Friday, January 18, 2013

M.T. Lee, M.M. Poloma & S.G. Post's "The Heart of Religion"

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, the author of The Hidden Gifts of Helping, and a Professor of Medical Humanities at Stony Brook University.

Lee applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, The Heart of Religion: Spiritual Empowerment, Benevolence, and the Experience of God's Love, and reported the following:
The heart of religion is love. This conclusion derives from an extensive random survey of 1,200 men and women across the United States that sheds 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 vast majority of Americans (eight out of ten) report that they have felt God’s love increasing their compassion for others. In order to better understand how this process works in daily life, we also conducted 120 in-depth interviews with Christian women and men from all walks of life across the country who are engaged in benevolent service.

I was amazed to find that page 99 describes the theoretical foundation of the research project that produced the national survey, the qualitative interviews, and the five subprojects that provided the empirical findings we report in the book. That foundation is Russian-American sociologist Pitirim Sorokin’s concept of “love energy.” Love can been understood as a type of energy because it gets work done. It does a lot of the “heavy lifting” in the expression of benevolence.

Here is part of what we wrote on page 99:
Especially relevant for our discussion of prayer and godly love is Sorokin’s proposal about the production and generation of love energy and its role in empowering altruism. According to Sorokin, love energy is commonly generated through the interaction of human beings, but he hypothesizes that it is possible that “an inflow of love comes from an intangible, little-studied, possibly supraempirical source called ‘God.’” Although the methodology of social science does not provide the tools for proving whether or not God exists and interacts with humans, we have already demonstrated that most Americans believe that they have (at least on occasion) interacted with the divine—and that this interaction does have an effect on benevolent attitudes and behavior.
Why would anyone step outside of their self-interested way of life to serve others? Because they are energized by love. Much attention has been paid to the structural shell of religion: the denominations, creeds, and social networks. But the heart of religion is the love energy that enlivens and sustains these structures.

In our concluding chapter (p. 229), we note that for our interviewees, “divine love is the door to a life of benevolence and prayer is the key that unlocks it.” So it was interesting to see that page 99 is part of the chapter devoted to prayer. So although this particular page is perhaps not the most representative of the book, nor would it be the one I would pick if I had to select the most important page, it is interesting that it identifies the theoretical foundation of the project (love energy) and focuses on the key (prayer) to unlocking this potent form of energy.
Learn more about The Heart of Religion at the official website and the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue