In the News - Press Release
$2.3 MILLION GRANT FOCUSES ON LIVING OUT THE ‘GREAT COMMANDMENT’
April 22, 2009
Love, in its many forms, has been the subject of scholarly research and popular fascination for centuries. Most of this attention has been directed towards romantic love. But to what extent can emotionally powerful experiences of a divine flame of love move us beyond our ordinary self-interested concerns and help us express unlimited love for all others? In order to find an answer, an interdisciplinary group of social scientists and theologians funded by the John Templeton Foundation have been working for over a year on a three-year project entitled “The Flame of Love: Scientific Research on the Experience and Expression of Godly Love in the Pentecostal Tradition.”
This collaborative effort has been led by Stephen Post, President of the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love, and University of Akron professors Margaret Poloma, Matthew Lee, and John Green. They are joined by a group of nationally prominent social scientists and theologians from the U.S. and Canada who are meeting at Cuyahoga Falls Sheraton Hotel on May 1-3 (view pictures) to discuss the progress they have made towards understanding the “Great Commandment”—loving and knowing God's love and then reaching out to love others. This meeting will also introduce new members of the research team who represent five sub-awards to other universities funded through the Flame of Love grant:
Candy Gunther Brown and Michael J. McClymond
Indiana University and Saint Louis University
"Global Awakenings—An Ethnographic and Theological Study of Divine Healing in World Missions and Revivals as an Expression of Godly Love”
Donald E. Miller and Richard Flory
University of Southern California
“The Dream Center: Love Embodied in Urban Social Ministry”
Kimberly Ervin Alexander and Mark J. Cartledge
Church of God Theological Seminary and University of Birmingham (UK)
“Learning to Love and Loving to Serve: A Study of the Socialization of Godly Love and Its Influence on Vocation”
Paul Alexander and Robert Welsh
Azusa Pacific University
“Risking Death for the Love of God: A Theological and Psychological Study of Pentecostal Engaged in High Risk Social Action”
Peter Althouse and Michael Wilkinson
Southeastern University and Trinity Western University
“Charismatic Renewal as Mission: Godly Love and the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship’s Soaking Centers”
The primary goal of the Flame of Love Project is to use multiple methods to investigate the phenomena of “Godly Love,” which the researchers believe is at the heart of the Great Commandment, with the expressed purpose of fostering a wide-ranging interdisciplinary dialogue. The Templeton Foundation provided $2,326,362 to fund projects such as in-depth interviews of exemplars of Godly Love, a national survey on Godly Love conducted by the University of Akron’s Bliss Institute of Applied Politics, the five subprojects listed above, and a Summer Reading Seminar on the Great Commandment. Dr. Poloma, explains that the focus implied by “Godly Love," a term which she helped to coin, is on the interaction between divine love and human love. “Godly Love, she says, "is born out of the experience of loving God, being loved by God, and ultimately being motivated by this dynamic interaction to engage in selfless service to others.”
The project has already produced two books on Godly Love: Blood and Fire: Godly Love in a Pentecostal Emerging Church by Margaret Poloma and Ralph Hood (New York University Press) and Godly Love: A Rose Planted in the Desert of Our Hearts by Stephen Post (Templeton Foundation Press). Two more manuscripts have been completed and will be published later this year: Godly Love and the Revitalization of American Pentecostalism: Reexamining the Assemblies of God at the Crossroads by Margaret Poloma and John Green and Social Filters of Godly Love: A Sociological Study of the Great Commandment in the Pentecostal Context by Matthew Lee and Margaret Poloma. In addition, the project has awarded funding for two additional monographs and two edited books, as part of a plan to fund a total of ten books on Godly Love.
The Flame of Love began its investigation into Godly Love by focusing on the broadly-defined pentecostal tradition. This tradition includes historic Pentecostal denominations, neo-pentecostalisms found in mainline and independent congregations, as well as others who adhere to a pentecostal worldview in which the Holy Spirit is deemed an active force in daily life.
To date, researchers have conducted 107 face-to-face interviews with pentecostal exemplars of Godly Love and their collaborators across the United States. But according to Dr. Lee, “the larger goal is to establish a theologically informed scientific framework for understanding Godly Love that can cast light outside the pentecostal tradition and illuminate core concerns of the human condition.” To that end, the Flame of Love Project is developing a national survey on Godly Love that will include all Americans, regardless of religious background.
The exemplar interviews have documented some truly dramatic stories of the transforming power of perceived interactions with a loving God. This ongoing relationship teaches individuals to “see beyond their circumstances” and respond to an incessant call to benevolent service that is both self-sacrificial and self-affirming at the same time. In other words, spiritually powerful experiences redefine the costs and benefits of helping others in a way that blurs the boundary between egoism and altruism. As Dr. Lee explains, “Our research has found that self-giving love paradoxically ends up being self-affirming in the sense that doing for others over a lifetime of benevolence in the service of a higher cause—even to the extent of risking one’s personal safety—can generate a sense of meaning and purpose that few of us seem to be able to attain on our own.” These findings challenge conventional understandings of altruism and have the potential to show us how to increase compassionate love in our society and beyond.
The researchers also seek to transform social science, by taking the audacious step of moving beyond naturalism in a way that takes God seriously as a perceived actor in human events, while also advancing the agenda of an empirical theology. In addition, the project is intended to influence opinion leaders and to change the way that people think about their own spirituality and relationship with God. Dr. Post believes that this research “has the potential to be as important for the 21st century as William James’ The Varieties of Religious Experience was for the last one.”
About the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love:
The Institute for Research on Unlimited Love was founded in 2001 with a generous grant from the John Templeton Foundation. It promotes the study of unselfish love for all others without exception. With support from the Templeton Foundation, the Institute has funded nearly 50 scientific research projects at universities including Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and Princeton. Researchers funded by the Institute are featured in a new book by Dr. Post and Jill Neimark that explores the link between benevolence and good health, entitled Why Good Things Happen to Good People.
About the John Templeton Foundation:
The John Templeton Foundation was established in 1987 and serves as a philanthropic catalyst for discovery in areas engaging life’s biggest questions. These questions range from explorations into the laws of nature and the universe to questions on the nature of love, gratitude, forgiveness, and creativity. With roughly $1.1 billion in assets, the Foundation gives out almost $60 million in grant awards each year.
About The University of Akron:
The University of Akron is the public research university for Northern Ohio. It is the only public university in Ohio with a science and engineering program ranked in the top five nationally by U.S. News & World Report. Serving 24,700 students, the university offers approximately 300 associate, bachelor's, master's, doctoral and law degree programs and 100 certificate programs at sites in Summit, Wayne, Medina and Holmes counties.
For More Information:
Dr. Matthew T. Lee, Project Director
Flame of Love Project
Department of Sociology
University of Akron
Akron, OH 44325-1905