From the Beginning

Robert N. Bellah's 'Religion in Human Evolution'

Religion in Human Evolution
From the Paleolithic to the Axial Age
Robert N. Bellah
Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, $39.95, 784 pp.

Throughout a long and illustrious career, the sociologist Robert N. Bellah has been helping Americans make sense of their world. While Bellah’s scholarly work has focused on specialized understandings of the role of religion in society, Commonweal readers will recognize him for works that have reached a broad audience concerned about the direction of American society. Indeed, Habits of the Heart and The Good Society, co-written by Bellah, were among the most widely read critical reflections on American culture and institutions published in recent decades.

Now, late in his life, Bellah weighs in with an audacious project: to locate our human condition within the two great narratives of the human experience, religion and evolution. Religion in Human Evolution is no simple effort to “reconcile” religious belief with scientific understanding, but something far more interesting and ambitious. It seeks to take both religion and evolution seriously on their own terms, and to locate us within the stories they tell about the human condition in a way informed by the best emerging research on both terrains. Bellah spent thirteen years systematically reading that research in order to address perennial questions: Who are we humans? How can we best understand our...

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About the Author

Richard L. Wood is associate professor of sociology and founding director of the Southwest Institute on Religion, Culture, and Society at the University of New Mexico. He is the author of Faith in Action: Religion, Race, and Democratic Organizing in America (University of Chicago Press).