Thomas Luckmann

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Thomas Luckmann (1927–2016) was a German sociologist who focused primarily on group phenomenology and religion. Born in Slovenia, he acquired his education both in Europe and the US. Despite his work with Peter Berger, he was not as widely known as him or his predecessor, Alfred Schütz. He taught in the University of Konstanz in Germany until his retirement. He focused primarily on the social construction of reality, riding on the premise that social life today is built entirely upon social interactions. All objective knowledge, and subjectively determined opinions are borne out of the widespread 'commonplace' belief. Essentially, it is an appeal to 'common sense', which is a concept that has a non-zero amount of truth to it (despite history telling us that it doesn't necessitate truth fundamentally).[1]

Social construction of reality[edit]

Luckmann co-wrote a well-known book with Berger about social constructs, where he described the nature of human interactions and how they shape the society around us. One fundamental premise of his work is that social constructs consist of not just knowledge about the world around us, but are also borne out of linguistic and meaningful knowledge that is widespread and distributed amongst the collective. After all, culture and religion is not hallmarked by individual belief, but rather the collective acceptance of certain ideals and meanings. One major emphasis, previously stated, is language. The collective acceptance of linguistic establishments and subsequent distribution of said language is a mutual agreement of a definition of the world around them. For instance, in a religion, the label of "God" has differed throughout the years, resulting in a change in the meaning of what it even entails of. While it originally may have meant a bearded man-like entity, nowadays depending on who you ask it could be something as wildly obtuse such as "God is everything" or "God is love". Nevertheless, it is the agreement of definitions to social and objective life that results in the collective social construction of reality.

One major function of language is the ability to form individual intersubjective viewpoints from subjective experience to objective story-telling. An individual's experience becomes a moralistic tale that is spread through generations, despite its frequency as a legitimately happening occurrence. It becomes an objectively recognizable story that one can easily refer to, understanding wholly the morals and meanings that come from it, and it becomes a foundation for further intersubjective belief. Such stories like these can be akin to religious stories, as further interpretations and tellings of the story can potentially warp the story to the point where it treads territory of the seemingly fabricated. However, the widespread-ness and fundamental meaning of said story effectively presents itself as true, and those who accept that meaning of it being true then treat it as such. As a result, religion isn't so much a fundamental basis of religious belief as recognizing it as a religion, but rather as an intersubjective acceptance of what is true and what isn't. Thus, 'religion' can be considered in tandem to other ideological beliefs such as cults of personality, conspiracy theory, or even potentially secular religions such as material culture and the culture industry. This is one reason why some people within a religion do not consider themselves to actually be 'in a religion'.[2]

The 'invisible' religion[edit]

One other major work from Luckmann is the analysis of ideology and concrete sets of belief within groups of individuals, something he coins as the 'invisible religion'. An invisible religion refers to the underlying sets of beliefs, cultural norms, and general social understandings that underlie our social construction of reality. In particular, the specific study of this definition of religion analyzes the anthropological aspects of human society and just how easy it is for a religion to develop, under the pretense that religion fundamentally exists within our society in shape and form. Within a system of meaning, individuals are able to construct their own private universes, superimposed by the existing societal definitions of reality, out of responses that they embody. They paradoxically establish their own interpretations of subjective meaning in a predisposed administered set of meaning.

It is through the development of these 'private universes' of individuals intersubjective experience that one is able to commit to religious understanding of their social life. In this context, religious understanding refers not to stereotypical religious belief, but rather instead the belief systems that encompass a person's life. In today's day and age, a religion that is fundamentally vital to our society for its continued function is the religion of capital and profit, prioritizing it over all other values. However, this also does not mean said other values do not exist. The importance in understanding this in its shape and form is exemplified by the conclusion that secularization of the church simply means that the church is formalized into a different version of itself, rather than dissolving it's purpose entirely. The church, in this context, becomes, for example, the stock market or the bank. It becomes the grocery store, the concert. They have a fundamentally similar function. These are institutions that instill a similar religious fervor as a church, yet embody 'secular' means. One wonders whether it is possible to even classify anything as 'secular' in the first place, given this context.

All of these religious ideals and ideologies are capable of existing due to the intersubjective meanings that are distributed within a society. The contradiction between an individualized definition of life using a collective structural baseline for their societal understanding is one that is accepted, and infused within one's own personality. In particular, this specific theory lends more credit to the individual's capability for action, whilst also acknowledging the ferocity of potential religious belief, whether it be directed at a deity or capital. That being said, all ideas from this work fundamentally stem back to the conception of a social construction of reality: an objective meaning that one acts within and acts against constantly and consistently. The general acceptance of words and their meaning's significance, unquestioned in their subjective conception, are what creates this 'invisible religion', one at which a set of predefined terms are necessarily accepted and perpetuated amongst a group, despite potentially having no rational basis. In this regard, it is highly questionable whether one can ever escape the general conception of religion as a whole.[3]