We are sad to learn of the death this week of sociologist Robert N. Bellah. He was 86. We were proud to publish The Robert Bellah Reader in 2006. Perhaps best known for his coauthored bestselling books Habits of the Heart (1985) and The Good Society (1992), Bellah was a truly visionary leader in the social study of religion. For more than four decades, he examined the role of religion in modern and premodern societies, attempting to discern how religious meaning is formed and how it shapes ethical and political practices.
Bellah taught at the University of California, Berkeley, for more than thirty years. The Berkleyan ran an interview with him when we published The Robert Bellah Reader. An active commenter on politics and religion, he was both hopeful and cautious about the future: "I believe very much in the unity of human beings, that we are all part of a common project, and that we need all the resources we can get, because we're faced with challenges in the modern world that threaten our extinction as a species. My effort is to go all the way back to the Paleolithic and look at how human beings have tried to understand the world. That's my broadest definition of religion – it's the way human beings have tried to understand the world."