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Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life
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Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life

3.79 of 5 stars 3.79  ·  rating details  ·  545 ratings  ·  39 reviews
First published in 1985, Habits of the Heart continues to be one of the most discussed interpretations of modern American society, a quest for a democratic community that draws on our diverse civic and religious traditions. In a new preface the authors relate the arguments of the book both to the current realities of American society and to the growing debate about the cou ...more
Paperback, 410 pages
Published September 17th 2007 by University of California Press (first published 1985)
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Katya Littleton
Apr 29, 2007 Katya Littleton added it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who want to bore themselves to death
Shelves: 2007
This book made me want to bash my head in. Boring, repetitive, and I was forced to finish it for class. If the bookstore doesn't buy it back, I'm setting it on fire and laughing maniacally.
Bruce
This multi-authored sociological study, first published in 1985 and updated in 1996, posits a common core belief among Americans, “the belief that economic success or misfortune is the individual’s responsibility, and his or hers alone.” This individualism “values independence and self-reliance above all else.” I thought about this recently after experiencing Verdi’s early opera, “Ernani,” in which the governing virtue was honor, little thought or spoken about today in our country and culture. C ...more
Bob Prophet
As a former student of sociology with intense curiosity about modern social/political/economic phenomena, I really enjoyed this book and would probably give a copy as a gift to student friends. What I especially liked was the ending where the six (3 pairs) American visions of the public good are outlined, ending with the Administered Society vs. Economic Democracy, neither of which sound pleasant.

