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In Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann's book The Social Construction of Reality (1966), the authors suggest that all human beings construct a shared social reality. This construction is called a sacred canopy (Kurtz, 2016). Religion and cultural traditions are outcomes of this construction, helping people to provide meaning and an explanation for why the world is like it is. Kurtz (2016, p.14) describes the sacred canopy’s role as “providing a sheltering fabric of security and answers for both the profound and the mundane questions of human life”. In this theory, religion is at the core of the world construction due to the fact that it defines what people hold sacred (Bartel, Sept. 8. 2016).

Berger proposes three basic elements in the construction of the sacred canopy: externalization, objectivation and internalization. Externalization is the current physical or mental flow of human beings into the world around them. In this stage it is believed that the world is shaped through human activity and thought (Kurtz, 2016). Externalization includes all material and cultural objects that change the way we approach and think about the world, examples being the star of David, mosques and sacred burial ground (Bartel, Sept. 8. 2016).

In the second stage of the construction process, objectivation, our creations become social facts external and separated from us (Kurtz, 2016). Furthermore, Kurtz (2016) claims that once human beings have created institutions like churches, universities or corporations, they appear to take a life on their own, becoming independent and sometimes working in contradiction to its creators. These social facts may lead to exclusion of certain people or groups, due to the fact that the more you normalize something, the easier it is to divide a line between “us” and “them” (Bartel, Sept. 8. 2016).

Finally, in the internalization stage of the sacred canopy, “we reappropriate the reality that has become objective and transform it from structures of the external world back into structures of our subjective consciousness” (Kurtz, 2016, p. 15). To put it another way, we internalize the outside world through socialization (Kurtz, 2016). An example of internalization is the concept of free primary education. We in the West have lost the concept of it not being something obvious and natural. By being in relation to other people, individuals accept their cultures sacred canopy (Kurtz, 2016). Berger claimed that each society creates a nomos, patterns that a society wants people to see as objectively right and that individuals internalize. The nomos is in other words an external thing that we have objectified and internalized (Bartel, Sept. 8. 2016). For the individual, the nomos becomes a meaningful tool for providing rules and norms for every situation in every social role (Kurtz, 2016). For people, the sacred canopy becomes a given and natural reality (Bartel, Sept. 8. 2016).

 

A critique of the sacred canopy theory, is its limitation in a multicultural society. Traditionally, religion was used in order to form a sacred canopy and nomos. In pluralistic societies like the US, the belief system to different groups is so diverse that it becomes difficult to describe a shared sacred canopy (Kurtz, 2016). The second issue concerning the sacred canopy that Kurtz (2016) brings up, is its presentation of an image that is too static. On the contrary, the canopy is in constant change, adapting to a dynamic society and culture.

Written by Camilla

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