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Friday, February 1, 2008

The Altruism Reader

FROM THOMAS JAY OORD, A PROFESSOR OF THEOLOGY AND PHILOSOPHY AT NORTHWEST NAZARENE UNIVERSITY: This has got to be one of the most nonaltruistic things I've done lately. I'm recommending that you check out my new book, The Altruism Reader: Selections from Writings on Love, Religion, and Science.
Yeah, I know. Shameless self-promotion and altruism aren't two things you normally put together. That's why I'm feeling nonaltruistic.
But maybe there's some altruism in this after all.
My hope in putting together this collection of writings was to provide people with easy access to some of the best writing on love and altruism currently available. To do that, I drew from both religious and scientific sources. I chose ancient writings and contemporary essays. I thought that putting all of this material together in one book would help people.
I also want readers to know that research on love and altruism has become more common in recent decades. This is due in part to developments in the sciences. Altruism is a HUGE issue today. But the increase in interest also has to do with the quest to discover possible commonalities among the world's major religions. This quest seems pretty important in our religiously pluralistic age, an age noted for interreligious flareups and conflict.
The first half of my book provides material from religious traditions, important theologians, and moral philosophers. You'll find short selections from the Quran, Bhagavadgita, the Bible, Augustine, Anders Nygren, the Dalai Lama, Stephen Post, John Polkinghorne, and others. Of course, I could only offer a small portion of the really great stuff available on this subject. There are about 20 selections, mind you. But in comparison to what I originally wanted to include, this is just the tip of the iceberg.
The second half of the book contains scientific research on love. Research summaries, theories, and analysis in scientific disciplines such as psychology, sociology, anthropology, neurology, sociobiology, and nonhuman primate studies are included. In these contexts, "altruism" is often the favored word. Here, too, these essays represent a small portion of the large body of scientific research related to love and altruism. But I think readers will find the science especially stimulating.
The primary purpose of this anthology is that it be a text for college, university, and seminary courses. The idea for the project emerged from a discussion involving professors who won awards for their courses on altruism and love. Stephen Post, director of The Institute for Research on Unlimited Love, and I brought together these professors at the Claremont School of Theology in the spring of 2004. But I think nonstudents will think this reader is great, too. Of course, I'm biased. But I'm finding many people outside the classroom want to read this book.
My hope is that this material will help us all better understand love and altruism. I also hope it will help us express love and altruism more consistently. I believe that we all ought to go after a life of love as if our lives depended on it. Because they do.
So maybe this recommendation IS altruistic!