, Volume 42, Issue 1, pp 3-33
Date: 21 Jan 2011

The “Bellah Affair” at Princeton

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The so-called “Bellah affair at Princeton” began in March 1973 when a harsh but nonetheless ordinary academic fight over the appointment of Robert N. Bellah as a permanent member of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton found its way to the wider public sphere. Using published and unpublished evidence, the paper shows how two different interpretations of academic freedom were put forward by Bellah’s supporters and opponents, and how the sociological profession understood the episode as a disciplinary attack on the part of the hard sciences and historical disciplines. The emerging symbolic constellation led all the relevant actors to develop a shared interest in the rapid oblivion of the episode: the Bellah affair became a lose-lose game which all the players wanted to end as rapidly as possible.

A first draft of this paper was presented at the History of Sociology section session, American Sociological Association Annual Meeting, San Francisco, August 10, 2009.
I will use the following abbreviations throughout the paper: IAS (Institute for Advanced Study); n.w.a. (no writer attributed); NYT (the New York Times); BPF (Robert Bellah’s personal files, Berkeley, CA); RKMP (Robert K. Merton papers, Columbia University Archives, 1930-2003 MS# 1439. Series II Correspondence, Sub-series Alphabetical 1930-2003, box 41, folder 4, series II.1 “The Institute for Advanced Study, 1970-1985”); TPP (Talcott Parsons papers, Harvard University Archives, HUGFP 42.8.8, Series Correspondence, box 3, folder “Bellah, Robert”; HUGFP 42.45.4, Series Writing, Publishing, and Speaking, box 7, folder “Commonweal April 1973, Article on Bellah”); DRP (David Riesman papers, Harvard University Archives, HUGFP 99.8 Series Correspondence, box 5, folder “Correspondence with Bellah”; and HUGFP 99.12 Series Correspondence, box 1, folder “Correspondence with Bellah”).
Permission to publish excerpts from unpublished documents has been granted by Robert Bellah, Hildred Geertz, Carl Kaysen, Michael Riesman, Harriet Zuckerman, Columbia University Archives, and Harvard University Archives.