The Broken Covenant: American Civil Religion in Time of Trial

by Robert N. Bellah

Robert N. Bellah is emeritus professor of sociology and comparative studies at the University of California, Berkeley. He is author of many books, including The Broken Covenant (Seabury Press 1975) and, with others, Habits of the Heart (U. of California Press, 1996).

A Crossroad Book: The Seabury Press, New York, 1975.


Although American society in terms of social and economic variables are present in Dr. Bellah’s writing here, his approach is rather a study and analysis of cultural meaning.


  • Preface

    Dr. Bellah believes Americans have achieved great wealth and power, but more than any other society that power has been used for self destruction. A great and necessary step America needs is one towards humiliation.

  • Chapter 1: America’s Myth of Origin

    This book is not primarily about political theory or about ideology, though both are involved, but about religion and myth. Dr. Bellah reexamines the American civil religion1 and the mythological structure that supports it.

  • Chapter 2: America as a Chosen People

    The issue of Anglo-Saxon superiority and American imperial destiny is exemplified in America’s treatment of native Indians, the importation of African slaves, the annexation of the Philippians, and others.

  • Chapter 3: Salvation and Success in America

    The central theme of this chapter is the dialectic between liberation and liberty, revolution and constitution, conversion and covenant.

  • Chapter 4: Nativism and Cultural Pluralism in America

    The author considers the place of the group, particularly groups that differ significantly from the majority of the early colonist, in the developing pattern of symbols of myth.

  • Chapter 5: The American Taboo on Socialism

    Dr. Bellah asks why has socialism been taboo in America and capitalism sacrosanct? The answer is found in the success of capitalism, that it has worked in America; its beneficiaries have outnumbered it victims.

  • Chapter 6: The Birth of New American Myths

    Dr. Bellah concludes that pride, competition, segregation, license, vicious willfulness, and the late American worship of technical reason have overwhelmed America. If we can find no vision in building an ethical society in the light of a transcendent ethical vision, our prospects are even darker than it now seems.