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Robert N. Bellah

2019-06-17 10:45:02

Robert N. Bellah
Robert Neely Bellah.jpg
Bellah in 2008
Born(1927-02-23)February 23, 1927
Altus, Oklahoma, US
DiedJuly 30, 2013(2013-07-30) (aged 86)
Oakland, California, US
Home townLos Angeles, California, US
Melanie Hyman
(m. 1948; died 2010)
Academic background
Alma materHarvard University
ThesisReligion and Society in Tokugawa Japan (1955)
Doctoral advisor
  • Talcott Parsons[1]
  • John Pelzel
Other academic advisorsDavid Aberle
  • Merlin Donald[2]
  • Émile Durkheim[3]
  • Karl Jaspers[4]
  • Paul Tillich[5]
  • Max Weber[6]
Academic work
Sub-disciplineSociology of religion
School or traditionCommunitarianism
  • McGill University
  • University of California, Berkeley
Doctoral studentsJeffrey C. Alexander[7]
Notable works
  • The Broken Covenant (1975)
  • Habits of the Heart (1985)
  • Religion in Human Evolution (2011)
Notable ideas
  • American civil religion
  • lifestyle enclave
  • Sheilaism
InfluencedRobert Wuthnow[8][9]

Robert Neelly Bellah (1927–2013) was an American sociologist and the Elliott Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Berkeley. He was internationally known for his work related to the sociology of religion.[10]


  • 1 Education
  • 2 Career
  • 3 Personal
  • 4 Works
  • 5 Awards and honors
  • 6 See also
  • 7 References
    • 7.1 Footnotes
    • 7.2 Bibliography
  • 8 Further reading
  • 9 External links


Bellah graduated summa cum laude from Harvard College in 1950, receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree in social relations with a concentration in social anthropology.[11] His undergraduate honors thesis won the Phi Beta Kappa Prize and was later published in 1952 with the title Apache Kinship Systems.[12]

Bellah graduated from Harvard in a joint sociology and Far East languages program, with Talcott Parsons and John Pelzel as his advisors,[13] respectively.[citation needed] Bellah first encountered the work of Talcott Parsons as an undergraduate when his senior honors thesis advisor was David Aberle, a former student of Parsons.[13] Parsons was specially interested in Bellah's concept of religious evolution and the concept of "civil religion". They remained intellectual friends until Parsons' death in 1979.[citation needed] He received his Doctor of Philosophy degree in 1955.[14] His doctoral dissertation was titled Religion and Society in Tokugawa Japan[15] and was an extension of Weber's Protestant ethic thesis to Japan. It was published as Tokugawa Religion in 1957.

While an undergraduate at Harvard, Bellah was a member of the Communist Party USA from 1947 to 1949[16] and a chairman of the John Reed Club, "a recognized student organization concerned with the study of Marxism".[17] During the summer of 1954, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard McGeorge Bundy, who later served as a national security adviser to John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, threatened to withdraw Bellah's graduate student fellowship if he did not provide the names of his former club associates.[18] Bellah was also interrogated by the Boston office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation with the same purpose. As a result, Bellah and his family spent two years in Canada, where he was awarded a post-doctoral fellowship at the Islamic Institute in McGill University in Montreal. He returned to Harvard after McCarthyism declined due to the death of its main instigator senator Joseph McCarthy. Bellah afterwards wrote,

... I know from personal experience that Harvard did some terribly wrong things during the McCarthy period and that those things have never been publicly acknowledged. At its worst it came close to psychological terror against almost defenseless individuals. ... The university and the secret police were in collusion to suppress political dissent and even to persecute dissenters who had changed their minds if they were not willing to become part of the persecution.[17]


Bellah's magnum opus, Religion in Human Evolution (2011),[19] traces the biological and cultural origins of religion and the interplay between the two. The sociologist and philosopher Jürgen Habermas wrote of the work: "This great book is the intellectual harvest of the rich academic life of a leading social theorist who has assimilated a vast range of biological, anthropological, and historical literature in the pursuit of a breathtaking project ... In this field I do not know of an equally ambitious and comprehensive study."[20] The book won the Distinguished Book Award of the American Sociological Association's Section on Sociology of Religion.[21]

Bellah is best known for his 1985 book Habits of the Heart, which discusses how religion contributes to and detracts from America's common good, and for his studies of religious and moral issues and their connection to society. Bellah was perhaps best known for his work related to American civil religion, a term which he coined in a 1967 article that has since gained widespread attention among scholars.[22][23]

He served in various positions at Harvard from 1955 to 1967 when he took the position of Ford Professor of Sociology at the University of California at Berkeley. He spent the remainder of his career at Berkeley.[citation needed] His views are often classified as communitarian.[24] An academic biography of Robert Bellah, "the world's most widely read sociologist of religion",[25] is currently under way.[26]


Bellah was born in Altus, Oklahoma, on February 23, 1927.[11] His father was a newspaper editor and publisher and died when he was two years old.[5] His mother Lillian moved the family to Los Angeles,[5] where she had relatives.[citation needed] Bellah grew up in Los Angeles[27] and attended Los Angeles High School, where he and his future wife, Melanie Hyman, were editors of the student newspaper. They got married in 1948 after she graduated from Stanford University, and he began studying at Harvard University after a service in the US Army. Bellah's wife died in 2010.

