Robert N. Bellah was a distinguished sociologist of religion whose pioneering studies of American culture identified the depth and breadth of the nation's "civil religion" from the early days of the Republic to the present. He died on July 30, 2013, in Oakland, California. He was 86 years old.

Robert Neelly Bellah was born on February 23, 1927, in Altus, Oklahoma. He earned a bachelor’s degree summa cum laude in social anthropology at Harvard in 1948, writing his senior thesis on Apache kinship systems. Also at Harvard, he received a Ph.D. in sociology and Far Eastern languages in 1955. He did postdoctoral work in Islamic studies at McGill University in Montreal before returning to Harvard to teach sociology in 1957. He joined the Berkeley faculty in 1967, where he taught for 30 years, publishing frequently.

Bellah's research and writing focused on how American religion is shaped by American public life. He is credited with popularizing the term "civil religion" and for making religion a legitimate focus in sociology. He came to wide attention in 1967 with a seminal article "Civil Religion in America" and was one of the writers of the classic study of individualism and commitment in American life Habits of the Heart. He was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President Bill Clinton in 2000.

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  • Cultural criticisms of rampant individualism
  • Discussion on "civil religion"
  • Pioneering views in the study of faith