For more than four decades Robert Bellah assessed the role of religion in modern and ancient societies with the intent of revealing the ways in which meaning unfolds and impacts ethical and political practices. This reader draws together 28 of his essays, many of them written in the past decade. Bellah is the Elliott Professor of Sociology Emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley. He co-authored Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life, which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and has sold more than 500,000 copies.

This book does not contain material from either his bestseller or The Good Society; it only includes his published articles, lectures, and sermons. Bellah says The Reader is "a collection that reflects my work and my life: my scholarship in sociological theory and in a variety of cultures and societies; my engagement, not only in the life of the university, but also in ethics, politics, and religion."

Underneath all these essays is Bellah's focus on social and cultural complexity and the continual religious evolution of humankind. The Reader is divided into four sections:

1. pieces which examine modernity and the challenges posed by religion;
2. essays on American religion including selections on the legitimation of the American Republic, the kingdom of God in the language of faith and of empire, the search for the common good, and the theological roots of individualism;
3. higher education in society, including class and cultural wars, the true scholar, and education for justice and the common good;
4. the religious life with essays on religious pluralism, sacred and profane texts, and sermons on Epiphany, Pentecost, and All Souls Day.