Bellah was briefly a communist during his student years at Harvard, as he recalled in 1977 in a letter to the New York Review of Books regarding McCarthyism at the university:

Harvard's capitulation to McCarthyism is still being defended as a form of resistance to McCarthyism. An account of my experiences will, I believe, support [Sigmund] Diamond's and not [McGeorge] Bundy's interpretation of those years.

I was a member of the Communist Party as a Harvard undergraduate from 1947 to 1949. During that period I was mainly involved in the John Reed Club, a recognized student organization concerned with the study of Marxism. In that connection I might recount an incident that indicates that a difference between a public policy and a private policy at Harvard such as Diamond has suggested may already have begun in 1949. According to [Seymour Martin] Lipset:

In 1949, the John Reed Club sponsored a talk by a well-known Communist, Gerhart Eisler, who was on his way to a job in East Germany after having been convicted for contempt of Congress. When the University was attacked for allowing students to be corrupted, Wilbur Bender, then Dean of Harvard College, defended the students' right to hear, stating: "If Harvard students can be corrupted by an Eisler, Harvard College had better shut down as an educational institution ... [p. 182]"

I was, I believe, chairman of the John Reed Club at the time and was informed shortly after we announced that Eisler would speak that the university was considering forbidding the meeting and that the chairman and executive committee of the Club were asked to meet with an administrative officer. The administrator told us in the strongest terms that the invitation was extremely embarrassing for Harvard and asked us for the good of the school to withdraw the invitation. When we stood fast he told us that quite probably none of us would ever get jobs if we persisted in our course of action. The Harvard administration was attempting to do privately and indirectly what it would not do publicly and brazenly, namely suppress freedom of speech, which was precisely the aim of [Joseph] McCarthy.

Bellah was fluent in Japanese and literate in Chinese, French, and German, and later studied Arabic at McGill University in Montreal.

Bellah died July 30, 2013, at an Oakland, California, hospital from complications after heart surgery. He was 86 and is survived by his daughters Jennifer Bellah Maguire and Hally Bellah-Guther; a sister, Hallie Reynolds; and five grandchildren.[23] Raised as a Presbyterian, he converted to Episcopalianism.[18]


Robert Bellah is the author, editor, co-author, or co-editor of the following books:

  • Tokugawa Religion: The Values of Pre-Industrial Japan (1957)
  • Religion and Progress in Modern Asia (1965)
  • Beyond Belief: Essays on Religion in a Post-Traditional World (1970)
  • Emile Durkheim on Morality and Society (1973)
  • The Broken Covenant: American Civil Religion in Time of Trial (1975)
  • The New Religious Consciousness (1976)
  • Varieties of Civil Religion (1980)
  • Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life (1985)
  • Uncivil Religion: Interreligious Hostility in America (1987)
  • The Good Society (1991)[28]
  • Imagining Japan: The Japanese Tradition and its Modern Interpretation (2003)
  • The Robert Bellah Reader (2006)
  • Religion in Human Evolution: From the Paleolithic to the Axial Age (2011)
  • The Axial Age and Its Consequences (2012)

Awards and honors

Bellah was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1967.[29] He received the National Humanities Medal in 2000 from President Bill Clinton,[30] in part for "his efforts to illuminate the importance of community in American society."[citation needed] In 2007, he received the American Academy of Religion Martin E. Marty Award for the Public Understanding of Religion.[10]

See also

  • American exceptionalism
  • Civil religion
  • Lifestyle enclave
  • Political religion
  • Sheilaism



