Synopses & Reviews
Beneath our culture's obsession with wealth and power, status and celebrity, millions of Americans are quietly engaged in a deeply religious struggle to free themselves from petty selfishness and to embrace a life of benevolence and compassion.
Drawing on an extensive random survey of 1,200 men and women across the United States, Matthew Lee, Margaret Poloma, and Stephen Post here shed new light on how Americans wake up to the reality of divine love and how that transformative experience expresses itself in concrete acts of benevolence. The authors find that the vast majority of Americans (eight out of ten) report that they have felt God's love increasing their compassion for others, one of many important revelations uncovered by the survey. In order to more fully flesh out the meaning of the survey's results, the authors also conducted 120 in-depth interviews with Christian women and men from all walks of life and from across the country who are engaged in benevolent service. Their stories offer compelling examples of how receiving God's love, loving God, and expressing this love to others has made a difference in the world and given their lives deeper significance. As a result, some provide community service, others strive for social justice, still others seek to redefine religion and the meaning of "church" in America. Interviewees who may have grown up with judgmental images of God tended to trade them in for a loving and accepting God more consistent with their own emotionally powerful personal experiences.
Based on equal measures of scholarly research and human insight, The Heart of Religion offers an unprecedented level of detail about the experience and expression of divine love.
"This sociological investigation into lived spiritual experiences, via surveys and interviews, focuses on how feeling divine love affects an individual's engagement in charity and community service. Building off previous findings of a correlation between religiosity and community benevolence, the authors find through their survey data that believing in God's love is the single best predictor of community benevolence. The book supplements dry survey data and analysis with interviews; having chosen prominent figures they consider to be prime examples of community benevolence, the authors recount detailed interviews that focus on their subjects' spiritual backgrounds, 'born again' moments, and the service they've performed. The book also broadens its scope by examining prayer experiences, Pentecostalism, and a general typology for the benevolent, classified by types of spirituality and types of benevolence. While these broader discussions are admirably ambitious, they diffuse focus from the interview subjects, whose narratives are the highlight of the work. Furthermore, while the blend of academic prose and analysis with sensitive spiritual topics is intriguing and unusual, occasionally the juxtaposition of topic and tone is jarring. (Dec.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"This is an important and timely text...This is among the first studies to shed real light on the processes whereby powerful experiences of divine love engender efforts to foster a more socially just world. Accordingly, this book is likely to be of interest to anyone interested in how spirituality is impacting contemporary culture." --Sociology of Religion
"The Heart of Religion is a compelling study of people who manifest the
love of God they themselves have experienced, calling readers to a similarly full
life 'thriving while serving others, loving as you have been loved, living a life
of meaning.'" --PRISM
"Lee, Poloma, and Post give an incisive analysis of what can be considered the core element of religious involvement: namely, love. Among the virtues of this volume are the national-level survey data and the qualitative data used to explore processes and experiences related to religiously inspired love. The Heart of Religion avoids simplistic portrayals of the subject by recognizing that godly love is often forged in the crucible of suffering, and that expressions of godly love vary across social contexts and life circumstances. This volume demonstrates that thoughtful scientific investigations can and must take seriously the dynamics and experiences that are central to religion. It will offer an important correction to a longstanding oversight in the social scientific study of religion."--John Bartkowski, Professor of Sociology, University of Texas at San Antonio
"God's love heals, energizes, and transforms. 'Super-charged' by divine love, people can accomplish great things. Blending sociological and spiritual perspectives, the authors provide powerful illustrations of how divine love leads people to respond to the needs of the world. In a world of hurt and brokenness, two themes especially stand out: (1) love transcends all of our differences, and (2) divine love makes it possible to love the unlovable. This is a book full of compelling and inspiring insights into the divine origins of the greatest commandment."--Robert A. Emmons, Editor-in-Chief of The Journal of Positive Psychology
About the Author
Matthew T. Lee
is Professor and Chair of Sociology at the University of Akron. He is co-author, with Margaret Poloma, of A Sociological Study of the Great Commandment in Pentecostalism.
Margaret M. Poloma is Research Professor of Sociology, University of Akron. She is the author of Main Street Mystics, among other books.
Stephen G. Post is the President of the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love (www.unlimitedloveinstitute.com), the author of The Hidden Gifts of Helping, and a Professor of Medical Humanities at Stony Brook University.
Table of Contents
List of Tables and Figures
Chapter 1: Why Should We Care about Godly Love?
Chapter 2: Diversities in the Experience and Expression of Godly Love
Chapter 3: Introducing the Exemplars of Godly Love
Chapter 4: Partnering with the Divine: Spiritual Transformation and Godly Love
Chapter 5: The Breath of Prayer: Energizing Godly Love
Chapter 6: The Cup of Suffering and Joy: Divine Love and Healing
Chapter 7: Human Partners and Godly Love: Relationships Forming Fluid Networks
Chapter 8: Benevolence in the Eyes of the Beholder: Effects of Social Filters
Conclusion: Cultural Grids and Biblical Holes