VARIETIES OF CIVIL RELIGION by Robert N. & Phillip E. Hammond Bellah


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Robert Bellah's essay on ""Civil Religion in America,"" originally published in Daedalus in 1967, was a rock dropped into the academic pond, and the waves of discussion and dissent continue to ripple its surface. Bellah found the term ""civil religion"" in Rousseau and reshaped it to mean ""a rather articulated set of religious beliefs and practices [which] had grown up in the American polity that was independent from though not necessarily hostile to the various church organizations. . . ."" The concept obviously belongs to the loose-and-baggy-monster category, but this very vagueness has its advantages. For one thing it gives Bellah (Sociology, UC Berkeley) and Hammond (Religious Studies and Sociology, UC Santa Barbara), who write separately, a convenient heuristic device for exploring broad sections of the national scene, with illuminating excursions into Italy, Japan, and Mexico. In his opening chapter, for instance, Bellah has some interesting things to say about America's ""uneasy compromise"" between the self-sacrificing ideals of republicanism (i.e., civil religion) and the centrifugal forces of utilitarian individualism. The strength of our civil religion, he thinks, serves as a gauge of our political and social health--whence his conclusion that, judging by the rise of cynical privatism, we are doing rather poorly. In his final chapter, Hammond speaks of the trivialization of civil religion as a cause of the growth of cults. Elsewhere Hammond does a fine analysis of the absence of civil religion in Mexico, where nationalism and religiousness never fused as they did in the US, largely because of the bitter legacy of Church-State conflict in the 19th century. Bellah, meanwhile, surveys the ""five religions of modern Italy"" (primitive loyalties, Catholicism, liberalism, socialism, and activism), and Hammond describes the civil-religious functions of the public school system and the judiciary. While the overall structure is loose, the individual pieces have great range and considerable interest. A stimulating collaboration.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1980
Publisher: Harper & Row