Research has shown the important role of religious social networks in fostering benevolence, but some questions have remained: Why are people who frequently pray or attend church more generous with their time and money? Why does one religious group rather than another get involved in certain forms of outreach? Drawing on an extensive survey of 1,200 Christian men and women across the United States, as well as 120 in-depth interviews, Matthew T. Lee, Margaret M. Poloma, and Stephen G. Post offer a deeper and more nuanced study of religion and benevolence, finding that it is the experience of God as loving that activates religious networks and moves people to do good for others. Lee, Poloma and Post show that, for many Americans, love underlies both authoritative and benevolent images of God. The authors discover that encounters with God's love are frequent-eight out of ten respondents to the survey said that that they had felt God's love increasing their compassion for others-and that such experiences take on very different meanings depending on social context. These encounters can be intensely transformative, both for individuals and their communities. The book provides countless examples of how receiving God's love, loving God, and expressing this love impacted the lives of the Christians they interviewed. Some began to provide community service, others to strive for social justice, still others to seek to redefine religion and the meaning of "church " in America. Many of the interviewees discarded the judgmental image of God they knew as children in favor of a loving and accepting representation of God that is more consistent with their direct, personal, and affectively intense experiences. The Heart of Religion will be an invaluable resource for anyone interested in how perceptions of God affect communities in America.
Publisher: Oxford University Press Inc