The Robert Bellah Reader

The Robert Bellah Reader

Book Pages: 568 Illustrations: Published: October 2006

American Studies, Religious Studies, Sociology

Perhaps best known for his coauthored bestselling books Habits of the Heart and The Good Society, Robert N. Bellah is a truly visionary leader in the social study of religion. For more than four decades, he has examined the role of religion in modern and premodern societies, attempting to discern how religious meaning is formed and how it shapes ethical and political practices. The Robert Bellah Reader brings together twenty-eight of Bellah’s seminal essays. While the essays span a period of more than forty years, nearly half of them were written in the past decade, many in the past few years.

The Reader is organized around four central concerns. It seeks to place modernity in theoretical and historical perspective, drawing from major figures in social science, historical and contemporary, from Aristotle and Rousseau through Durkheim and Weber to Habermas and Mary Douglas. It takes the United States to be in some respects the type-case of modernity and in others the most atypical of modern societies, analyzing its common faith in individual freedom and democratic self-government, and its persistent paradoxes of inequality, exclusion, and empire. The Reader is also concerned to test the axiomatic modern assumption that rational cognition and moral evaluation, fact and value, are absolutely divided, arguing instead that they overlap and interact much more than conventional wisdom in the university today usually admits. Finally, it criticizes modernity’s affirmation that faith and knowledge stand even more utterly at odds, arguing instead that their overlap and interaction, obvious in every premodern society, animate the modern world as well.

Through such critical and constructive inquiry this Reader probes many of our deepest social and cultural quandaries, quandaries that put modernity itself, with all its immense achievements, at mortal risk. Through the practical self-understanding such inquiry spurs, Bellah shows how we may share responsibility for the world we have made and seek to heal it.


The Robert Bellah Reader brings together in a single text a selection of the writings of a thought-provoking scholar whose writings on the social study of religion currently span 55 years and over 250 items. . . . The Robert Bellah Reader constantly provokes the reader into a reflective mode that stimulates new ways of thinking about our contemporary situation,” — Kay Adamson, Sociology

The Robert Bellah Reader demonstrates what a serious scholar can accomplish when he perceives a disciplinary identity as secondary to the pursuits of knowledge and of understanding one’s culture and society.” — Richard C. Collins, Virginia Quarterly Review

The Robert Bellah Reader is a gift to readers, offering a generous view of the scholar behind the ideas. We meet a wide-ranging thinker whose work addresses social science, historical social change, and what was once called ‘moral philosophy.’” — D. Michael Lindsay, Commonweal

“A collection of Bellah’s writings offers an occasion to revisit the insights of this keen interpreter of American faith life.” — Richard L. Wood, Christian Century

“Although primarily a reference manual on this scholar’s oeuvre, it may be useful in courses on the sociology of religion or political philosophy. It is a must for graduate libraries.” — Patrick J. Hayes, Catholic Reader World

“Bellah is truly one of today’s most powerful commentators on the social, cultural and religious meaning of modernity, in America and elsewhere. . . . The Robert Bellah Reader is a collection of twenty-eight of Bellah’s most stimulating essays. . . . [I]t is not the breadth of Bellah’s work that is so impressive; it is rather the depth. No one can read Bellah extensively without feeling privileged to read the work of a true scholar, one who is able to combine vast learning with graceful writing.” — Derek H. Davis, Journal of Law and Religion

“Bellah’s work continues to evolve, and it continues to spark interest and debate.” — Chronicle of Higher Education

“The Reader is rich in both knowledge and meaning, and deserves similar close and long-lasting study. — Richard Bartholomew, Culture & Religion

“The continuing importance of religion, as culture’s most profoundly developed form of ‘socially charged narrative,’ is the focus of most of the essays in this very valuable collection, just as it has been in Bellah’s whole career.” — Wilfred M. McClay, Chronicle of Higher Education

“They don’t make sociologists like they used to.” — Alan Wolfe, Chronicle of Higher Education

