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Lewis A. Coser papers

Collection BC-1994-159: Lewis A. Coser papers


  • Creation: 1914 - 1996
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1940 - 1996

Scope and Contents

Lewis A. Coser papers document the personal, political, and professional endeavors of a German-American sociologist. The bulk of the collection is correspondence, but course materials, documents, manuscripts, newspaper clippings, periodicals, photographs, and publishing files are also included. Some family letters, photographs, and manuscripts, as well as the French Resistance publications, predate his immigration to the United States in 1941, while the remainder of the collection chronicles his scholarly career as a professor and author. Coser’s community involvement in a Quaker organization known as the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) and his role as founding editor of Dissent magazine are also covered.


Language of Materials

Materials are mostly in English, but also include French and German.

Restrictions on access

Collection is open for research.

Restrictions on use

These materials are made available for use in research, teaching and private study, pursuant to U.S. Copyright Law. The user must assume full responsibility for any use of the materials, including but not limited to, infringement of copyright and publication rights of reproduced materials. Any materials used for academic research or otherwise should be fully credited with the source. The original authors may retain copyright to the materials.

Biographic note

German-American sociologist Lewis A. Coser was born as Ludwig Cohen in Berlin on November 27, 1913; the family’s surname later changed to Coser. He left Germany for France when Hitler came to power in 1933.

In Paris, Coser studied comparative literature and sociology at the Sorbonne until the advent of World War II. Despite his anti-fascist politics and Jewish religion, he was interned in the south of France due to his German nationality. In 1941, he was granted a visa through the International Relief Association and immigrated to the United States, where he changed his name to Lewis. In 1943, Coser married his immigration case-worker, Rose Laub. They had one daughter, Ellen Coser.

Coser and his wife both received doctorates in sociology from Columbia University. While a student, he lectured at the University of Chicago and co-edited Modern Review, a Leftist publication. Coser’s dissertation, directed by “the father of the sociology of science” Robert K. Merton, became the basis for The Functions of Social Conflict (1956), which was revolutionary for its illustration of conflict-generated social cohesion.

In 1951, Coser was appointed Professor at Brandeis University and went on to found the Department of Sociology there. He founded the radical journal Dissent two years later; Dissent became one of the most important and respected venues for social and cultural criticism in the United States. Coser also published Sociological Theory (1957), Sociology through Literature (1963), Men of Ideas (1965), Political Sociology (1967), and Continuities in the Study of Social Conflict (1967).

Coser became Distinguished Professor of Sociology at the State University of New York at Stony Brook in 1968. He published several further books, including: Masters of Sociological Thought (1970), Greedy Organizations (1974), and Refugee Scholars in America: Their Impact and Their Experiences (1984). He served as President of the American Sociological Association, and held fellowships at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University, the Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, and Clare Hall at Cambridge University. In 1982, Coser was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Lewis and Rose Laub Coser both retired from Stony Brook in 1986, and relocated to the Boston area where they taught at Boston College as an adjunct professors. Rose Laub Coser died on August 21, 1994, and Lewis Coser on July 8, 2003, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.


“Sociologists Remember Lewis Coser.” Footnotes: Newsletter of the American Sociological Association 31, No. 7 (September/ October, 2003).

Martin, Douglas. “Lewis Coser, 89, Sociologist Who Focused on Intellectuals.” New York Times, July 12, 2003.


16.75 Linear Feet (40 containers)


Lewis A. Coser papers document the personal, political, and professional endeavors of this German-American sociologist primarily through correspondence, but course materials, documents, manuscripts, newspaper clippings, periodicals, photographs, and publishing files are also included.


Arranged into five series: I. Correspondence; II. Family papers; III. French Resistance publications; IV. Scholarship; and V. Service.


Donated by Lewis A. Coser in 1994 and 2000.

Related Materials

Rose Laub Coser papers, BC.2000.032, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Lewis A. Coser Papers
1914-1996 (bulk 1940-1996)
Rowena Clarke, Lynn Moulton, and Ayoola White
2016 September
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the John J. Burns Library Repository

John J. Burns Library
Boston College
140 Commonwealth Avenue
Chestnut Hill MA 02467 United States