A Discussion with Peter Berger, Professor Emeritus at Boston University

With: Peter Berger

January 20, 2015

Background: Is the world, present and future, essentially secular or religious? Few scholars have had as marked an influence on this debate as sociologist Peter Berger. More interesting, he changed his position on the topic, noisily, he says. Early in his career he accepted as a given the generally accepted view that religion was declining in importance as modernization advanced—the secularization thesis—but he came later, after 1999, to argue that religious forces are as robust as they have ever been. He now believes that the simplistic dichotomy, religious versus secular, does not explain the many intersections and he is presenting what he terms a new paradigm. In this conversation with Katherine Marshall—which draws also on an April 2013 interview at the Berkley Center—Berger emphasizes that his new theory has major implications for understanding religious phenomena in modern societies, including religious freedom, and especially for government policies that affect relationships between religious institutions and the state. He describes his personal trajectory in coming to understand pluralism and its interactions with modernity. This includes his experience working in South Africa and Mexico, research on Pentecostals, and cooperation with Samuel Huntington.

In the decade I have known you, religious pluralism has been a recurring melody in your presentations. What is the new dimension that your paradigm, highlighted in Many Altars of Modernity (published in September 2014), brings?

Albert Einstein could express his theory in one formula. It is more difficult to do that for my theory in a simple sentence that distills its complexity. However, the essential is that contrary to what the pope says, we live in a religious age. Charles Taylor wrote a large volume on the topic, A Secular Age. But that too is wrong. The fact that the two are both true and false, and that we live in a pluralist age, has enormous implications.

There are two central realities that I have spoken and written about for a long time—that in the modern world pluralism is a common feature, and that religion is, contrary to many assumptions about its demise, alive and well. Most of the world is fiercely religious. What is new is to take as a fundamental fact that we actually live in a secular as well as a religious world, and the two coexist and interact in many ways. Understanding the intersections is essential.

I must start by making clear that my theory is in no way linked to my religious beliefs. I am a bad Lutheran and a modern person. My insights that led to the new paradigm came particularly during the time I spent in central Texas, teaching at Baylor University. I interacted with many including petroleum engineers, who could not be much more modern. But they were also intensely religious. They were able to balance their modern personas and their religious commitment, in compartments, side by side.

Thus pluralism is not only a question of diverse denominations and religious traditions occupying the same space but a pluralism of mind and practice involving religious and the secular. This pluralism has implications for people, for churches (meaning religious institutions broadly), and for the state.

Can you describe those implications briefly?

I have written before about how modern pluralism affects the individual. The plethora of religious choices makes it inescapable that religion is not destiny but a choice. In the modern world religious adherence is at the core an act of individual decision.

For churches, which I have also written about before, the proliferation of different religious choices means that churches are in competition. Pluralism goes with religious freedom, and where that exists there has been an explosive multiplication of denominations (which is an American term) that must live in civic peace. Rodney Stark wrote about this aspect of the supply side as a part of his work on American democracy; it makes the American democracy unusual. Pluralism plus religious freedom contributes to a situation that is reasonable to call a market.

For the state, in the U.S. the state is under the obligation by law to protect religious freedom as a matter of foreign policy. I don’t know if that is good or bad, but I tend to think that it is a bad idea.

How does your new thinking affect your view of American policies on religious freedom?

In my view Rabbi Saperstein [Ambassador for Religious Freedom in the U.S. State Department] will have his work cut out for him in implementing the policies that are mandated for the American government. These seem to center on a process, involving both the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and the ambassador for religious freedom, where “countries of concern” are designated. But it is not clear what a country, say Switzerland, needs to do to not be a country of concern. That is an interesting question. It opens the U.S. up to an appearance of arrogance, in making those judgments about all countries. How should the judgment be understood? Where are the limits?

Another problem is that the U.S. model of separation of church and state that is behind the policy is not universally accepted. There are many different forms of interaction between the state and religious institutions that in practice support religious freedom. What about the U.K., where bishops sit in the House of Lords, the queen is Defender of Faith, and the Anglican church has various privileges? Is Russia a country of concern, with the complicated role of the Orthodox Church?

