Goodbye, Robert Bellah

Goodbye, Robert Bellah July 31, 2013
Robert Bellah

Robert Bellah once wrote: “Because good social science is always morally serious, we can transpose Weber’s saying that only a mature man can have the calling for politics into the statement that only a mature person can have the calling for sociology. Moral vacuity creates cognitively trivial work.” (The Robert Bellah Reader, p. 400)

One of the greatest American sociologists, Robert Bellah has passed away in these finals days of July. I got the email from my graduate school mentor Robert Wuthnow of Princeton while I sat in a coffee shop at Yale with Phil Gorski preparing for this morning’s philosophy of social science seminar. We were both shocked. The email only said his death was caused by  complications following surgery. 

I wrote about my conversations with Bellah previously on Black, White and Gray, and I’m immensely glad I got to meet a living legend just months before he passed away. At that meeting, Bellah spent as much time talking about how much he loved his recently deceased wife of more than 60 years as he did telling me about his latest book, Religion in Human Evolution, and we chatted about his new interest Catholic social teaching. Aristotle said that often we can’t tell if a person’s life has been flourishing until after they have died. May Bellah’s flourishing intellectual legacy and his example passion for people, ideas and the truth live on long after his death.


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  • Mike McKale

    It was a great joy to be associated with Robert Bellah in my years as a graduate student, work-study assistant, and teacher at the Graduate Theological Union. He was a wonderful professor, a great scholar, and a good friend to all. He was perhaps the finest sociological voice of his generation. An entire generation of students are profoundly in his debt. Most importantly he was a kind and generous soul with a deeply Christian commitment to social justice and a calming Buddhist presence.

    • Margarita A. Mooney

      That’s a great description of him. Thanks Mike!

  • Brian Seilstad

    Herodotus made the point, through Solon, about not judging one’s life before seeing him die about 150 years before Aristotle.