“Time in its aging course teaches all things,” wrote Aeschylus. No one learned more from it than Robert Bellah. In seeking to make sense of modernity in the classical tradition of sociology as a field, Bellah’s work spanned the social sciences and comparative cultural inquiry. He saw the diversity and coherence of religion as the key to culture across civilizations. Trained as a student of tribal cultures, East Asian civilization and Islam, Bellah engaged the West, and the United States in particular, as problematic cases that can be understood only in the broadest comparative perspective.
In his own life, the Christian existentialism of Paul Tillich in The Courage to Be opened up the possibility of a faith beyond belief in the unbelievable, grounded in the power of the God above the God of theism. Tillich also opened up to him the sacramental substance of the church, embodying the presence of the divine in everything finite.