Thus the political implications of religious freedom are complex. My own view is that the best approach is that the government approaches religion from a neutral stance. That is most likely to succeed. The approaches of the U.S., U.K., Germany, and France are very different but U.S. policy need not be concerned about the differences. In most cases diplomacy should be adequate to deal with “concerns,” even in a case like the persecution of the Baha’is. What we need is a foreign policy based on the principle of “do no harm,” a form of Hippocratic Oath. In policies aimed at promoting religious freedom it is important to ensure that the approach and actions at the very least do no harm. The American constitution gets it essentially right; a religiously neutral state with some form of freedom of religion is the most efficient way of handling the question of religious freedom.

How do you see religious freedom in relation to human rights?

Religious freedom and human rights are empirically tied together—freedom of belief and freedom of expression. It is artificial to try to divide or to order them. Religious freedom is essentially about human freedom.

What about a case that seems to pit the human right of freedom of speech against the human right pointing to respect for religious beliefs (the Charlie Hebdo case)?

I had never heard of the publication and what I have seen seems tasteless. But freedom of speech is essential and government interference is not helpful. It is obviously not good for a harmonious society if you persecute people. It produces nothing but discord.

You speak of “formulas of peace.” As I understand it, there’s some kinship to the notion of “political settlements,” thus the ways in which the elites within societies find ways to accommodate both differing views and the realities of external circumstances. Is that your understanding?

“Formulas of peace” is about the ways in which states work out such relationships, thus the political management of pluralism. The formula that ended the 30 Days War is an example. Before that the de facto notion was a territorial pluralism, Cuius regio, eius religio. The ruler decided the religion of the people. If you are Catholic, you go there, and if you are
Protestant, you go elsewhere. The implication was, we’re not going to try to kill you, we’re not going to try to convert you, but if you don’t agree, you leave. This was an improvement over being killed or forcibly converted, but it would be very hard to do today, though some have tried. The Peace of Westphalia ended this notion that an individual’s religion was tied to that of the ruler. There was a territorial separation of church and state. Confucianism had a kind of pluralism, which was tolerated, that could also be called a formula of peace, as could the Ottoman millet system.

How have you come to your current understanding of “the many altars of modernity”?

Looking back to the insights of Margaret Meade, we have long understood that an infant’s interactions with others lead to a form of primeval pluralism, where other individuals congeal in the child’s mind into what Meade called a generalized other. Thus in the basic constitution of human beings there is a pluralism. It’s a universal, an ethnological constant. It must always have been the case. As the child grows up, they must deal with an enormous number of different individuals with cognitive assumptions and norms. Some situations are more complex than others and complexity is a feature of modernization. There are thus countless situations of relative pluralism and today in much of the world, the numbers of interactions are high and increasing. Thus there has always been pluralism, but today it is much more complicated and much more global.

But the world is also ferociously secular, and many parts of modern life, for almost everyone, even individuals and communities that are highly religious, life involves substantial engagement with those secular dimensions of life. The deeply committed Catholic brain surgeon is an example; when he operates he operates in an entirely secular paradigm.

That presents dilemmas for governments. The solutions they reach to handle the two realities differ but must address this duality, of the secular and the religious. I believe that the best solution is one where the state is neutral, and that should be the essential principle of religious freedom. It is important to follow the principle of “d
o no harm,” a form of the Hippocratic Oath.

Where you have problems is when the state tries to control or to use religion. This has ancient as well as modern precedents. Gibbon, in his book on the decline of the Roman Empire, famously commented that “the common people thought that all religions were equally true, the philosophers that all religions were equally false, and the magistrates that they were all equally useful.”

That is rather true for China as well as the Roman state. For much of the time rulers did not care what you believed, as long as you participated in the cult of the emperor and didn’t break the law. The problems come when rulers and governments try to use or to control religion.

You are invoked often as having converted from the classical secularization theory to an appreciation of the importance of religion. Did you have an “aha” moment when you saw this change coming or did the change of mind come more progressively?

