Robert N. Bellah (February 23, 1927 – July 31, 2013) was Elliott Professor of Sociology Emeritus at the University of California at Berkeley.
Bellah graduated summa cum laude from Harvard College with a B.A. in social anthropology in 1950. His undergraduate honors thesis on “Apache Kinship Systems” won the Phi Beta Kappa Prize and was published by the Harvard University Press. In 1955, he received a Ph.D. from Harvard University in Sociology and Far Eastern Languages and published his doctoral dissertation, Tokugawa Religion, in 1957. After two years of postdoctoral work in Islamic Studies at McGill University in Montreal, he began teaching at Harvard in 1957 and left 10 years later as Professor of Sociology to move to the University of California, Berkeley. From 1967 to 1997, he served as Ford Professor of Sociology.
Other works include Beyond Belief, Emile Durkheim on Morality and Society, The Broken Covenant, The New Religious Consciousness, Varieties of Civil Religion, Uncivil Religion, Imagining Japan and, most recently, The Robert Bellah Reader. The latter reflects his work as a whole and the overall direction of his life in scholarship “to understand the meaning of modernity.”
Continuing concerns already developed in part in “Civil Religion in America” and The Broken Covenant, led to a book Bellah co-authored with Richard Madsen, William Sullivan, Ann Swidler and Steven Tipton. Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life published by the University of California Press in 1985. The same group wrote The Good Society, an institutional analysis of American society, published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1991.
On December 20, 2000, Bellah received the United States National Humanities Medal. The citation, which President William Jefferson Clinton signed, reads:
The President of the United States of America awards this National Humanities Medal to Robert N. Bellah for his efforts to illuminate the importance of community in American society. A distinguished sociologist and educator, he has raised our awareness of the values that are at the core of our democratic institutions and of the dangers of individualism unchecked by social responsibility.
In July 2008, Bellah and Professor Hans Joas, who holds appointments in both the University of Chicago and Freiburg University in Germany, organized a conference at the Max Weber Center of the University of Erfurt on “The Axial Age and Its Consequences for Subsequent History and the Present,” attended by a distinguished group of international scholars interested in comparative history and sociology. At the conclusion of the conference, the University of Erfurt awarded Bellah an honorary degree. Harvard University Press will publish the proceedings of this conference.
In September of 2011 the Belknap Press of Harvard University Press published Religion in Human Evolution: From the Paleolithic to the Axial Age, the result of Bellah’s lifetime interest in the evolution of religion and thirteen years of work on this volume.