The eminent, often iconoclastic, sociologist Robert Bellah passed away in recent days at the age of eighty six. The cause of death was apparently complication from a minor surgery. While Bellah was not a young man, when I saw him last December he was physically sturdy and mentally vigorous. It’s hard not to see this as a death out of season.
R.R. Reno invited Bellah to join First Things for a symposium on what turned out to be his last book, Religion in Human Evolution. It tells an ambitious story encompassing all of human life in an account that leaves room for religion, and for freedom. Yet it is nonetheless a story in which orthodox Christians and Jews will find a great deal to object to. And the respondents to his book—Thomas Joseph White, Francesca Aran Murphy, Paul Griffiths—weren’t bashful about doing so.
Bellah pushed back with characteristic force: “Perhaps it was inevitable in a symposium organized by First Things that all three commentators fault my book for not taking the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ as the center of my story, when the fact of the matter is that my book didn’t reach chronologically to the life of Jesus. . . . Theologians will be theologians, I suppose.”
We’ll have more to say on this remarkable man, including from our editor. For now, here—available free to non-subscribers for the first time—are the contributions to the symposium.
A word from the editor about the seminar on Robert N. Bellah’s magnum opus
R. R. Reno
Robert Bellah’s book renews the liberal Protestant project.
Thomas Joseph White
Robert Bellah puts creative freedom at the heart of human nature.
Francesca Aran Murphy
Choosing between academic universal history and Christian faith
Responses to Thomas Joseph White, Francesca Aran Murphy, and Paul Griffiths
Robert N. Bellah