My thinking about this topic as a sociologist has nothing to do with my religious beliefs. They have hardly changed since I was a young man; I’m a theological and liberal Lutheran. But my view of modernity has changed considerably. Was there an “aha” moment? No. It was gradual. It took me close to twenty years to conclude that the secularization theory doesn’t work. Among the experiences that shook my initial understanding were research on and encounters with Pentecostalism and observing the counter culture emerge in America. This new age culture smelled religious to me, and it was religious, in the midst of the secular West.

Where did you first meet the Pentecostal movement?

I first met it in New York when I did my master’s thesis for the New School. I was looking for a topic, and was interested in religion. I met a Protestant minister who suggested that I look into Protestant Puerto Ricans. Puerto Ricans were coming in masses to New York, and, while many thought they were all Catholic, in fact they were not. There are quite a few Protestants. The minister suggested that somebody should look into this. So I tried and found virtually no material about the phenomenon beyond a couple of useless newspaper articles.

For my master’s thesis, I interviewed many people, at first wasting a lot of time. I first interviewed a bunch of Catholic priests. Not one of them was Puerto Rican or dealt with Puerto Rican immigrants in Spanish services. I then interviewed mainline Protestant ministers. I realized about halfway through the research that this was really not where the action was—the action was Pentecostal and I had no guide to interview. So it became very anthropological. I hung around a main area of East Harlem at night, when the services were, and I went from one storefront church to another. I learned Spanish in the process. I interviewed some of the preachers and some of the people. I was struck that I could not understand much of the background, as it was new, but it was clear that the communities were strong. Much later, with [scholar] David Martin, I began to realize that this is really a highly significant phenomenon. When we started the research center in Boston, we started out subsidizing Martin’s work in Latin America.

How did you come to be involved in Mexico?

We always tried to get away from New York in the unbearable summers. I was invited by a Catholic institution to give a lecture in Mexico and we rented a house there with a swimming pool, very cheap at the time. I got a telephone call, out of the blue. A voice said, “I am Ivan Illich. You probably do not know who I am.” I did know who he was, as I had read his book about the de-schooling system in society. And he uttered a deadly sentence, “We need you at CEDOC [the name of his institute].” I agreed to give some seminars there and as a result we went to Mexico for four wonderful summers.

That was my first experience with underdevelopment. It came as a shock as I’d never seen such poverty before, real, third world poverty. I became intellectually interested. First of all, why the poverty and can one do something about it? I got interested on moral grounds but also intellectually. What is happening with modernization? What is it? We ended up, Illich and I, thinking of writing a book together, with my wife part of that conspiracy. The idea turned out to be impossible, because his views were totally different from ours. Illich was for a while the darling of the left. People thought he was progressive, but he really was not at all. He disliked modernity and was a very, very conservative person. As that became increasingly clear, we could not deal with it. We remained friendly but could not work together.

How did you become involved in South Africa?

South Africa came considerably later. I travelled in Africa, and then Asia, first in the late 1970s. That’s when I began to understand capitalism, visiting Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan. While I was never politically on the left and I always thought Marxism didn’t make much sense, my experience had been limited to Latin America. My views were very even-handed between socialism and capitalism—both can be good and both can be bad. But I concluded after visiting Asia that in terms of economic development there’s no real competition. So the question became not, “Do you want socialism or capitalism,” but “What kind of capitalism connected with what social and political policies”?

I had traveled a bit in Africa before, through an Austrian project, with one leg in Senegal and one leg in Tanzania. In 1985, quite serendipitously, I got a telephone call from Johannesburg, from a man who became a friend, a white South African, Bobby Godsell. He was a very religious man, a Protestant, and was at that time director of labor relations for the Anglo-American Corporation. He was very much anti-apartheid and had singlehandedly financed the nonviolent part of the anti-apartheid movement. Harry Oppenheimer, who had wealth and supported the transition from apartheid, had the idea of setting up an international commission on South Africa beyond apartheid and wanted me to be chairman of that commission. I responded that I had never been to South Africa and knew nothing about it. That, he responded, was why they wanted me as chairman; it was the first time in my career that I was offered a position on the basis of proven ignorance. I went and became almost obsessed with South Africa; the beauty coupled with the ugliness of the system was intellectually fascinating. I’ve been involved with South Africa ever since, though less recently than during the intense period of the 1980s.

