Rejected by the IAS: Sociology of Religion

I’m a big fan of the Institute for Advanced Study — funded by department store moguls, home of Albert Einstein, headed now by a Dutchman of formidable talent.

But it made my blood boil to read the obituary written by Margalit Fox (no relation) of Robert Bellah, “Sociologist of Religion Who Mapped the American Soul,” in the New York Times today.

When the IAS named him to a professorship, according to the obit, “many of the institute’s faculty — whose members were overwhelmingly scientist and mathematicians — called his scholarly credentials into question.” Sociologists, I would suggest, have traditionally been the Cinderellas of the sciences. Further, according to his colleagues, “in the ardently secular canon of the hard sciences, religion was deemed an insufficiently rigorous subject for scholarly scrutiny.”

Amid the hullabaloo, Bellah rejected the appointment and remained at Berkeley.

Let’s be fair, that was 1973 and this is 30 years later. Few of those voting faculty members are still there, and times have changed. But we in Princeton missed having, in our midst, the author of The Broken Covenant: American Civil Religion in the Time of Trial (1975), Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American life” (1985) and Religion in Human Evolution: From the Paleolithic to the Axial Age” (2011).

He was called “the greatest living sociologist of religion.” Had he been at IAS, I would have found out about him before. But I’m glad to know now.

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