I especially like how this analysis unfolds from a "classical republican" perspective and maintains
...more
Nils
A canonical text of American sociology in the 1980s, sure to be at the center of reading lists about the 1980s. A quintessential examination of the mental space of middle class white America, in the late Cold War years, the book is a curiously normative document framed as a piece of positive sociology. Its immense popularity stems probably from precisely this balancing act, as well as the great learning wrapped up within Bellah's mellifluous if curiously relaxed and at times repetitive prose. De ...more
Jonathan
The gist: Individualism (whether economic or spiritual) cannot provide meaning, however worthy the freedom it offers may be. Nor can the weak forms of association found in "lifestyle enclaves," inhabited as they are only by similar people who join seeking personal fulfillment. A meaningful life can only be lived in a community, sustained by tradition and by service to others.
Nadya
Bellah (et al) are primarily concerned with discussing the inevitable overlap of private and public life in American society. Based on 200+ interviews with a representative population of white middle-class America, Bellah draws the conclusion that, as much as Americans are focused on attaining self-reliance and individualism, individualism (i.e. private life) is most meaningful when it is complemented by engagement with society (i.e. public life). He asserts, “individuality and society are not o ...more
Margaret Sankey
1985 sociological study which offers some genuinely profound insights into how Americans talk themselves into narratives of self-made people and idealized small towns, although markedly biased by its date (amazingly, women were starting to not see men as "permanent meal tickets" and small town companies were civic minded and hadn't off-shored all the jobs yet).
Jilz
Apr 27, 2009 Jilz is currently reading it
I am intrigued. More and more lately, I find myself questioning my lifelong premise that there is a particular purpose for my life, and that it is my duty to discover and fulfill that purpose. One may even be hard pressed to prove conclusively that there is any particular purpose, at all, to our individual lives. It may be that my life has whatever purpose and meaning I choose to assign to it. I'm not particularly comforted by that, but now that I have made it through the Preface to the 2008 Edi ...more
Ken
Every American should read this book. It perfectly explains why our society has reached the current fractious, even destructive point it has.
Chris J
One of those rare examples of academic writing that escaped to the hoi polloi. The title comes from a phrase used by Tocqueville in his observations of American culture. Bellah, et al., examine modern therapeutic culture and how it contrasts with the deepest, in some ways subconscious desires of society and ideas of the "good life."
In 1985 I'm certain this was paradigm-shifting stuff and I'm also certain it inspired much of the reappraisals of modernity as well as those committed,long-standing p
...more
Michael
This is an exceptional sociological examination of American society. The authors use Democracy in America as an interpretive horizon for the evolution of American Society in the late 20th century. Where de- Tocqueville's America was politically and socially engaged, the socio-economic factors that have emerged in the last 40 years have worked to undermine communal opportunity. The authors provide a nice balance between case studies and social science. An exceptional read.
Landon
Mar 29, 2012 Landon rated it 1 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: students of sociology
Recommended to Landon by: class assignment
Sociological study...with a focus upon Christianity and American individualism...not my style. This was a class assignment, and the sociology in the book is quite the turn-off. It is dryly written and unengaging, for the layman. It provides the reader with analysis of all of America's problems in regards to individualism, but offers no solutions - highly frustrating.
Shannon Donovan
extremely white protestant centric. The book suggests that we should all be more protestant.....
Meen
This book was part of a Sociology of Culture graduate class. I am an atheist and generally tend to loathe how religion separates us from one another, and the message that I got from this book was that religion is a wonderful thing that is necessary to hold society together. I found that very depressing.
Nick
This is pretty dense book to read, almost as bad as a textbook. But worth it. I loved the ideas about community and the way the authors talked about American values such as independence and how people validate their idea of service. If you can stay with it to the end, this book is worth reading.
Kristina
I could not get through this book. The whining, self-centeredness, and limited scope of types of people included made the generalizations impossible to stomach. It is probably best loved by children of the 60s, or people who spend their time trying to "find themselves."
Elizabeth
I had to read it for my Civic Engagement & Social Action class. Since I do go to a Catholic university I thought it was appropriate for my school and he actually came to my school and spoke to our community about religion and other topics in sociology.
Seth
I skimmed this book and referenced it heavily for an undergraduate research project. The book was given to me and is signed and endorsed to me by my academic advisor. I have long been plagued by guilt for never actually reading it cover to cover. Now I have.
Perrin
This is a good book, but it is an old book. It is very insightful for 1985, unfortunately I think that society has changed quite a bit since then. I'm not saying that their findings are contradicted, but rather complicated, by more recent shifts.
Tekapope
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Katrinka
A good examination of, to put it in very simple terms, the problematic place of individualism in American life. Wish I had read the latest edition, though.
Tim Eby-mckenzie
Timeless work, really. Bob Bellah, et al, really hit the nail on the head. Excellent anthropological analysis. Practical application.
Lori
Oct 16, 2008 Lori is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
So far, I have paralysis by analysis. I am hoping it goes away soon by "this is what it all means ending." I am not hopeful though.
Thadeus
This book gives you some vocabulary to think and talk about the state of the American society. I found it very thoughtful and stimulating.
Lauren
Though written in the 1980s, the racist and sexist tones in this book would make you think it was written in the 1880s. Horrible.
James
Dec 01, 2011 James marked it as unfinished  ·  review of another edition
Pretty much too boring to get past the first few pages...and I like this kind of stuff. Maybe someday I'll dig it up again?
Katie Sargent
Start by reading Bellah's article in Daedalos, Issue 96, Winter 97. This is the groundbreaking essay which sets the stage.
brooke sellers
I've read parts of this. But not all.
What I do know is that it's a call for the return of morals to counseling psychology.
Courtney Kane
A very good and important study of contemporary American culture. I'm uncomfortable with their conclusions...
Lindsay Campbell
Sep 18, 2007 Lindsay Campbell rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Americans
Dissects the culture of American individualism. Great precursor to Putnam and others' work on social capital.
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Bellah is Elliott Professor of Sociology Emeritus at Cal, and coauthor of Habits of the Human Heart. In 2000, President Clinton awarded Bellah the National Humanities Medal and, in 2007, he received the American Academy of Religion Martin E. Marty Award for the Public Understanding of Religion. Religion in Human Evolution is the result of Bellahs lifetime interest in the evolution of religion and ...more
More about Robert N. Bellah...
Religion in Human Evolution: From the Paleolithic to the Axial Age Good Society The Broken Covenant: American Civil Religion in Time of Trial Tokugawa Religion Beyond Belief: Essays on Religion in a Post-Traditionalist World

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“What people need to accept is that it is there responsibility to communicate what they need and what they feel, and to realize that they cannot expect someone else magically to make them happy. People want to be made happy, instead of making themselves happy” 3 likes
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