We came out with a book published in South Africa in 1988 called Africa Beyond Apartheid. It was hardly read in the U.S. but was a bestseller in South Africa. But after a year it was obsolete as everything in South Africa changed; 1988 was when the first contact took place between the government and the ANC.

How did you see the role of religious institutions, ideas, people, leaders, over the transition from apartheid in South Africa? Did the commission address religion?

We had to. What was interesting about South Africa at the time was that you had the equivalent of a civil war and religion was involved intensively on both sides. The English-speaking churches of whatever skin color were overwhelmingly anti-apartheid, at least in rhetoric and in some in fact, for example, Bishop Tutu. Monolithically on the other side the opposite was true. And then that monolith broke up, which was a very significant development. After apartheid was established, the official position of the Dutch Reform Church was, that’s God’s will, and on biblical grounds, races should not mix. Then the position changed, so that the church no longer said that apartheid was biblically mandated. When I first was there (1986-87) the position was that apartheid was a sin. That change was politically very important. I have a doctoral student in Boston, a Dutch woman who in fact had never been to South Africa, who’s working on that question, using material that is now available—minutes of the reform center, individual biographies, correspondence, etc. All the actors went to church services every Sunday and they were all religious in some way. So how did that change in the church influence the thinking of the government? I don’t know, but I’d like to.

What about the black churches?

It differs. No black churches were in favor of apartheid, obviously, but the ones that were more active were more middle class, like the Anglicans and Tutu. I don’t think Pentecostals played that kind of role, partly because they didn’t have the means and they didn’t speak English. The mainline Protestant churches and the Catholic Church were very much opposed to apartheid.

How did international religious links influence thinking or action in South Africa—radio broadcasts, distribution of sermons, for example?

I have not done a systematic study, but I would say that the English-speaking churches, Bishop Tutu being a prototypical and important case, were significant not in changing anybody’s views in South Africa, but did influence public opinion in Europe and the United States. The Dutch Reform Church is a big question mark. I think the church’s move away from opposition must have influenced the government. It’s very moving in retrospect. As part of a study I interviewed a lot of people. One was a theology professor, Johan Adam Heyns, at the University of Pretoria (an Afrikaans university), an impressive man. He was president of the synod when it declared that apartheid was a sin. He had studied theology in Europe—he was a student of Karl Barth. Bobby Godsell and I interviewed him. His explanation was very theological, and he concluded that apartheid was sinful. He was assassinated a few weeks after the interview, in the room where we interviewed him, by an Afrikaans nationalist, as a traitor to his people.

How did you start working on Pentecostalism in South Africa?

We started out with Latin America. I basically followed David Martin’s work, as he went to Asia somewhere, Africa, then Eastern Europe. He taught for a while at a Pentecostal seminary in Romania. South Africa was natural because I had a lot to do with South Africa and I knew Ann Bernstein there. She is totally secular, but became fascinated with the Pentecostals. She argued that we have to take them seriously, as social capital. The data we had highlighted the entrepreneurial spirit among Pentecostals. We compared black, white Pentecostals and Indian Pentecostals with non-Pentecostals. The results were impressive. The African Pentecostals were remarkably optimistic—"The future’s going to be better and we’re going to help shape it because God is on our side."

How was the proselytizing work of the Pentecostals viewed?

The big explosion of Pentecostalism was originally centered in the United States, in the Azusa Street church, in 1906. As the movement grew they sent out missionaries, including to South Africa. And pretty soon they didn’t need missionaries because African preachers appeared. That was paralleled elsewhere—Latin America, Asia, South India, Philippines. It’s an incredible story. Most of Pentecostalism is a subcategory of Evangelicalism. There is Catholic Pentecostalism, but basically, you have a large evangelical community globally, and Pentecostalism is the most dynamic center within it.

