Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

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(1927-) Sociologist born in Slovenia, his sociological education took place partly in Europe (at the Universities of Vienna and Innsbruck) and partly in North America (at the New School for Social Research in New York); he has, in addition, honorary doctorates from the Universities of Linköping (Sweden) and Ljubljana (Slovenia). His teaching career has been equally international, with spells in New York State, Frankfurt, Constance, New York, Harvard, and as a fellow at Stanford and at Wollongong (Australia). Thomas Luckmann is a major figure in the postwar development of the social sciences; his influence is by no means confined to the aspects of social science that relate to religion. On the contrary, his name has been associated with major theoretical and methodological developments in both philosophy and sociology.

The Invisible Religion (Macmillan 1967, original title Das problem der Religion , 1963), Luckmann's first major publication—although it appeared in English after Luckmann's joint work with Peter Berger, The Social Construction of Reality (Doubleday 1966), leading to some misunderstandings with respect to the development of his ideas—has become a milestone in sociological thinking. As a systematic treatise in the sociology of knowledge, it is a key text within the subjectivist approach to sociology—a form of sociology in which human beings are not merely acted upon by social facts or social forces but are themselves constantly involved in the shaping and creating of social worlds as they interact with other human beings. Social order exists; it is, however, constructed from below, not imposed from above. The methodological implications follow. If we are to study human processes from a subjective point of view, appropriate methodologies must be put in place that enable the nuances of meaning to emerge. Positivist techniques are unlikely to suffice.

Luckmann's relationship to his former teacher Alfred Schutz (already evident in the Berger and Luckmann text) requires further elaboration. In the preface to the first volume of The Structures of the Life World (Northwestern University Press 1973:xii)—published under the names of Schutz and Luckmann—Luckmann explains the genesis of the book:

The completion of the Strukturen der Lebenswelt combined the difficulties of the posthumous editing of the manuscripts of a great teacher by his student with the problems of collaboration between two unequal authors: one dead, the other living; one looking back at the results of many years of singularly concentrated efforts devoted to the resolution of the problems that were to be dealt with in the book, the other the beneficiary of these efforts; one a master, always ready to revise his analyses but now incapable of doing so, the other a pupil, hesitant to revise what the master had written but forced by the exigencies of the analyses that he continued in the direction indicated by the master to go back, occasionally, to the beginning.

The basic problematic of the book concerns the methodological foundations of the social sciences, bringing together Schutz's formation as both philosopher and social scientist. Schutz sought to analyze the structures of everyday life, uncovering those elementary structures that "provide the foundation of social experience, language, and social action, and thus of the complete historical world of human life" (p. xv). Luckmann's preface continues by indicating his own variations from Schutz's original outline; it concludes by announcing the imminent publication of a second volume. This did not in fact appear for more than a decade (1984 in German; 1989 in English, Northwestern University Press).

The themes of this joint work are developed in Life World and Social Realities (Heinemann 1983) in which Luckmann gathers together his own essays in social theory. These essays fall into two categories—phenomenological investigations and sociological analyses. There is, however, a common thread between them all (a motif that repeats itself in much of Luckmann's writing), that is, an attempt to minimize the cost of the separation of the new social sciences from the old philosophies. More specifically, Luckmann follows both Schutz and Gurvitch "in the conviction that an accurate phenomenological description of the lifeworld provides a foundation for the social sciences" (p. viii). Phenomenological description uncovers the universal and invariant structures of human existence at all times and in all places; one of these structures (a crucially important one) can be found in the forms of communication that are based on intersubjective production and interpretation of meaning.

In 1978, Luckmann edited a Penguin reader, Phenomenology and Sociology . In collecting this set of readings, Luckmann aims once again to elucidate the connections between the two disciplines and to reconcile two modes of human knowledge that have become separate in recent history. The influence of Weber, Husserl, Gurvitch, and, above all, Schutz can be seen clearly. Part One of the reader draws together all those who have illuminated the connections between phenomenology and sociology; Part Two is intended to be a small sample of work in progress within the perspective already outlined. A final edited text (together with James Beckford), The Changing Face of Religion (Sage 1989), assembles papers presented at the International Sociological Association in New Delhi in 1996, an appropriate enough place for a discussion of religious change that questions the assumptions of Western—at times triumphalist—thinking about secularization. Such a volume, moreover, brings the reader back to the social scientific study of religion per se. The collection is wide ranging and has two principal objectives: The first is to account for the changing meaning and form of religion in the modern world; the second is to discuss the challenge that changes in religion are continually presenting to social scientists. In so doing, the book invites questions that concern the discipline of sociology in general as well as the sociology of religion, an essential feature of Luckmann's work in this field. The study of religion necessarily involves the study of rapidly changing societies.

See also Invisible Religion

Grace Davie

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