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In Praise of Doubt: How to Have Convictions Without Becoming a Fanatic

3.64 of 5 stars 3.64  ·  rating details  ·  161 ratings  ·  29 reviews
We are stuck. Both as a culture and as individuals‚ we find it much easier to articulate what we are against and find ourselves at a loss for words when we need to articulate what we are for. Worldfamous sociologists Peter Berger and Anton Zijderveld team up to present a profound treatment of how we can have confidence in our convictionsin such ideals as democracy‚ human r ...more
Hardcover, 192 pages
Published August 4th 2009 by HarperOne (first published 2009)
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Jeff Williams
I waivered between a two and a three on this one. The authors present an interesting thought piece that only skims the surface of the problem around which the work is framed. As such, this should be seen as an idea-sparking work that will encourage some readers to seek more robust sources on this topic.

One of the main contributing factors to the lack of depth is the lack of empirical - or really any - analysis behind some of the major arguments that frame the discussion. For example, the mid-20
The last 2 chapters started to lose my interest dealing with political spheres, but overall I appreciated the discussion on doubt.

I resonate with the discussion about fundamentalism and the creation of subcultures -- the move from people 'joining' a group out of conversion to an idea vs. the next generation raised in the subculture. It brings me to that swinging pendulum theory where generations see the astounding characteristics which drew previous generations becomes weakened over time to less
James Krehbiel
This book was valuable reading. It confirmed my notion that doubt is a necessary virtue that leads us on a journey to find the truth wherever it may be found. The authors build a case for being able to uphold strong convictions without caving in to the need to make an insecure world seen secure. The troubles associate with fanaticism in politics and religion are clearly articulated for the readers. Great read for those who are thinkers in a philosophical way.
TheIron Paw
This books is on the border between sociology and philosophy, which is understandable as one author is a sociologist and the other a philosopher. The authors provide a clear and logical description of the effects of "plurality" (interacting with people of other cultures, beliefs etc.) and the dangers of this leading to two extremes: fundamentalism and relativism. The book is written in a fairly light hearted style and is an enjoyable read. The logic is generally easy to follow, although I strugg ...more
John Martindale
This book was fascinating. Peter Berger is a good teacher. He wrote about the move from tribalism to modernity/globalization and how modernism necessarily leads to pluralization and to the end of taken for granted institutions. Instead of everything being laid out for us, we now must choose among many options, we are "condemned to freedom", as Jean-Paul Sartre said.
Communication with people who have different view points will result in cognitive contamination and may lead to cognitive dissonan
It's been ages since I last read Peter Berger's The Social Construction of Reality in college as a sociology major. I was glad to find this, his newer book, on the shelf in our public library recently. Surprisingly, it is light reading, yet highly relevant for our time. The main idea of the book: Between the polarity of fundamentalism and relativism, the best position to take is the golden mean, the ethic of moderation. But then again, is it too obvious and simple a view to have been derived fro ...more
"Doubt, is a basic uncertainty that isn't prepared to let itself be crushed by belief or unbelief, by knowledge or ignorance.
Precisely because it occupies this middle ground, genuine doubt can never end in the many '-isms' that people have invented and propagated. Doubt can't be relativistic because relativism, like all '-isms' stifles doubt. Renaissance scholar Michel de Montaigne ... struggled with the following paradox: He constantly stressed the relativity of human ideas, ambitions, project
Dylan Popowicz
[Printed in The Sacramento Book Review & The San Francisco Book Review:

"In Praise of Doubt" attempts to lay down an ethical perspective of tolerance and open-mindedness as an antidote to any sense of religious, social, political (etc.) certainty or fanaticism. In a language clear and simple (if often articulated on the intellectual level of a child), Berger and Zijderveld advocate a moderate perspective whilst making a (weak) stand against the tyranni
This book is a thought provoking discussion of the role of doubt in civil society and in a liberal democracy. The authors advocate a politics of moderation dteering between the extremes of relativism and fundamentalism. In the course of their argument, they visit some interesting issues such as the difference between traditionalism and fundamentalism, issues such as bad faith and false consciousness, the role of institutions in providing some level of stability in an uncertain and changing world ...more
As political positions seem to become more and more polarized, I feel like people rarely spend time discussing issues with those who feel differently from them. And then, when those conversations do take place, rather than people honestly listening to each other and trying to understand where the other is coming from, it just turns into a shouting match where the loudest voice is apparently the winner. In the end, people walk around more angry than ever, and become more extreme in their position ...more
Kristen Sabol
A worthwhile read with much to be gained. I disagree somewhat with the classification of post-modernism presented (finding instead that it should be viewed in line with the very process of deferred judgement "for the duration" described elsewhere in the book.) I suppose the authors would say this makes me a fanatic - another point I'd argue against. But in the spirit of doubt and moderation I set this mild irritation aside and was able to enjoy the many valuable points and perspectives presented ...more
Enjoyed the book. The authors contrast fundamentalism and moral relativism and propose instead an ethic of moderation. I found their arguments about the perils of extremism with both fundamentalism and relativism to be convincing, but their application of the ethic of moderation less so.