“Though readers will undoubtedly find their own points of difference with Bellah, they will also find instruction, edification, and enjoyment throughout this rich volume. If nothing else, this anthology shows that Bellah’s already distinguished career deserves even wider recognition.” — Horace L. Fairlamb, American Book Review

“I believe that Robert Bellah is one of the more incisive religious commentators we’ve had on the American scene in recent times. Drawing on an astounding range of literatures, he has helped us see what otherwise might not be seen. At once sociological theorist, social critic, and serious religious thinker, Bellah has blazed new trails for helping establish work in several disciplines. We are therefore extremely fortunate to have this superb collection of his work as otherwise the interconnectedness of all that Bellah has done might be lost.” — Stanley Hauerwas, Duke University

“Is it true, as some claim, that the more modern a society, the weaker our sense of the sacred? Does a sense of the sacred somehow ‘liquefy,’ as Habermas suggests, as society grows ever more ‘rational’? In this collection of brilliant and bold meditations on the works of Durkheim, Weber, Rousseau, Goffman, and others, Robert Bellah arrives at his own nuanced answers. An important and enlightening read.” — Arlie Hochschild, University of California, Berkeley

“No other scholar has had a more profound influence on my thinking than Robert Bellah. His has been a strong and challenging voice in the continuing debate about modernity’s effects on America and on the human condition. Having these important essays collected in a single volume is a valuable service. My hope is that the next generation of students and scholars will savor these essays and learn from them what it means to engage in critical reflection about the deepest quandaries of our time.” — Robert Wuthnow, Princeton University

“Robert Bellah is without question one of the leaders in the senior generation of sociologists of religion. He embodies informed spiritual inquiry and a mentality I would call ‘expansively catholic’ in the sense of ‘penetrating the dimensions of being.’ He also has a protestant outlook, manifesting an ability to be critical of entities and scholarly works he affirms.” — Martin E. Marty, University of Chicago


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Robert N. Bellah is the Elliott Professor of Sociology Emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley. He coauthored The Good Society and Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life, which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and has sold more than 500,000 copies. His other books include Imagining Japan, The Broken Covenant, and Beyond Belief. In 2000 President Clinton awarded Bellah the National Humanities Medal.

Steven M. Tipton teaches sociology and religion at Emory University and its Candler School of Theology, where he is a Professor and Director of the Graduate Division of Religion. He is the author of Getting Saved from the Sixties and Public Pulpits (forthcoming) and a coauthor of The Good Society and Habits of the Heart.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface vii

Introduction 1

I. Comparative and Theoretical 19

1. Religious Evolution 23

2. The Five Religions of Modern Italy 51

3. To Kill and Survive or to Die and Become 81

4. Stories as Arrows: The Religious Response to Modernity 107

5. Max Weber and World-Denying Love 123

6. Durkheim and Ritual 150

7 Rousseau on Society and the Individual 181

8. The History of Habit 203

II. American Religion 221

9. Civil Religion in America 225

10. Religion and the Legitimation of the American Republic 246

11. The New Religious Consciousness and the Crisis of Modernity 265

12. The Kingdom of God in America: Language of Faith, Language of Nation, Language of Empire 285

13. Citizenship, Diversity, and the Search for the Common Good 303

14. Is There a Common American Culture? 319

15. Flaws in the Protestant Code: Theological Roots of American Individualism 333

16. The New American Empire 350

17. God and King 357

III. University and Society

18. The Ethical Aims of Social Inquiry 381

19. Class Wars and Culture Wars in the University Today 402

20. Freedom, Coercion, and Authority 410

21. The True Scholar 421

22. Education for Justice and the Common Good 434

IV. Sociology and Theology 451

23. On Being Catholic and American 457

24. Religious Pluralism and Religious Truth 474

25. Texts, Sacred and Profane 490

26. Epiphany: “Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit” 504

27. Pentecost: “Beginning in the End of Times” 510

28. All Souls Day: “The Living and the Dead in Communion” 515

Bibliography of Words by Robert N. Bellah 523

Index 542
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3871-0 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3855-0
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