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Sociology and the Sacred

Sociology and the Sacred: An Introduction to Philip Rieff's Theory of Culture

Antonius A. W. Zondervan
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 240
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    Sociology and the Sacred
    Book Description:

    The acclaimed American sociologist and cultural philosopher Philip Rieff gained great academic prestige with his thesis on the emergence of 'Psychological Man' in western culture and with his classic book,Freud: The Mind of the Moralist, published in 1959. In this work and the laterThe Triumph of the Therapeutic(1966) he not only offered a highly original interpretation of the work of Sigmund Freud, but critically evaluated the enormous influence of psychotherapeutic thinking on Western culture. However, Rieff's later work on the theory of culture did not garner the same attention, and his most recent writings have received very little critical engagement. InSociology and the Sacred, Antonius A.W. Zondervan sets out to remedy this neglect, arguing that Rieff's work is ripe for intellectual reconsideration.

    Zondervan begins by presenting an outline of Rieff's entire body of work, focussing on his theory of culture, and explaining how the sacred is a key notion, pivotal to the overall understanding of Rieff's work. The author argues that the present upsurge in religion, in many varieties throughout the world, cannot be explained by the classical secularization-thesis, making Rieff's theory of sacred order in culture an essential contribution to a new social theory of religion.

    Including material from personal interviews with Rieff that enabled Zondervan to clarify important aspects of his work,Sociology and the Sacredis an essential contribution to the understanding of contemporary culture's maintenance of its ties to religion.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8005-0
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-11)

    With these passionate words delivered well over a hundred years ago Nietzsche announced the death of God. Furthermore, this announcement was assumed to imply the end of religion itself in Western culture; however, that assumption proves to be mistaken. Indeed, we are witnessing a resurgence of religion, in various forms, throughout the entire world. This ‘desecularization of the world,’ as Peter L. Berger puts it,² has led to vehement criticism of the secularization thesis in the social sciences, philosophy, and theology. We are in need of an adequate theory of new forms of religion, and we must therefore examine anew...

  5. 1 A Bird’s-Eye View of Rieff’s Life and Work
    (pp. 12-24)

    In 1921 Rieff ’s parents crossed the Atlantic on the steamerEuropa.¹ They were Lithuanian-Jewish emigrants about to try their luck in the New World. Their son Philip was born in December 1922 in Chicago, about a year after his parents moved to that city. He grew up in a poor neighbourhood, where his father worked as a butcher. Rieff ’s parents took their young son to the synagogue regularly, where he underwent the Bar Mitzvah ritual. For the service he had had to learn the Hebrew liturgy by heart, although its meaning was not explained to him. When out...

  6. 2 Rieff’s Reading of Freudian Metapsychology
    (pp. 25-42)

    Psychoanalysis was the first real psychological discipline, says Rieff, and its founder, of course, was the Viennese neurologist and psychiatrist Sigmund Freud (1856– 1939). Freud’s theory and technique fostered a vast propagation of psychology. Psychological modes of approaching problems became increasingly widespread in twentieth-century Western culture. Therefore, a cultural theory of modernity must necessarily assess the meaning of psychoanalysis to Western culture. That is Rieff ’s aim inFreud: The Mind of the Moralist. He shows that psychoanalysis can be interpreted as a philosophy of culture that became an influential cultural factor itself. To see and understand this we must...

  7. 3 The Emergence of Psychological Man in Western Culture
    (pp. 43-66)

    Rieff acquired great academic prestige with his theory of the emergence of psychological man in Western culture. About the theoretical goal he wanted to attain he wrote this: ‘I have tried to say something about the consequences of psychological man for Western society – but not everything, for I do not consider the advance of the social sciences toward a theory of culture yet sure enough to convey such an attempt. Nevertheless my assessment of these consequences has led me nearer the task of helping to develop an adequate sociological theory of culture ... that theoretical problem which I consider the...

  8. 4 Blueprint for a Theory of Culture
    (pp. 67-89)

    So far I have described the fundamental concepts of Rieff ’s theory of culture – the psychohistoric model, the character-ideal, the dialectic between the cultural and the social order, and the dialactic between the individual and the community and/or social order – and their relation to psychoanalysis. In this chapter I shall describe how Rieff refines this cultural theory in his bookThe Triumph of the Therapeutic: Uses of Faith after Freud.

    InTriumph, Rieff develops a critical analysis of modernity from perspectives that are based on premodern cultural dynamics. A typical feature of Rieff ’s method is to use existing concepts,...

  9. 5 The Limits of Modernity
    (pp. 90-118)

    The status of the sacred is a key question for a sociological theory of culture, because it refers to the central dynamic of culture. Despite attempts to revive a religious outlook on life, late-modern culture cuts itself off from the sacred, says Rieff. The sacred cannot be conceived of with theories that focus too one-sidedly on (the expression of) human desire. According to Rieff, the sacred reveals itself primarily in the authoritative mode. Therefore the problem of the sacred refers to the problem of authority.

    The problem of authority is the problem of curbing human desire, of limiting human possibilities....

  10. 6 Late Modernity as Second Culture Camp
    (pp. 119-139)

    In the publications of his later period, Philip Rieff expands his theory of the cultural significance of authority into a theory of sacred order. In the earlier works, Rieff tended to focus on cultural discontinuity caused by cultural modernization. In a later article, ‘By What Authority?’ (1981), he suggests that we ‘may be at the end of modernist inversions of sacred order.’¹ In the later works Rieff adds a second line of thought, in trying to envision cultural continuity. An ambivalent tension between thinking in terms of cultural discontinuity and continuity characterizes this later work. Rieff also tries to retrieve...

  11. 7 Rieff: Prophet of a Post-secular Culture
    (pp. 140-166)

    Philip Rieff was stigmatized as a very conservative thinker. Apart from the question whether he really is the conservative and cultural pessimist he is said to be,¹ I find it more relevant to investigate his theoretical message. Rieff contributes to the ‘massive amount of work that remains to be done if we are to get anywhere near a satisfactory understanding of the tumultuous sociocultural processes’² that exploded in the twentieth century. In this concluding chapter I will first summarize the three major concepts that emerged in my reading of Rieff ’s work. After that I will evaluate Rieff ’s work...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 167-194)
  13. References
    (pp. 195-202)
  14. Index
    (pp. 203-207)