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2009 Seminars

Flame of Love: Social Science and Theology on the Great Commandment
July 13 - 24, 2009

Directed by
Stephen Post, Margaret Poloma , Matthew Lee

Seminar Description

To what extent can emotionally powerful experiences of a divine “flame of love” move us beyond our ordinary self-interests and help us express unconditional, unlimited love for all others, especially when our human capacities seem to reach their limits?  The answer to this question requires an investigation of Godly Love, which is defined as the dynamic interaction between divine and human love that enlivens and expands benevolence.  This perceived interaction provides the framework for a scholarly investigation of the Great Commandment: love God and love neighbor as self.  The purpose of this summer seminar is to provide an opportunity for social scientists and theologians to think and write creatively about Godly Love in the Christian tradition. 

The seminar seeks to advance the study of Godly Love by building on the foundation that is being established by the Flame of Love research project (see  This three-year collaborative effort is funded by the John Templeton Foundation and directed by researchers at the University of Akron and The Institute for Research on Unlimited Love.  This work in ongoing and will produce books and articles with an eye towards initiating a new interdisciplinary field of study: the science of Godly Love.  Seminar participants will read some of the cutting edge work produced by the Flame of Love project, as well as classic texts by such authors as sociologists Pitirim Sorokin, Don Miller, and Margaret Poloma; theologians Clark Pinnock, Frank Macchia, and Stephen Post; and psychologists William James and Ralph Hood.

We believe that a group of twelve participants and three co-directors represents the ideal size for this group.  Participants are expected to arrive at the seminar having already read a set of selected texts on Godly Love and on the integration of social science and theology.  Participation is especially encouraged for scholars in the early- and mid-career levels who are interested in discussing and reflecting on Godly Love.  A terminal degree in social science or theology is also required.  We expect each participant to produce a written product as a result their participation in the seminar (i.e., a scholarly monograph or series of journal articles that advances the concept of Godly Love). 

In addition, we are looking to expand the focus of the Flame of Love research project beyond its initial concern with the broadly-defined pentecostal tradition. This 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.  We are especially interested in collaborating with seminar participants to develop new grant proposals in other Christian traditions (Catholic, Amish/Mennonite, etc.), including perspectives that reflect ethnic diversities.  We are also interested in parachurch networks (e.g., the Catholic Worker Movement, L’Arche, etc.).  The seminar schedule includes time for independent writing and proposal development.

About the Directors

Stephen G. Post is Director of the Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care, and Bioethics in the School of Medicine, Stony Brook University (SUNY).  From 1998 through 2008 he was Professor of Bioethics & Family Medicine in the School of Medicine, Case Western Reserve University.  Dr. Post served as a Senior Research Scholar in the Becket Institute at St. Hugh’s College, Oxford University.  He is also President of the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love (IRUL) - Altruism, Compassion, Service, which was founded in 2001 with a generous grant from the John Templeton Foundation.  He has published over 130 articles in peer-reviewed journals such as Science, The International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, Annals of Internal Medicine, The Journal of Religion, The American Journal of Psychiatry, The Journal of the American Medical Association, and The Lancet.  He has written seven scholarly books on love, and is also the editor of eight other books, including The Fountain of Youth: Cultural, Scientific & Ethical Perspectives on a Biomedical Goal and Altruism and Health: An Empirical Approach, both published by Oxford University Press.  He is also editor-in-chief of the definitive, five-volume Encyclopedia of Bioethics.  Dr. Post received the Distinguished Service Award from the National Board of the Alzheimer’s Association.  His most recent book is Why Good Things Happen to Good People: The Exciting New Science That Proves the Link Between Doing Good and Living a Longer, Happier, Healthier Life, co-authored with Jill Neimark.

Margaret M. Poloma is a Research Professor and Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the University of Akron. Her ten book-length monographs include Blood and Fire:  Godly Love in a Pentecostal Emerging Church, co-authored with Ralph W. Hood, Jr., (New York University Press, 2008); Main Street Mystics: The Toronto Blessing and Reviving Pentecostalism (AltaMira P, 2003); The Politics of Protestant Preachers, co-authored with J. C. Green, J. L. Guth, and C. E. Smidt (U of Kansas P, 1997); and The Assemblies of God at the Crossroads: Charisma and Institutional Dilemmas (U of Tennessee P, 1989).  She is also the author of three monograph papers, over thirty peer-reviewed journal articles, over thirty-five contributions to edited scholarly volumes, and has held editorial positions with ten journals.  Professor Poloma has researched and written about the Pentecostal charismatic movement for nearly three decades.  She analyzes, in particular, how foundational forces of Western thought, modernism, materialism, and instrumental rationality, are challenging its distinctive worldview and spirituality.  Since her retirement, she has served as a visiting professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, Ashland Theological Seminary, Oberlin College, and Vanguard University of Southern California.  With funding from the Louisville Institute and in collaboration with John C. Green, they have extended her earlier research on the Assemblies of God (AG) and are presently completing a new book on the AG focusing on Godly Love.

Matthew T. Lee is Associate Professor of Sociology, Fellow at the Center for Conflict Management, and member of the Active Research Methods Consortium, all at the University of Akron. He is also a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love and serves on the Board of Directors of the Center for Restorative Justice of North Central Ohio.  Dr. Lee served as Co-Principal Investigator and Project Manager on a three-year drug treatment evaluation study funded by the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  After having studied crime and deviance for over a decade—an effort that produced 30 articles or book chapters and one book on the topic—Dr. Lee found that he was increasingly drawn to the brighter side of human behavior.  This pull toward the positive resulted in Dr. Lee creating the first course on diverse types of love (romantic, parental, altruistic) in the history of the discipline of sociology.  He taught his Sociology of Love course for the first time in the spring of 2006.  It has since been profiled in the Chronicle of Higher Education and a number of other publications.  He is currently serving as Co-Principle Investigator and Project Director on a $2.3 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation to study the experience and impact of Godly love.

About the Speakers

Frank MacchiaFrank D. Macchia is Professor of Systematic Theology at Vanguard University of Southern California. He edits the Journal, Pneuma: The Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies, and has served as President of the Society for Pentecostal Studies. He has also served on the Faith and Order Commission of the National Council of Churches as well as on a few bilateral dialogues. He has written mainly on the topics of Pentecostalism, pneumatology, soteriology, and ecumenism. His most recent book, Justified in the Spirit: Creation, Redemption, and the Triune God (Eerdmans), is due to appear next year (2009).

Wayne Jacobsen began Windblown Media in 2007 with his podcast partner to publish books he felt were valuable for people on a the journey of knowing Jesus. Windblown Media's first publication, The Shack, has sold over 800,000 copies.

In addition, Wayne Jacobsen has served as a Contributing Editor to Leadership Journal. He published his first book in 1998, titled The Naked Church, and re-released in 1991 as A Passion for God's Presence. He has also written He Loves Me: Learning to Live in the Father's Affection; So You Don't Want to Go to Church Anymore; Authentic Relationships; and In My Father's Vineyard.

Wayne Jacobsen has traveled to Nepal, Bulgaria and Albania with Youth With a Mission to help train indigenous pastors, and taught at the University of the Nations in Kona, Hawaii.

Lifestream Ministries was formed by Wayne Jacobsen to coordinate his writing and traveling to encourage others. He also formed BridgeBuilders to make presentations to school districts and education associations and do consultation and conflict mediation.