Robert Neelly Bellah

Biography of Robert Neelly Bellah

Robert Neelly Bellah (born February 23, 1927) is an American sociologist, now the Elliott Professor of Sociology, Emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley. Bellah is best known for his work related to American civil religion (a term which he coined in a 1967 article). Bellah's magnum opus, Religion In Human Evolution, traces the biological and cultural origins of religion and the interplay between the two. Philosopher Jürgen Habermas wrote of Bellah's work: "This great book is the intellectual harvest of the rich academic life of a leading social theorist who has assimilated a vast range of biological, anthropological, and historical literature in the pursuit of a breathtaking project... In this field I do not know of an equally ambitious and comprehensive study." Bellah is also known for his 1985 book Habits of the Heart, how religion contributes to and detracts from America's common good; and as a sociologist who studies religious and moral issues and their connection to society.

Born in Altus, Oklahoma, Bellah received a B.A. degree from Harvard University in 1950, and a Ph.D. from Harvard in 1955. He was a student of Talcott Parsons, sociologist at Harvard and he and Parsons remained intellectual friends until Parsons' death in 1979. Parsons was specially interested in Bellah's concept of religious evolution and the concept of "Civil Religion." While an undergraduate at Harvard, he was a member of the Communist Party USA and chairman of the John Reed Club, "a recognized student organization concerned with the study of Marxism." Dean McGeorge Bundy threatened to withdraw his fellowship if he did not provide the names of his former associates. He served in various positions at Harvard from 1955 to 1967 when he took the position of Ford Professor of Sociology at the University of California at Berkeley. He spent the remainder of his career at Berkeley.

His political views are often classified as communitarian.

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