Evangelicals are not going to be dissuaded from proselytizing—it’s part of their central faith. How that is viewed is different in different parts of the world. It’s an acute problem in Latin America because the Catholic Church is extremely upset by what’s happening. They’re now a little less frightened of it, but it is still a real clash. It’s an impossible problem in the Muslim world because they can’t tolerate any kind of proselytizing. There is a fundamental problem, except in Indonesia, with accepting religious pluralism. In Africa it’s less of a problem as there is a very pluralistic situation. It is a problem in police states which are worried about anything that could be a rival to the state, China being the prime example. Russia is very interesting because the Orthodox Church is becoming almost the state church, not quite. It’s a varied picture.

How do the Pentecostal churches see issues around women’s roles?

David Martin, Bernice Martin—and, even more, Bernice, his wife, who is also a sociologist—have worked on those issues. They see Pentecostalism as basically emancipatory and I agree. The preachers tend to be men and women are expected to be silent in the congregation. But they are there, they are educated, they raise the children, and they “domesticate their men.” That’s Martin’s phrase. Some interviews I’ve seen are almost funny because they don’t use that language, but the attitude of many women seems to be, “Oh, let them strut around on Sunday morning, but we really run the show.” In terms of literacy, what happens with children, and social mobility, that’s what counts.

Do you see echoes of the Pentecostal phenomenon in other traditions?

Larry Harrison has just come out with a book called Jews, Confucians, and Protestants: Cultural Capital and the End of Multiculturalism. It’s a little oversimplified, but he has a point; different religious traditions have different relationships to economic behavior. Take the Protestant-Catholic thing. Weber thought Catholicism was basically anti-entrepreneurial. Compared to Protestantism, say in the seventeenth, eighteenth century, yes, but there are some interesting exceptions. We did one study of a fascinating exception—Opus Dei, which is about as theologically conservative as you can be. But they concluded at some point that the way to go was the market economy. They had three or four ministers in Franco’s last cabinet, and when Franco was still alive they changed the economic policy of the Spanish state, which became open to foreign trade and liberalization. They wanted Spain to be a market economy but not a democracy. The ethic of Opus Dei looks very much like that of Protestants—frugal, disciplined, and entrepreneurial. They started the first business schools in Spain in Barcelona and Pamplona. So Catholicism is not intrinsically non-entrepreneurial and non-capitalist. Bavaria, the most Catholic state in Germany, is also very dynamic economically. You can say the same about segments of Islam. In short, the picture is varied.

What do you see as the policy implications of the pluralism and diversity that you describe? Why does it matter and what should you do about it?

Usually when that question is asked, what people have in mind is how can religion contribute to good social policy in terms of education, health, and general social welfare, which is fine. But I think the basic question is the Weberian question. What religiously legitimate morality contributes to economic production? Larry Harrison, who’s been obsessed with this question, is right; different traditions are different.

As to general advice one might give, whether to a national organization or to the government, don’t kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. For example it is important to ensure that an action aimed at encouraging protection of any group does not result in broader disincentives within the system.

I had a conversation in South Africa with a group of black academics during one of my visits after the apartheid system broke up, after Mandela became president. They were complaining that the whites controlled the economy, that this was unfair, and that there must be more blacks in positions of power. I said, “Sure, there should be more blacks who reach that level of society, but right now, the main thing you have to think about is how can you make use of the whites who control the economy. There are very few blacks who can do that right now. Maybe in 20 years, with more education there will be. Instead of looking at these people as the undeserving beneficiaries of the old system, look upon them as an economic asset.” They weren’t persuaded, but in effect, that’s what’s happening. There are more and more blacks in the corporate hierarchies, partly because of government action but also because more education opens new kinds of jobs. But in terms of economic savvy, it’s still mostly whites who run the show. That’s fine, as long as the others aren’t kept out and as long as education moves blacks into these positions. Don’t kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. Apparently now the emigration of white, young South Africans is increasing because they feel they have no future there. That is extremely bad for the country.

What else might be “killing the goose that lays golden eggs?”

Negative treatment of groups is literally killing the goose, for example anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe. There are very few Jews left, so that’s not an immediate issue. But the Chinese in Southeast Asia, who are an economic engine, suffered from such resentment. That’s a classic case of killing the goose that lays the golden egg. Malaysia has discriminated against the Chinese; Indonesia has not, although there’s hostility. Singapore’s big achievement is the government simply doesn’t recognize race.

