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Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  784 Ratings  ·  50 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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Nov 25, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Katya Littleton
Apr 29, 2007 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.
Jan 26, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Bob Prophet
Sep 16, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
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
Chris J
Aug 17, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 25, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jun 16, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
John Henry
Nov 19, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: my-library
To become a missional community in our culture, we need this instruction from a cultural anthropologist's view. This book outlines how Americans are living as products of their surrounding culture. It helps us see the forest through the trees.
Jun 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Every American should read this book. It perfectly explains why our society has reached the current fractious, even destructive point it has.
Derek Wright
Oct 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Enlightening and shocking and overwhelming. One gets every indication this is a sociological masterpiece. The opposite of a 'light summer read', yet spending the summer underlining, circling, and contemplating the sentences in this book was as demanding as it was satisfying. There is too much to summarize here, but one day, maybe.
David Hurley
Oct 20, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A contemporary classic of religious sociology. Recommended for anyone sincerely interested in understanding the role of religion in American society and culture.
Benjamin Hill
Some interesting points that may help some people to lead a better life. But I've heard this all before and it's a bit convoluted.
Jan 21, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Individualism in opposition to civic membership.
- overclass, underclass, anxious class.
Miguel Soto
¿Cómo es vivir en Estados Unidos? Esta parece ser la pregunta fundamental que los autores de este gigantesco estudio trataron de responder. A través de una gran cantidad de entrevistas y testimonios, pero especialmente, de un fino sentido crítico, los autores nos plantean un detallado retrato de la vida norteamericana, del ciudadano común, el que vive en una ciudad cualquiera de una región cualquiera de los Estados Unidos, pero sin la pretensión de querer describir una especie de "individuo prom ...more
Jan 13, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 27, 2009 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
John P. Mueller
Aug 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Relevant for Our Times

Using interviews of a wide cross section of people, Bellah dissects the problems we face in the post-modern world, relates them to the findings of Tocqueville ~150 years earlier, provides historical continuity and context with the development of the US and finally offers an approach for change that would need to be of the magnitude of the civil rights movement. It really blew my mind, in a good way.
Mar 29, 2012 rated it did not like it
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.
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).
John Wise
Apr 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: education, culture
Next to De Tocqueville, an excellent work on American culture.

The Appendix contains an extremely helpful explanation of the difference between research universities and traditional colleges. Research universities have increased the material prosperity of America, but have impoverished America culturally.
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.
Dec 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Oct 06, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: undergrad-reads
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.
Sep 23, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010-reads
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.
Feb 28, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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."
Feb 23, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
(I totally didn't read the conclusion but I was done in the way that mattered)
this was actually not bad but I realize the only chapters that held my interest were the ones about failing marrige, therapy, and religion so idk
Jun 10, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Oct 16, 2008 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.
Jun 18, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Minus the slight and inexplicable bigotry, my new bible.
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Robert N. Bellah was Elliott Professor of Sociology Emeritus at the University of California at Berkeley.

Bellah graduated summa cum laude from Harvard College with a B.A. in social anthropology in 1950. His undergraduate honors thesis on “Apache Kinship Systems” won the Phi Beta Kappa Prize and was published by the Harvard University Press. In 1955, he received a Ph.D. from Harvard University in S
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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” 4 likes
“If other people don't meet your needs, you have to be willing to walk out, since in the end that may well be the only one way to protect your interests.” 4 likes
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