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Robert Bellah

The great scholar Robert N. Bellah, Professor Emeritus of Sociology at U.C. Berkeley and winner of the National Humanities Medal in 2000, died last week. (He was also a colleague and friend.) Bellah’s seminal contributions range from analyses of Japanese society to a recent, epoch-spanning book on the history of religion. For many, and for this blog, his contributions to understanding American culture, particularly the role of religion, are especially important.

Robert Bellah (1927-2013; source)

Robert Bellah (1927-2013; source)

Bellah (in my reading) argued that American culture was and has long been fatefully torn between a utilitarian impulse – what’s in it for me? – and a biblically-, prophetically-rooted, communal impulse – what is the common good? Spurning the Olympian distance of the social scientist and sometimes donning the cloak of a Jeremiah, Bellah evangelized for the communitarian American impulse.

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