Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

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(1927-) After an early career in law and public administration, this German sociologist studied under Talcott Parsons in the early 1960s. Through hundreds of publications, he developed a rather different systems theory that understands social and psychic systems as self-organized and self-referential (autopoetic) entities based on meaning. In this framework, he has analyzed religion particularly in the Western context according to its systemic functions, organizability, and capacity to respond to secularization. He sees religion's future in a somewhat priestly capacity to assure us that it makes sense to continue, as well as in a kind of prophetic countercultural capacity.

Peter Beyer


N. Luhmann, Funktion der Religion (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1977)

N. Luhmann, Essays on Self-Reference (New York: Columbia University, 1990).

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