  1. ^ Bortolini 2011, p. 6.
  2. ^ Turner 2017, p. 135.
  3. ^ Thompson 2012, p. 32; Turner 2017, p. 135.
  4. ^ Gardner 2017, p. 95.
  5. ^ a b c Horowitz 2005, p. 218.
  6. ^ Swidler 1993, p. ix; Turner 2017, p. 135.
  7. ^ Lynch & Sheldon 2013, p. 257.
  8. ^ Alvord & McCannon 2014, pp. 6, 8.
  9. ^ "Robert Wuthnow (1969)". Berkeley, California: University of California, Berkeley. Retrieved May 30, 2019.
  10. ^ a b "Welcome to the Web Pages Dedicated to the Work of Robert N. Bellah". Hartford, Connecticut: Hartford Seminary. Retrieved September 7, 2018.
  11. ^ a b Wood 2005, p. 182.
  12. ^ Bellah & Tipton 2006, p. 523; Bortolini & Cossu 2015, p. 39.
  13. ^ a b Bortolini 2010, p. 7.
  14. ^ Giesen & Šuber 2005, p. 49; Yamane 1998.
  15. ^ Bellah 1955.
  16. ^ Bellah, Robert N. (2005). "McCarthyism at Harvard". The New York Review of Books. Vol. 52 no. 2. ISSN 0028-7504. Retrieved September 7, 2018.
  17. ^ a b Bellah, Robert N.; Bundy, McGeorge; Kerr, Clark; Cohen, Marshall; Conway, John; et al. (1977). "'Veritas' at Harvard: Another Exchange". The New York Review of Books. Vol. 24 no. 12. ISSN 0028-7504. Retrieved September 7, 2018.
  18. ^ a b Fox, Margalit (August 6, 2013). "Robert Bellah, Sociologist of Religion Who Mapped the American Soul, Dies at 86". The New York Times. Retrieved August 7, 2013.
  19. ^ Miles 2013, pp. 853, 862; Stausberg 2014, p. 281.
  20. ^ "About Religion in Human Evolution". Harvard University Press. Retrieved August 7, 2013.
  21. ^ "Sociology of Religion Section Award Recipients". American Sociological Association. Retrieved September 7, 2018.
  22. ^ Bellah 1967.
  23. ^ a b Woo, Elaine (August 3, 2013). "Robert N. Bellah Dies at 86; UC Berkeley Sociologist". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved August 27, 2013.
  24. ^ Bellah 1998; Dorrien 1995, pp. 336–343; Eberly 1998, p. 108.
  25. ^ Bergman, Barry (October 26, 2006). "Of God, Justice, and Disunited States". The Berkeleyan. Berkeley, California: University of California, Berkeley. Retrieved September 7, 2018.
  26. ^ Bortolini 2010; Bortolini 2011; Bortolini 2012.
  27. ^ Giesen & Šuber 2005, p. 49.
  28. ^ Andre, Claire; Velasquez, Manuel (1992). "Creating the Good Society". Issues in Ethics. Vol. 5 no. 1. Santa Clara, California: Santa Clara University. ISSN 1091-7772. Archived from the original on December 10, 2015. Retrieved May 5, 2008.
  29. ^ "B" (PDF). Book of Members, 1780–2010. American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved May 30, 2011.
  30. ^ Giesen & Šuber 2005, p. 49; Rousseau 2002, p. 317.


