Boston University

Passing of sociologist Peter Berger provokes nostalgia about religion news coverage

Passing of sociologist Peter Berger provokes nostalgia about religion news coverage

Boston University’s iconoclastic sociologist Peter Berger, who died June 27 at age 88, was one of those doubly valuable stars of the religion beat, both as a provider of pertinent quotes (if you could get him on the phone) and as a thinker whose every book and article needed to be checked out for news potential.  

It was a pleasure to see the byline of Joseph Berger (no relation) on The New York Times obit. He boasts the unique distinction of winning the  top Religion Newswriters Association award three years running while with Long Island Newsday (1982, 1983, 1984) and covered the beat for the Times as well.

The combination of Berger and Berger provokes nostalgia about the past, with this for analysts of current media to ponder: What is the ongoing place for coverage of important religious scholarship and books?

Not so long ago, the better mainstream print media paid considerable attention to religious thought, with pieces often written by specialists, providing a refreshing break from the daily squabbles that tend to dominate news coverage. Today, such treatments are largely relegated to the Internet, and often presented from a sectarian viewpoint. (TV and radio news rarely did or do much.)

As the Times noted, Peter Berger got the widest notice when he twitted the “God Is Dead” fad with his 1969 book “A Rumor of Angels: Modern Society and the Rediscovery of the Supernatural.” Ever the skeptic, Berger turned his skeptical eye toward skepticism, arguing that there’s good reason to perceive transcendent forces at work in the universe.

That contrarian claim emerged alongside Berger’s abandonment of the well-entrenched “secularization thesis” which he had long embraced.

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