ASR News

The Passing of Robert Bellah

July 31, 2013

The sociological community learned with sadness on July 31, 2013, of the death of Robert N. Bellah in Berkeley, California. Bob Bellah was perhaps the single most crucial figure in the re-emergence of the sociology of religion (and cultural sociology more generally) in the second half of the 20th century, through his own work and that of his doctoral students in their subsequent careers.  His voice as a public intellectual calling America to its higher ideals was prominent from the 1950s (when he was driven into a two year exile by McCarthyism), through the 1960s and 1970s (in his writing on race, civil religion, and the Vietnam War), and into the 1980s and 1990s (through his critical analysis of American culture and institutions, and how they might be ethically reformed).  Throughout, Bellah’s work drew on a religiously sensitive reading of Durkheim’s founding sociological work.  After retirement, he published his magnum opus: Religion in Human Evolution (Harvard University Press, 2011), a groundbreaking synthesis of evolutionary and sociological insight into the role of symbol, ritual, and narrative at the dawn of human civilization.

Richard L. Wood, University of New Mexico