The American Sociologist

, Volume 42, Issue 1, pp 3-33

First online:

The “Bellah Affair” at Princeton

Scholarly Excellence and Academic Freedom in America in the 1970s
  • Matteo BortoliniAffiliated withUniversity of PaduaDipartimento di Sociologia Email author 

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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 Using published and unpublished evidence, the paper shows how two different interpretations of academic freedom were put forward by Bellah’s supporters and opponents, and how the sociological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.


Robert N. Bellah Institute for Advanced Study Academic freedom Disciplinary excellence Reputation