Clifford Geertz, Mary Douglas, Victor Turner, Robert Bellah, Peter Berger, and Erik Erikson offer a distinctively contemporary social scientific approach to religion. Yet the differences among them are as important as the similarities. While all six maintain that religion serves to make sense of life, they differ sharply over the form sense takes and over how sense is forged. The cases of Geertz and Berger illustrate these differences. Moreover, the views of the six have themselves changed, as again the cases of Geertz and Berger illustrate. Earlier Geertz is concerned most with the effect of religion on society; later Geertz, with its effect on the individual. Earlier Geertz “explains” religion; later Geertz “interprets” it. Earlier Berger disapproves of both the effect of religion and the justification offered for religion; later Berger approves of both. Earlier Berger argues that the social sciences cannot assess the truth of religion; later Berger, that they can.
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