Sociologists are reputed to be masters of suspicion, and many keep their distance from religious belief and practice. Robert Bellah’s field was the sociology of religion, and the longtime University of California, Berkeley professor—who died last week—certainly knew the value of “distance” in this and all human sciences. But as he studied people of faith and their practice—whether in “Tokugawa Religion” in Japan (his doctoral dissertation subject) or in America—he discerned integrity and value in the faith(s) of many.
Some two decades before Robert Bellah and his colleagues wrote the seminal 1985 book Habits of the Heart, which improved the public conversation about religion and society in the United States, Bellah penned a provocative essay called “Religious Evolution.” He has finally returned to that ambitious theme.
David Martin concludes his introduction to this book—perhaps the best introductory mapping I have ever read of a collection of complex essays—with a description of his book as “a modest exercise.” But don’t be fooled. It is anything but. It is also not a book about the future of Christianity.