UC Berkeley News
Press Release

UC Berkeley Press Release

Scholars to receive William Sloane Coffin Awards for moral leadership

Editor's note: The original version of this story contained several inaccuracies; the corrected version, published April 9, is below.

– The first Berkeley William Sloane Coffin Jr. Awards recognizing moral leadership tied to the University of California, Berkeley, community will be bestowed on UC Berkeley scholars Robert N. Bellah and Nancy Scheper-Hughes in a ceremony on Thursday, April 12.

Coffin, a chaplain at Yale University, was an activist in the civil rights and peace movements, and was a vocal critic of the Vietnam War and nuclear arms race. He died a year ago at the age of 81.

Bellah is UC Berkeley's Elliott Professor Emeritus of Sociology and an authority on religion. In a letter to the New York Review of Books in 1977, replying to a letter from former Harvard President McGeorge Bundy concerning Harvard's behavior during the McCarthy period, Bellah revealed that he had in 1955 rejected a Harvard appointment because the university had indicated that if he were called to testify before any committee and refused to answer any question concerning his brief undergraduate membership in the Communist Party in 1946-1948, his appointment would not be renewed. Instead, he accepted a postgraduate fellowship at McGill University's Institute for Islamic Studies in Canada. In 1957 he accepted a Harvard appointment when it dropped the earlier qualification. After attaining the rank of full professor at Harvard, he came to Berkeley in 1967.

He headed a team of younger scholars in writing the book Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life (1985), which turned out to be one of the two or three best-selling books in sociology in the last 100 years. He traces his social concern to the Hebrew tradition as well as to the New Testament.

Bellah received the National Humanities Medal from President Clinton in 2001 in recognition of his efforts to illuminate the importance of community in American society.

Scheper-Hughes, a UC Berkeley professor of medical anthropology, and self-described "militant anthropologist," is known for her extreme field research and her trenchant writings on the violence of everyday life, including mother love and child death in the shantytowns of Brazil, schizophrenia in rural Ireland, AIDS and human rights in Cuba, death squads' extermination of street kids in Brazil, the politics of violence and reconciliation in South Africa, and child sexual abuse, celibacy and the Catholic Church.

Her life as a committed activist began in the early 1960s when she lived and worked in a large favela, or shantytown, in Northeast Brazil, followed by almost two years in rural Wilcox County, Ala., and in Selma, Ala., working as a civil rights worker with a focus on hunger and malnutrition among black tenant farmers.

As a professor at UC Berkeley, she was an early member of the Berkeley Catholic Worker movement and participated in bringing the Peoples' Cafe into People's Park to provide the needy with hot breakfasts and homemade soups and stews.

A follower of the late activist Father Bill O'Donnell, she participates each year in Good Friday demonstrations against the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory weapons' research and has been arrested there several times.

Scheper-Hughes also is a co-founder and director of Organs Watch, a medical human rights project that explores the social and economic context of organ transplantation, with a focus on the human rights implications of the desperate, worldwide search for human organs. She advises the World Health Organization on issues relating to medical human rights abuses concerning global organ and tissue transplantation.

The Berkeley Sloane Coffin Awards will be presented in a "Passion for the Possible" ceremony at 5:15 p.m., Thursday, April 12, at the First Congregational Church of Berkeley, 2345 Channing Way. The program is free and open to the public.

The committee that made the selections includes UC Berkeley faculty from many faiths, campus staff and students, and First Congregational Church of Berkeley leaders.

Additional Sloane Coffin awards also are handed out by the Yale Divinity School.