Finding the true meaning of religion in America


In a time when religion is at the root of much controversy, it often is difficult to uncover its true meaning. Different denominations offer their own definitions, bringing conflicting ideologies and beliefs into society. Is there a common ground underneath the differing values, beliefs and laws? Two University of Akron researchers asked that very question and found interesting results.

Sociology professors Matthew Lee and Margaret Poloma have taken their findings and turned them into "The Heart of Religion: Spiritual Empowerment, Benevolence, and the Experience of God’s Love." The book looks at religious experience and how that relates to the true heart of religion: love.

Finding the heart of religious experience

"What we studied is the heart of religion," says Poloma. "Sociology has studied the shell, but there is something that goes beyond and before institutions and practices. We believe that's religious experience."

Through 1,200 random surveys and 120 interviews, Lee and Poloma found that religious experiences influence the lives of individuals and have noticeable impacts on society. Their research showed that 81 percent of people have experienced God's love, which they then spread to the world.

"This love provides the energy to do a great deal of benevolent work — for friends, family, community and the broader world,” says Lee.

Desire to 'pay it forward'

This relentless commitment to others comes from experiencing the love of God, the authors say. After the experience, the individuals want to share that love and benevolence, even if there is a cost. They see what they do as part of God's plan and are able to persevere, despite setbacks and significant suffering, in their attempt to realize this plan.

"The True Heart of Religion" will be available Dec. 1, 2012. For more information about the book and to purchase it, go to Heart of Religion online.

 Story by Anna Tultz

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