How has Singapore dealt with religion?

How they’ve dealt with religion is hilarious. When Lee Kuan Yew was in charge, every time he had a sleepless night, the next morning the government came out with a program. Lee Kuan Yew had an idea—“We’ve done very well in Singapore. Economically, we’re very successful. It’s an orderly society, with little corruption because the right people are in charge, but what about superior moral values—we’ve neglected those.” So they had a government program (I think they still have it except it’s changed its character) to instill religious values—morally, religiously defined moral values—into the school curriculum. There are different religions in Singapore, so they started with Islam for Malays, Confucianism for the Chinese, Hinduism, Christianity, and perhaps Buddhism. They thought the Chinese would need Confucianism. However, the kids mostly didn’t speak Chinese anymore—they spoke English—and they had no Confucian scholars. So they imported them from the United States. Tu Weiming, who now lives in China, but was a professor at Harvard, was one. They sent them over to construct the Confucian curriculum in English for these kids. The problem was that most of the Chinese parents didn’t want Confucian curriculum; they wanted the Christian curriculum. The whole thing was a kind of fiasco. I think they now have a sort of general religious knowledge program in schools. Government programs to instill religious values, unless you do it in a police state—which Singapore was close to, but not quite—don’t work very well.

If you were trying to construct a program for policymakers with a gap in religious knowledge, where would you start? What do they need to know?

General knowledge about religion and society is what you’d want to propagate, and that’s not difficult to construct. Take the major religious traditions, look how they affect various things, whether it’s tolerance, role of women, democracy. Just make them knowledgeable about what is out there.

What books would you suggest they read?

I would begin with Weber’s comparative approach to religion in terms of its economic consequences. It was a grandiose project which he never finished, as he died quite young. And he was wrong on a number of things, especially about Confucianism. But the basic questions he asked are the right questions.

Weber is interesting even when he was wrong. He died in 1920—how could he have foreseen Singapore or Taiwan? He had imperial China in mind. He was very learned. He didn’t know Chinese, but he read experts on China. He saw Confucian ethics as the opposite of the Protestant ethic. Economic activity was looked down upon. The perfect gentleman was a scholar who read the classics and learned such useful arts as painting dragons on red silk. He wouldn’t dirty his hands with running a business. Robert Bellah coined a nice term, bourgeois Confucianism. But Weber didn’t understand what happens with Chinese laundries in the United States or Chinese peddlers in Manila. So, he was wrong but you see that he asked the right questions.

You can take the Protestant ethic as he described it, break it down into its constituent parts in terms of behavior, and then you ask where else that kind of ethic is operative. Opus Dei, for example. Or some Muslim organizations in Indonesia. That’s a useful way of looking at it. It’s not Protestants against others, but the features of the ethic.

That suggests a question about what is religion, what’s culture, and what’s ethics. The Chinese laundries—do you think there’s Confucianism there?

I’m no sinologist, but sinologists have told me that Confucianism is the tip of the iceberg and that below that very erudite stratum of basically intellectuals, there is a Chinese folk religion that is very pragmatic and very oriented to wealth generation. That’s where the peddlers in Manila come from. Many of them are, or at least were, illiterate. They’ve never read a book. Are they Confucian? Not really. But probably no less so than a New England sea captain in the seventeenth century was Calvinist. There was an ethic that has a base in the broad population and you have these intellectual sublimations of it.

It sounds rather hard to decipher.

In most of the world, culture and religion can’t be taken apart. Why should you take it apart, unless you wanted to change the culture?

What would be your next book after Weber?

I would have people read Harrison. They can quarrel with him here and there, but he asks the right question—why have Jews been so successful economically as soon as they come out of the ghetto? How do you explain the Chinese in Manila or New York?

How do you relate your new paradigm of modern pluralism to Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations? You co-edited a book on the impact of culture. Where did you agree and where did you not agree?

