Robert N. Bellah

Robert Neelly Bellah is an American sociologist and educator, who for 30 years served as professor of sociology at the University of California at Berkeley. His books on the sociology of religion include Beyond Belief: Essays on Religion in a Post-Traditional World (1970), The Broken Covenant (1975), Habits of the Heart (1985), The Good Society (1991), and Religion in Human Evolution (2011). In 2000, he was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President Clinton. Read Nathan Schneider's interview with Robert Bellah.

Posts by Robert N. Bellah:

Monday, February 27th, 2012

A response to three readers

I am grateful to Mark Juergensmeyer for organizing a panel on my book at the November 2011 meetings of the American Academy of Religion (AAR), only a couple of months after publication. Given a somewhat different response from the American Sociological Association (ASA) I can only say that although I have never taught in a university with a department of religious studies, I am as much a religious studies person as a sociologist. Or perhaps better, I can say that I am a sociologist in the image of my own teacher, Talcott Parsons, who never recognized any disciplinary boundary and tended to define sociology as concerned with the world and its contents.

I am also grateful to the three panelists who spoke so graciously at the panel and who have provided written versions of their comments. I tried to respond to them ex tempore at the event and have seen a video of my remarks, but I will use this occasion to give a more considered answer to the many questions they raised, having to deal with some overlap between them as I go along.

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Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

Where did religion come from?

When an interviewer for the Atlantic Monthly blog asked me “What prompted you to write this book?” I apparently replied, “Deep desire to know everything: what the universe is and where we are in it.” I don’t deny that I said it—it’s just that I would have thought I would have given a more pedestrian reply, because I am a sociologist, with a Ph.D. in my discipline and some 40 years experience as a professor at Harvard and Berkeley. And I am quite aware that early in the last century Max Weber, in a famous 1918 talk called “Science as a Vocation,” warned that “science has entered a phase of specialization previously unknown and this will forever remain the case.”

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Monday, January 12th, 2009

This is our moment, this is our time

For a long time after November 4, I found it hard to believe that Barack Obama had actually been elected President of the United States. Even as his inauguration approaches I still find it a remarkable moment in our history.

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Monday, August 11th, 2008

The renouncers

What has become clear to me in recent years is that the old dream of progress, which used to be assumed, is being replaced in popular culture by visions of disaster, ecological catastrophe in particular. If, as I believe, we human beings are at least to some extent in charge of our own evolution, we are in a highly demanding situation. Never before have calls for criticism of and alternatives to the existing order seemed so urgent. It is in this context that I want to consider whether the heritage of “the axial age“—the period in antiquity that gave rise to such social critique through practices of renunciation—is a resource or a burden in our current human crisis. […]

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Tuesday, February 26th, 2008

Religious reasons & secular revelations

That Jürgen Habermas and I probably agree on most fundamental issues does not mean that there are no differences between us; indeed we have engaged in a friendly debate over some of our differences over many years. Habermas writes as a “methodological atheist,” which means that when doing philosophy or social science, he presumes nothing about particular religious beliefs. Another friend of mine, the well-known sociologist Peter Berger, who is a professed Christian, also does his sociology from the point of view of methodological atheism. I have heard him in a public lecture say, “Now I am taking off my sociological hat and putting on my theological hat.” I don’t have two hats; I am a Christian sociologist. […]

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Wednesday, January 16th, 2008

Beating radical Islam

“People of faith want a candidate who can beat radical Islam.” So claimed Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, in a statement endorsing John McCain for the Republican primary in South Carolina. Graham’s statement is deeply disheartening, but hardly unexpected, especially for one who watched the Republican candidates debate just before the New Hampshire Primary. Ron Paul, who is loony on just about every other issue, was the one sane voice when it came to foreign policy and the Middle East. […]

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Friday, January 11th, 2008

What holds us together

secular_age.jpgIn his response to my concern about whether “post-Durkheimian” is a viable category, Charles Taylor goes part way in answering my query, but, in my view, not far enough. When he writes “I don’t think it’s possible to have a successful, modern democratic society without some strong sense of what unites us as citizens,” he is conceding my basic Durkheimian point, that a society without common values is not a viable society. It is his next move that gives me pause. […]

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Thursday, January 3rd, 2008

Religions and the postnational constellation

habermas_the-postnational-constellation.jpgGranted that there is a global economy, global culture, global law, global civil society, even global festivals, why are global institutions both so promising and so weak? I want to turn to Jürgen Habermas, Europe’s leading social philosopher, for help, looking particularly at his remarkable essay of 1998, “The Postnational Constellation and the Future of Democracy.”

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Monday, December 31st, 2007

The fragility of global solidarity

In my last post, I suggested that the religious communities of the world may have something to contribute to the strengthening of global civil society. If not for the commitments to human rights and human flourishing mobilized by such communities, after all, what will be able to produce some functional equivalent to the powerful mobilization of human aggression by nation states as a basis for global solidarity? […]

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Monday, December 24th, 2007

Is a global civil religion possible?

the-broken-covenant.jpgIn my essay “Civil Religion in America,” first published in Daedalus in 1967, exactly forty years ago—which, unfortunately, quite a few people think is the only thing I ever wrote—I discussed toward the end the possibility of what I called a “world civil religion.” Naïve though it may sound today, the idea of a world civil religion as expressing “the attainment of some kind of viable and coherent world order” was the imagined resolution of what I then called America’s third time of trial, an idea later developed in my book The Broken Covenant. […]

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Friday, November 23rd, 2007

After Durkheim

secular_age.jpgI continue, as I reread it, to have the highest opinion of A Secular Age and to believe that it is among the handful of the most important books I have ever read, to the point where The Chronicle of Higher Education speaks of my “effusive” praise. So it was with some surprise that I found there was a point where, if I didn’t entirely differ from Taylor, I had at least some serious questions to raise. […]

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Friday, October 19th, 2007

Secularism of a new kind

secular_age.jpgI have long admired Charles Taylor and have read most of what he has written and always found him helpful. Yet for me, A Secular Age is his breakthrough book—one of the most important books to be written in my lifetime. Taylor succeeds in no less than recasting the entire debate about secularism. From the very first pages it is clear that Taylor is doing something different from what others writing about secularization have achieved […]

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