I was intrigued by the book because I saw that both Os Guinness and Dallas Willard were quoted in reviews of the book. I've quoted the Guinness and Willard statements below.

“Brilliant yet clear, highly illumina
It's not a book about religion per se, it's about how personal beliefs, opinions, especially convictions are held, the factors that help shape them or facilitate their rise or fall analyzed from in part psychological perspectives & mainly from sociological perspectives. Because it's about beliefs, opinions & convictions, yes religious beliefs are talked about because they are a part of the make up of the topic, but it goes into much more than just religious beliefs, it's about the type o ...more
An interesting perspective on the mechanisms people and society use to deal with the modern world. It was a bit pedantic at times, but the ideas and insights are both illuminating and pretty accurate, at least from my experience.
A sociological look at tension between moral relativism and fundamentalism in society, and the need for the moderate middle. The authors call for pluralism, which would lead to civic peace and communication. This is the second time I have picked up this book. I hope it gets better.

One interesting observation in the introductory chapter is that even after two centuries of Enlightenment's (reason, empiricism, etc) assault on religion, religion is still going strong in many parts of the world, in m
Matthew Leroy
An okay book. The authors write in a style that is easily readable if at times seeming to be dismissive of arguments before they truly lay them out. There's a bit of a bad debate throughout this book, presented by someone who doesn't really believe that relativism or fundamentalism might be a good thing, instead wholesale describing the evils of it. Not a particularly nuanced view.

That being said, I think this book has some merit, and in fact would be better if it discussed science, and the his
Leroy Seat
This is a fine book, and the title is In Praise of Doubt, although the content is about both certainty and doubt. (Also, the co-author of the book is Anton Zijderveld, a professor at Erasmus University in Rotterdam). I like how the authors criticize both absolutism and relativism and seeks to forge a position in between those two extremes.

On May 1, 2011, I finished reading this book for the second time. While I like many of the things the authors say, this time I thought the book was somewhat u
The freedom to doubt is threatened always by fanaticism, whch is just another word for fundamentalism. Just ask a fundamentalist if it is okay to question (doubt) his or her certainties. Fanatical fundamentalsim is found in politics - such as Nazism - as well as in religion's extremist sects. What is needed is balance to bring sanity and humanity into society. Doubt is the vehicle of the loyal opposition, as it needs to be. This book is very readable, easy to follow.
Titus Hjelm
Worthy idea. Too bad it's used as a weapon to bash everything progressive that's come out in the last fifty years (feminism, affirmative action, not to mention any form of critical theory). Well, I guess at this point of one's career it's OK to repeat what you've said 40 years ago and not to be too concerned about a blatantly political perspective. I guess when that's disguised as objectivity it's even easier. But, again, worthy idea, if executed a bit differently.
Evans McGowan
1st half of book (history of doubt) is a wonderful summary of historical thought. the 2nd half is a bit a drab... authors do not submit a clear way forward between relativism and fundamentalism besides vaguely describing pragmatism. After reading the book it does make me think Obama is the epitome of what they're talking about - a real yet faithful pragmatist.
Bo White
The most thoughtful analysis of our current landscape I have read in a very long time. This book has been very helpful in connecting the 'big picture' dots for me and I highly recommend it. And I am not quite finished with it yet....
It could also have been called in praise of critical thinking. I thought the book was excellent until the last chapter which delved to deeply into the author's personal case against the death penalty.
Pretty much.... moderation. It started off well and then kind of tapered off at the end and started making really broad generalizations about politics, religion, etc without very much deep consideration.
Jane Van Hof
Another mindful addition to the socio-cultural debate about modernity and the influence of religious thought.
The first half of the book is great, but the second half wanders with no foundation for its morality.
Aug 12, 2009 Elizabeth marked it as to-read
Shelves: npr, politics
As heard on "The Diane Rehm Show" on WYPR.
Craig J.
In Praise of Doubt: How to Have Convictions Without Becoming a Fanatic by Peter Berger (2009)
Oct 25, 2011 Taylor added it
Still dazed about it but its okay
Mar 01, 2010 Peg marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Anne H recommended
Sanne marked it as to-read
May 23, 2015
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Peter L. Berger is an internationally renowned sociologist, and the founder of Boston University's Institute on Culture, Religion, and World Affairs. He was born in Vienna and came to the U.S. in his late teens. He has a master's degree and a doctorate from the New School for Social Research in New York. After two years in the United States Army, he taught at the University of Georgia and the Univ ...more
More about Peter L. Berger...
The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion Invitation to Sociology: A Humanistic Perspective A Rumor of Angels: Modern Society and the Rediscovery of the Supernatural Homeless Mind: Modernization and Consciousness

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