urges search for common good
author and sociologist Robert Bellah delivered a message on what
needs to be done to improve American society to a capacity crowd
in Minor Hall Auditorium Nov. 9. Speaking on "The Protestant
Structure of American Culture: Multiculture or Monoculture?,"
Bellah traced the shift in America's social culture from a Puritan,
church-centered culture, to a nation-centered one that emerged
around the time Lincoln was president, to a self-centered one,
introduced by Emerson, and ever-present today.
U.S. has proven hospitable in recent years to the idea of multiculturalism,
noted Bellah, the Elliott Professor of Sociology Emeritus at the
University of California at Berkeley and co-author of Habits of
the Heart and The Good Society. However, "American culture
is Protestant to the bone and [that] has affected every cultural
and religious group more than they realize," he said. "This
is why the ideology of multiculturalism in America today is so
appealing but the reality so problematic," he said.
a deep understanding of the common good Š and without
a conception of the church as something more than just
a voluntary association, the dignity of the individual
is swept away in a jumble of isolated, fragmented individuals,
ruled only by the market, which doesn't understand the
dignity of anything but money."
have true multicultural education in America, we'd need to teach
a second language," he said. "Why don't most Americans
learn another language? Because we don't have to. Everyone in
the world speaks English," he said. Different minority groups
can keep their identity, "but cultural content goes under
the pressure of the dominant Protestant culture," he said.
further support his argument, Bellah noted that second- and third-generation
Asian- and Hispanic-Americans no longer speak their native language;
they speak English. "When language, which is the heart of
any culture, disappears, so too does that culture," he said.
only institution in our society where multiculturalism survives
is in religious-based structures," said Bellah, citing the
African-American church as an example. Religion is the "only
institute that can sustain strong cultural pluralism over the
generations," he said.
is wrong, not on the surface of American life, but deep in the
core of our common culture," said Bellah, citing a number
of studies that both he and other writers have conducted. The
research reveals that Americans have become socially disconnected.
Everything from church membership to the number of bowling leagues
in this country is down, he said.
the real mission of cultural pluralism would be to offer an alternative
to the radical Protestant individualism that has dissolved the
church into the messianic nation, such that once the messianic
mission is lost, there is nothing left but the individual as the
pre-eminent being in the universe. Nothing left but 'hat I have
is mine, and it is mine because I deserve it, and I have a right
to it,'" Bellah said.
"Without a deep understanding of the common good ... and
without a conception of the church as something more than just
a voluntary association, the dignity of the individual is swept
away in a jumble of isolated, fragmented individuals, ruled only
by the market, which doesn't understand the dignity of anything
but money," he said.
"We need the non-Protestant traditions and the most thoughtful
and self-critical sector of Protestant tradition to remind us
that we are citizens of the deeply flawed city of man, and that
we badly need to recover an idea of the common good toward which
we can aspire in the face of the disintegrative tendencies, not
of cultural pluralism but of radical individualism.
the hold of the monoculture is in my opinion our greatest, most
urgent challenge. A fundamental turn of direction would involve
a change in our economy, our institutions, our culture, and in
the core of our religious faith. There are not many signs at the
moment that Americans are prepared to accept that challenge,"
said Bellah, whose talk was the second annual Lecture in Culture
and Social Theory, sponsored by U.Va.'s Institute for Advanced
Studies in Culture and the Department of Sociology.