Sociology Researchers Receive $2.3 Million Grant


Akron, Ohio, Feb. 4, 2008 Love, in its many forms, has been the subject of scholarly research and popular fascination for centuries. Most of this attention has been directed toward 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? How can the perceived influence of "Godly Love" be objectively measured through rigorous scientific methods? Perhaps most important, how might this knowledge be applied to the benefit of our communities?

To begin to address these questions, the John Templeton Foundation has awarded a major research grant to establish a new interdisciplinary field of study: Godly Love. This collaborative effort will be 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. The title of their project is, The Flame of Love: Scientific Research on the Experience and Expression of Godly Love in the Pentecostal Tradition.

Through his influential work as president of the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love, Post has helped spark a worldwide revival of interest in benevolent love. He describes the Flame of Love project as, a scholarly investigation of the Great Commandment: love for God and love for neighbor as self."

Poloma, the preeminent sociologist of pentecostalism in the United States, further explains that the focus implied by Godly Love, a term she helped 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 Flame of Love project will last three years and limits its investigation to the broadly-defined pentecostal tradition. But according to 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. The pentecostal 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.

Defined in this way, pentecostalism is the most significant and fastest growing type of Christianity in the world, with an estimated 500 million adherents. It also is experiencing notable growth in the United States, where 36 percent of adults (80 million people) identify themselves as pentecostal. Almost half of all adults attending a Protestant church in the United States fit this broad definition, as do one-third of all Catholics.

The primary goal of the project is to use multiple methods to investigate the phenomena of Godly Love 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 UA's Bliss Institute of Applied Politics (under the direction of Green, a distinguished professor of political science), six additional sub-projects at $150,000 each to address specific issues within the broader topic, the creation of an interdisciplinary think-tank on Godly Love, and two summer institutes that will provide mentoring to young scholars.

The researchers also seek to transform social science, by 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. 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.

For more information about the Flame of Love project, call 330-972-6940 or e-mail

About the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love

The Institute for Research on Unlimited Love ( was founded in 2001 with a 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 Post and Jill Neimark that explores the link between benevolence and good health, titled, "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.