Center: Ideas and Institutions

 Book Description by University of Chicago Press

There are several concepts within the social sciences that refer to the fundamental realities on which the various disciplines focus their attention. The concept of the “center,” as defined by Edward Shils, has such a status in sociology, for it deals with and attempts to provide an answer to the central question of the discipline—the question of the constitution of society.

“Center” is a commonly used term with a variety of meanings. According to editors Liah Greenfeld and Michel Martin, “center” carries a twofold meaning when used as a concept. In its first sense, it is a synonym for “central value system,” referring to irreducible values and beliefs that establish the identity of individuals and bind them into a common universe. In its second sense, “center” refers to “central institutional system,” the authoritative institutions and persons who often express or embody the central value system. Both meanings imply a corresponding idea of “periphery,” referring both to the elements of society that need to be integrated and to institutions and persons who lack authority.

The original essays compiled in this volume examine and apply the concept of the center in different contexts. The contributors come from a broad range of disciplines—classics, religion, philosophy, history, literary criticism, anthropology, political science, and sociology—which serves to underscore the far-reaching significance of the Shilsean theory of society. The interrelated subsets of the “center-periphery” theme addressed here include: symbolic systems, intellectuals, the expansion of the center into the periphery, parallel concepts in the work of other scholars besides Shils, and the paths of research inspired by these concepts. The volume features an introspective essay by Shils himself, in which he reexamines his central ideas in the light of new experiences and the ideas of others, some of them contained in this volume.

By drawing together such diverse scholars around a unified idea, this collection achieves a cohesion that makes it an exciting contribution to the comparative analysis of social and cultural systems. A collective effort in social theory, Center: Ideas and Institutions is a testimony to the breadth and complexity of one of man’s ideas.

Table of Contents


The Idea of the “Center”: An Introduction Liah Greenfeld and Michel Martin

1. Religion and the Center: Reflections on German History Thomas Nipperdey

2. The Tribulations of the Center: Transformations of Mainline American Religion Martin E. Marty

3. The Religious Politics of Two Rival Peripheries: Preliminary Excursus on Center and Periphery David Martin

4. Tribulations without a Center: A Note on the Shifting Center of Jewish History R. J. Zwi Werblowsky

5. The Disadvantages of Monotheism for a Universal State Arnaldo Momigliano

6. Center and Periphery: Mandelstam and Soviet Power Rory Childers

7. Transcendental Vision, Center Formation, and the Role of Individuals Shmuel N. Eisenstadt

8. Center, Periphery, and Dissensus: West German Intellectuals and the Euromissiles Jeffrey Herf

9. Current Problems of the University and of Humanistic Scholarship: A “Lay Sermon” Paul Oskar Kristeller

10. Shifting Centers and Peripheries: The Role and Responsibility of American Social Science Friedrich Tenbruck

11. The Boundaries of the Private Realm: Limits to the Imperium of the Center Martin Bulmer

12. The Family’s Move from Center to Periphery, and Its Implication for Schooling James S. Colema

13. Jewish Minorities and the State in the United States, France, and Argentina Dominique Schnapper

14. Symbolism of the Center, the Periphery, and the Middle Milton Singer

15. Center and Periphery: An Idea and Its Career, 1935-1987 Edward Shils


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s