Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Psychology Returns to Love ... of God and Neighbor-as-Self: Introduction to the Special Issue

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Psychology Returns to Love ... of God and Neighbor-as-Self: Introduction to the Special Issue

Article excerpt

A variety of methods are being employed to develop psychologies of the love of God and neighbor-as-self: standard psychological methods and theories, combining those with theology to contextualize love, using religious experience and convictions to formulate research questions and hypotheses, drawing on Christian psychologies of love that date back to Augustine, critiquing the conceptual, ethical, and metaphysical assumptions of contemporary psychologies of love from philosophical and theological perspectives, and forms of methodological pluralism (e.g., those that embrace quantitative, qualitative, ethical, and theological methods, with the results of different methods alternately critiquing and contributing to one another). Psychologists and others can use this broad range of approaches to develop psychologies of various other psychologically rich concepts central to religious traditions.


Loving God and loving our neighbors-as-our-selves are Biblical commands. Accordingly, they have to do with matters that are spiritual, ethical, and theological. However, those forms of love--involving human behavior, emotions, cognitions, motivation, intentions, virtue, narratives, relationships, identity, biology, neuroscience, and more--are also profoundly psychological.

Psychologists, including Christian psychologists, are now beginning to think and write about--and investigate--the psychological phenomena of love of God and love of neighbor-as-self, phenomena that should, Jesus asserted, be of the greatest importance in our lives. This special issue documents some of those investigations and will, I hope, further the development of psychologies of love, especially those that are deeply and profoundly informed both by Christian faith, theology, ethics, and spirituality and by empirical research and traditional academic psychological theory.

That psychologists, and especially Christian psychologists, are only now beginning to address love is very strange. In my contribution to this issue (Tjeltveit, 2006, pp. 8-22), "Psychology's Love-Hate Relationship With Love," I explore psychologists' considerable ambivalence about love, an ambivalence that is, in part, responsible for the curious paucity of psychological investigations of love. A primary reason for psychologists' avoidance of the topic, I suggest, is the softness of the topic, which appears to render it ill-suited for scientific investigation.

As several contributions to this issue make evident, however, empirical research can contribute to our understanding of even so soft a topic as love of God and love of neighbor-as-self. Drawing deeply on the now-extensive empirical research on forgiveness, Worthington, Sharp, Lerner, and Sharp (2006, pp. 32-42) explore how psychological processes, especially motives and emotions, can contribute to (the particularly challenging) forms of forgiveness that embody love for the enemy. In "Interpersonal Forgiveness as an Example of Loving One's Enemies" they draw psychological connections between love and forgiveness, linking what theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (1952) also coupled:

Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we
are saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the
standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint. Therefore
we must be saved by the final form of love which is forgiveness. (p. 63)

In his "Communion and Complaint: Attachment, Object-relations, and Triangular Love Perspectives on Relationship With God," Beck (2006a, pp. 43-52) reports the results of a study investigating the relationships among research participant responses to three standard psychological approaches to measuring love--adapted to measure love of God rather than some other form of love--with results that are both interesting and promising. (Ardelt, 2003; Levin, 2001, 2002; Richards et al., 2005; and Underwood & Teresi, 2002, have also recently developed empirical measures of love. …

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