As a concept the idea that many conflicts have roots in culture and religion is fairly applicable. But as a broad theory it is not very persuasive. Where it is most applicable is for Islam. But in reality ideas and practice interact and interplay. Take the influence of Max Weber. There are relevant lessons from the Goethe novel, Elective Affinities, about how political development and religion interact. Look at Catholicism and the Protestant reformation. It all began with a neurotic monk struggling with his God, and ended up tearing Europe in half. Ideas are very powerful but so are human appetites and powerful interests. In Germany, the biggest landlords were the monasteries, and the princes had their eyes on them. Religion gave them an excuse to grab the land. It was very much a dialectic process.

Huntington gave an interview not long before his death, I think in the Atlantic. He was asked, do you still believe in your theory? Yes, he answered, but we should do everything possible to avoid it.

I collaborated with Sam Huntington on one project, about culture and globalization.
The basis of our collaboration was that both of us insisted that the culture was a significant factor in global development. We had difficulties working together, however, and as our joint project did not give much support to his notion of a clash of civilizations, he was not very happy about it. He did not like the outcome, and almost jumped off.

What was the argument with Huntington about?

Most of the papers from different parts of the world showed not a clash of civilizations but synthesis of one sort or another. The one part of the world where his thesis was most plausible was, of course, the Muslim world, and even there you can criticize it. There’s a wonderful chapter on India, by Tulasi Srinivas, who did her doctorate with me. She knows whereof she speaks because she comes from Bangalore and her husband’s a computer engineer. She describes a mind-blowing scene—an annual Hindu festival where artisans worship their tools, because human creativity is a reflection of the creativity of the gods. So they put garlands around whatever they use, a little incense and so forth (for example, a hammer). In Bangalore, the engineers do this with the computers; they worship the computers. It’s a wonderful image. That’s not clash of civilizations. It’s a Hindu form of modernity. Srinivas used the term “counter-emissions.” Yes, there is this Western wave of cultural influence sweeping the world, most of it American in content. A lot of Asian cultural stuff, much of it religious, infiltrated Europe and North America. So it’s not a one-way street. The picture that emerges is much more complicated than Huntington had in mind.
The West is powerful but so is Asia. There are East to West influences. Colin Campbell has written about the Easternization of the West, seen in phenomena like meditation, belief in reincarnation, and other new age ideas. Despite the unhappiness, we agreed to have both our names on the book.

What is the most interesting research work you are seeing these days?

In my work at Baylor University in Texas, much has to do with the evangelical community. I taught a mini-course last semester and the best student was a Catholic woman. She went to Baylor because they’re lavish in their stipends for graduate students and treat them like emperors. Being a Catholic, she was almost like an anthropologist reporting on a savage tribe. She shared an apartment with three women who were fervent Texas Baptists who belonged to a virginity club. She described their virginity promise. And they have weekends where they go with their fathers—interesting, not their mothers, their fathers—and promise to be virgins until marriage. Fascinating stuff. This was a new world to me, and I find that very interesting.

Which disciplines are you drawing on?

Sociology, history, anthropology, political science—I don’t care what people’s disciplines are if they have done something that’s worth looking at. I’ve realized I can’t deal with most of these problems without finding people who are from other disciplines. I met very casually a German historian at the University of Münster, who has written an interesting book on the Holy Roman Empire and its ideology. She has one of those double names. A grievance I have against feminism is it’s difficult enough to remember one name, now I have to remember two. She does sociology of knowledge without using the term. What was interesting about the Holy Roman Empire was it was never a state, it was an idea. But they had these imperial diets where important things happened.

What are your plans for spreading the messages of your new book?

The new book was published in September, and there will be a series of lectures in Germany. The first week in June I have been invited to give the keynote address at the large Protestant gathering, the Deutscher Evangelischer Kirchentag. It is held every two years and some 200,000 people attend. It will be in Stuttgart this year and should be interesting, as Germany tends to see pluralism as a danger. We plan an April conference at Boston University that will include a public session where the media will be invited. Jonathan Imber, who is at Wellesley, may edit the book. Then there are conferences planned in Berlin, supported by Bertlesman, and at the Berkley Center at Georgetown in the fall. As part of one project we plan a program for undergraduates, run by Veritas, which is a sort of evangelical underground in the elite universities. Beyond that, I know that making plans is a recipe for making God laugh!

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