The Heart of Religion: Spiritual Empowerment, Benevolence, and the Experience of God's Love

Matthew T. Lee, Margaret M. Poloma, and Stephen G. Post . Oxford Univ., $29.95 (312p) ISBN 978-0-19-993188-0
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.)
Reviewed on: 11/19/2012
Release date: 12/01/2012
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