society consists of three moments, or steps. These are externalization, objectivation and internalization. (p.4)
Externalization is the ongoing outpouring of human being into the world, both in the physical and mental activity of men. (p.4)
Objectivation is the attainment by the products of this activity [i.e. objectivation, RCK] (again both physical and mental) of a reality that confronts its original producers as a facticity external to and other than themselves. (p.4)
Internalization is the reappropriation by men of the same reality, transforming it once again from structures of the objective world into structures of the subjective consciousness. (p.4)
In short:
It is through externalization that society is a human product. It is through objectivation that society becomes a reality sui generis. It is through internalization that man is a product of society. (p.4)
The need for externalization is coupled to the "unfinished" (p.4f) character of man.
... man's instinctual structure at birth is both underspecialized and undirected toward a species-specific environment. (p.5)
The world-building activity of man, therefore, is not a biologically extraneous phenomenon, but the direct consequence of man's biological constitution. (p.5)
[Man, RCK] ... produces himself in a world. (p.6)
World here designates "culture" (p.6).
[Culture's, RCK] ... fundamental purpose is to provide the firm structures for human life that are lacking biologically. (p.6)
However, because they are man-constructed and not backed by natural laws like the physical world, culture is more fragile.
Culture must be continuously produced and reproduced by man. Its structures are, therefore, inherently precarious and predestined to change. (p.6)
Worlds must be built, yet it remains difficult to keep them going. This ongoing activity produces what we often call society.
Society is constituted and maintained by acting human beings. It has no being, no reality, apart from this activity. (p.7)
Berger rejects any more natural foundation than that man is a world builder; all the other specifics of culture are not founded in the natural world. The reason society is privileged has to do with the fact of man as a social animal.
Homo sapiens is the social animal. This means very much more than the surface fact that man always lives in collectivities and, indeed, loses his humanity when he is thrust into isolation from other man. (p.7)
... the world-building activity of man is always and inevitably a collective enterprise. (p.7)
Men together shape tools, invent languages, adhere to values, devise institutions, and so on. (p.7)
Society structures, distributes, and co-ordinates the world-building activities of men. And only in society can the products of those activities persist over time. (p.7) 
Berger sees in the identification of these external entities, such as the family or society or the economy, one of the key contributions of the sociological point of view: it strips them of their hypostasized status (p.8).

Berger now turns to the problem of internalization, the fact that the collective products of men acquire a reality of their own.
Once produced, this world cannot simply be wished away. (p.9)
The material case is easy to illustrate: once plows have been constructed, they are physical objects that are in the way, can hurt people falling over them, and begin to impact the agricultural logic [[RCK: e.g. through activities such as a proper time for plowing]]. The argument is then extended to the non-material objects.
Man invents a language and then finds that both his thinking and his speaking are dominated by its grammar. (p.9)
Man produces values and discovers that he feels guilty when he contravenes them. (p.9)
At the same time, the objectivity also has the connotation of being shared.
Culture is there for everybody. (p.10) 
... the cultural world is not only collectively produced, but it remains real by virtue of collective recognition. (p.10)
... society is a product of human activity that has attained the status of objective reality. (p.11)
Society confronts man as external, subjectively opaque and coercive facticity. (p.11)
Thus the appropriate moniker of culture as our "second nature" (p.11).
... society manifests itself by its coercive power. The final test of its objective reality is its capacity to impose itself upon the reluctance of individuals. (p.11)
Society directs, sanctions, controls and punishes individual conduct. In its most powerful apotheoses (not a loosely chosen term, as we shall see later), society may even destroy the individual. (p.11)
This compelling force is a key constituent for something being a social reality.
... no human construction can be accurately called a social phenomenon unless it has achieved the measure of objectivity that compels the individual to recognize it as real. (p.12)
Berger illustrates this with reference to the English language.

The objective reality of culture thus makes for a box in which an individual's biography can take place.
... the individual's own biography is objectively real only insofar as it may be comprehended within the significant structure of the social world. (p.13)
... the individual's own life appears as objectively real, to himself as well as to others, only as it is located within a social world that itself has the character of objective reality. (p.13) 
... the objectivation of human activity means that man becomes capable of objectivating a part of himself within his own consciousness, confronting himself within himself in figures that are generally available as objective elements of the social world. (p.14)
It is only when these objectivated structures begin to influence man's own consciousness (p.15) that internalization has taken place. This comes to the fore especially in socialization,
... the processes by which a new generation is taught to live in accordance with the institutional programs of the society (p.15).
This is not just learning, but shaping, acceptance of the precepts as one's own. The measurement of success of this undertaking is the degree of symmetry between objective reality and subjective internalization (p.15). This is the origin of meaning for the individual (p.16) [[RCK: see also (p.21)]].
The processes that internalize the socially objectivated world are the same processes that internalize the socially assigned identities. (p.16)
... the individual appropriates the world in conversation with others, and, furthermore, that both identity and world remain real to himself only as long as he can continue the conversation. (p.16)
That need to continue the conversation expresses the precarious nature of the construction.
The difficulty of keeping a world going expresses itself psychologically in the difficulty of keeping this world subjectively plausible. (p.16)
The vital role of the conversation follows from the fact what happens when the conversation ceases.
If such conversation is disrupted (the spouse dies, the friends disappear, or one comes to leave one's original social milieu), the world begins to totter, to lose its subjective plausibility. (p.17)
Berger illustrates this with the role of the uncle in matrilineal society, and how the internalized man will act avuncular and be an uncle (p.17).