Alvord, Danny; McCannon, Kevin (2014). "Interview with Robert Wuthnow". Social Thought and Research. 33: 1–17. doi:10.17161/STR.1808.18443. ISSN 1094-5830.
Bellah, Robert N. (1955). Religion and Society in Tokugawa Japan (PhD dissertation). Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University. OCLC 39969657.
 ———  (1967). "Civil Religion in America". Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. 96 (1): 1–21. ISSN 1548-6192. Archived from the original on March 6, 2005. Retrieved September 7, 2018.
 ———  (1998). "Community Properly Understood: A Defense of 'Democratic Communitarianism'". In Etzioni, Amitai (ed.). The Essential Communitarian Reader. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 15–19. ISBN 978-0-8476-8827-2.
Bellah, Robert N.; Tipton, Steven M., eds. (2006). "Bibliography of Works by Robert N. Bellah". The Robert Bellah Reader. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press. pp. 523ff. doi:10.1215/9780822388135-034. ISBN 978-0-8223-3871-0.
Bortolini, Matteo (2010). "Before Civil Religion: On Robert Bellah's Forgotten Encounters with America, 1955–1965". Sociologica. 4 (3). doi:10.2383/33646. ISSN 1971-8853.
 ———  (2011). "The 'Bellah Affair' at Princeton: Scholarly Excellence and Academic Freedom in America in the 1970s". The American Sociologist. 42 (1): 3–33. doi:10.1007/s12108-011-9120-7. ISSN 1936-4784. JSTOR 41485696.
 ———  (2012). "The Trap of Intellectual Success: Robert N. Bellah, the American Civil Religion Debate, and the Sociology of Knowledge". Theory and Society. 41 (2): 187–210. doi:10.1007/s11186-012-9166-8. ISSN 1573-7853.
Bortolini, Matteo; Cossu, Andrea (2015). "Two Men, Two Books, Many Disciplines: Robert N. Bellah, Glifford Geertz, and the Making of Iconic Cultural Objects". In Law, Alex; Lybeck, Eric Royal (eds.). Sociological Amnesia: Cross-Currents in Disciplinary History. Abingdon, England: Routledge (published 2016). pp. 37–55. ISBN 978-1-317-05314-9.
Dorrien, Gary J. (1995). Soul in Society: The Making and Renewal of Social Christianity. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press. ISBN 978-0-8006-2891-8.
Eberly, Don E. (1998). America's Promise: Civil Society and the Renewal of American Culture. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. ISBN 978-0-8476-9229-3.
Gardner, Stephen (2017). "The Axial Moment and Its Critics: Jaspers, Bellah, and Voegelin". In Alison, James; Palaver, Wolfgang (eds.). The Palgrave Handbook of Mimetic Theory and Religion. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 95–101. doi:10.1057/978-1-137-53825-3. ISBN 978-1-137-53825-3.
Giesen, Bernhard; Šuber, Daniel (2005). "Bellah, Robert N.". In Ritzer, George (ed.). Encyclopedia of Social Theory. 1. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications. pp. 49–50. ISBN 978-1-4522-6546-9.
Horowitz, Daniel (2005). The Anxieties of Affluence: Critiques of American Consumer Culture, 1939–1979. Amherst, Massachusetts: University of Massachusetts Press. ISBN 978-1-55849-504-3.
Lynch, Gordon; Sheldon, Ruth (2013). "The Sociology of the Sacred: A Conversation with Jeffrey Alexander". Culture and Religion. 14 (3): 253–267. doi:10.1080/14755610.2012.758163. ISSN 1475-5629.
Miles, Jack (2013). "Review of Religion in Human Evolution: From the Paleolithic to the Axial Age by Robert N. Bellah and The Axial Age and Its Consequences Edited by Robert N. Bellah and Hans Joas". Journal of the American Academy of Religion. 81 (3): 852–864. doi:10.1093/jaarel/lft045. ISSN 1477-4585.
Rousseau, Nathan, ed. (2002). "Robert Bellah et al. on Individualism and Community in America". Self, Symbols, and Society: Classic Readings in Social Psychology. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. pp. 317–343. ISBN 978-0-7425-1631-1.
Stausberg, Michael (2014). "Bellah's Religion in Human Evolution: A Post-Review". Numen. 61 (2–3): 281–299. doi:10.1163/15685276-12341320. ISSN 1568-5276.
Swidler, Ann (1993). Foreword. The Sociology of Religion. By Weber, Max. Boston: Beacon Press. pp. ix–xvii. ISBN 978-0-8070-4205-2.
Thompson, Kenneth (2012). "Durkheim and Durkheimian Political Sociology". In Amenta, Edwin; Nash, Kate; Scott, Alan (eds.). The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Political Sociology. Chichester, England: Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 27–35. doi:10.1002/9781444355093.ch3. ISBN 978-1-4443-5507-9.
Turner, Bryan S. (2017). "Ritual, Belief and Habituation: Religion and Religions from the Axial Age to the Anthropocene". European Journal of Social Theory. 20 (1): 132–145. doi:10.1177/1368431016645355. ISSN 1461-7137.
Wood, Richard (2005). "Bellah, Robert Neelly (1927–)". In Shook, John R. (ed.). The Dictionary of Modern American Philosophers. 1. Bristol, England: Thoemmes Continuum. pp. 182–187. ISBN 978-1-84714-470-6.
Yamane, David (1998). "Bellah, Robert N.". In Swatos, William H., Jr. (ed.). Encyclopedia of Religion and Society. Walnut Creek, California: AltaMira Press. ISBN 978-0-7619-8956-1. Retrieved September 7, 2018.

Further reading

Bellah, Robert N. (2002). "Meaning and Modernity: America and the World". In Madsen, Richard; Sullivan, William M.; Swidler, Ann; Tipton, Steven M. (eds.). Meaning and Modernity: Religion, Polity, and Self. Berkeley, California: University of California Press. pp. 255–276. ISBN 978-0-520-22657-9.
Reno, R. R.; McClay, Barbara, eds. (2015). Religion and the Social Sciences: Conversations with Robert Bellah and Christian Smith. Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books. ISBN 978-1-4982-3643-0.

External links

  • Robert Bellah's website
  • Bill Moyers interview with Robert Bellah on PBS, September 27, 1988
  • The Immanent Frame, a SSRC blog with posts by Robert Bellah
  • Appearances on C-SPAN