Skip to main content


Ideas and Institutions

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.

304 pages | 6.00 x 9.00 | © 1988

Sociology: General Sociology

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. Coleman
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

Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press