Berger disavows a deterministic or mechanistic interpretation of that dialectic; the fact that the individual is a participant in the conversations that shape his stance indicates this and speaks of active appropriation rather than passive absorption (p.18).
... the individual continues to be a co-producer of the social world, and thus of himself. (p.18)
Berger illustrates this in the language (p.18) and its change over time through use (p.19).

... the socially constructed world is, above all, an ordering of experience. A meaningful order, or nomos, is imposed upon the discrete experiences and meanings of individuals.  (p.19)
Though that ordering capability never terminates and becomes total, it tends toward that and is thus better described as totalizing (p.20). The parts that are difficult to relate to, the marginal experiences, have their own logic in the setup (p.20).
In what it `knows`, every society imposes a common order of interpretation upon experience that becomes `objective knowledge` by means of the process of objectivation discussed before. (p.20)
Though some of that knowledge is theoretical and rule-like (often the socially most important parts) (p.20), the majority is pretheoretical [[RCK: heuristic]] (p.21).
 Most socially objectivated `knowledge` ... consists of interpretative schemas, moral maxims and collections of traditional wisdom that the man in the street frequently shares with the theoreticians. (p.21)
It is by virtue of this appropriation [of the nomos of the social ordering of experience, RCK] that the individual can come to "make sense" of his own biography. (P.21) 
The future attains a meaningful shape by virtue of the same order being projected onto it. ... to live in the social world is to live an ordered and meaningful life. (p.21)
Society is the guardian of order and meaning not only objectively, in its institutional structures, but subjectively as well, in its structuring of individual consciousness. (p.21)
Thus the anomic disruptions are immensely powerful, as they can bring about a loss of any "sense reality and identity" (p.21) for the individuals, Such disruptions can occur at the social or the individual level.
They might involve large collective forces, such as the loss of status of the entire social group to which the individual belongs. They might be more narrowly biographical, such as the loss of significant others by death, .... (p.21) 
This psychological and moral threat justifies considering the socially established nomos "a shield against terror" (p.22).
... the most important function of society is nomization. The anthropological presupposition for this is a human craving for meaning that appears to have the force of instinct. (p.22)
Men are congenitally compelled to impose a meaningful order upon reality. This order, however, presupposes the social enterprise of ordering world-construction. (p.22)
... the danger of meaninglessness ... is the nightmare par excellence, i which the individual is submerged in a world of disorder, senselessness and madness.  (p.22)
Thus the despair of suicide, as well as the amounts of sacrifice people are willing to undertake to return to a nomically satisfying state.
... existence within a nomic world may be sought at the cost of all sorts of sacrifices and suffering---and even at the cost of life itself, if the individual believes that this ultimate sacrifice has nomic significance (p.22).
The most acute marginal threat is death (p.23).
Death presents society with a formidable problem not only because of its obvious threat to the continuity of human relationships, but because it threatens the basic assumptions of order on which society rests. (p.23)
... the marginal situations of human existence reveal the innate precariousness of all social worlds. (p.23)
See in the perspective of society, every nomos is an area of meaning carved out of a vast mass of meaninglessness, a small clearing of lucidity in a formless, dark, always ominous jungle. (p.23)
[The "alien forces of chaos", RCK] ... must be kept at bay at all cost. (p.24)
If socialization was successful, then the social world can be taken for granted. The more inevitable the social construction appears, the better for society at large.
... institutional programs are endowed with an ontological status to the point where to deny them is to deny being itself---the being of the universal order of things and, consequently, one's own being in this order. (p.24)
The result of this is that the social construction merges with the natural universe.
Nomos and cosmos appear to be co-extensive. (p.25) 
 This is the point where religion enters into the argument.
Religion is the human enterprise by which a sacred cosmos is established. Put differently, religion is cosmization in a sacred mode. (p.25)
By sacred is meant here 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. (p.25)
Berger admits that the forms of the religious have a bewildering variety, but posits some underlying uniformity, which he refuses to attribute to either diffusion or an internal logic of man.
Although the sacred is apprehended as other than man, yet it refers to man, relating to him in a away in which other non-human phenomena (specifically, the phenomena of non-sacred nature) do not. The cosmos posited by religion thus both transcends and includes man. (p.26)
Because the sacred cosmos is fundamentally antagonistic to chaos, it is also a fundamental shield.
The sacred cosmos emerges out of chaos and continues to confront the latter as its terrible contrary. ... The sacred cosmos, which transcends and includes man it its ordering of reality, thus provides man's ultimate shield against the terror of anomy.  (p.26)
Berger then draws a differentiation between how cosmization can play out; specifically, they need not all be religious (though historically they have been for the majority of man's existence).
Cosmization implies the identification of this humanly meaningful world with the world as such, the former now being grounded in the latter, reflecting it or being derived from it in its fundamental structures. (p.27)
Particularly in modern times there have been thoroughly secular attempts at cosmization, among which modern science is by far the most important. (p.27)
But religion has been the standard mode of maximizing man's externalization.
... religion is the audacious attempt to conceive of the entire universe as being humanly significant. (p.28)

Bibliographic Record

Peter L. Berger, The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion, Garden City, NY (Double Day) 1967.

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