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Robert Bellah

Robert Bellah

Robert Bellah

Robert Bellah received the National Humanities Medal for “his efforts to illuminate the importance of community in American society.”

Signed by President Clinton, the citation 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.”

Bellah is widely known as senior author of the best-seller Habits of the Heart, which looks at questions of individualism and commitment in American life, and its sequel The Good Society, which identifies tensions between individualism, a sense of community and social institutions as dominant characteristics of contemporary American life.

Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life became one of the most widely discussed interpretations of recent American society and brought Bellah into the spotlight of discussions on the sociology of religion in America. Frequently in demand as a commentator on the social and spiritual health of the American mind, Bellah has seen a million copies of his book sold since it was first published. The updated edition is considered even more relevant today than when it was first written.

The authors wrote then that a social movement was needed to, among other things, “restore the dignity and legitimacy of democratic politics. We have seen … how suspicious Americans are of politics as an area in which arbitrary differences of opinion and interest can be resolved only by power and manipulation.”

Unhappily, said Bellah, “those statements are even more true at the present moment than when we wrote them.”

Educated at Harvard University in sociology, anthropology and Eastern religions, Bellah began teaching at Harvard in 1957 and moved to Berkeley in 1967. Some of his other books include The Broken Covenant: American Civil Religion in Time of Trial, Beyond Belief, The New Religious Consciousness, and the co-edited book, Uncivil Religion: Interreligious Hostility in America.

By Diane Ainsworth and Pat McBroom. Courtesy of the University of California, Berkeley.

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