Altruism in World Religions

cover art
216 pp., 5.5 x 8.5
ISBN: 9781589010659 (1589010655)

November 2005
LC: 2005008369


Table of Contents

Altruism in World Religions
Jacob Neusner and Bruce Chilton, Editors
In 1830 philosopher Auguste Comte coined the term altruism to provide a general definition for the act of selflessly caring for others. But does this modern conception of sacrificing one's own interests for the well-being of others apply to the charitable behaviors encouraged by all world religions? In Altruism in World Religions prominent scholars from an array of religious perspectives probe the definition of altruism to determine whether it is a category that serves to advance the study of religion.

Exploring a range of philosophical and religious thought from Greco-Roman philia to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, from Hinduism in India to Buddhism and the religions of China and Japan, the authors find that altruism becomes problematic when applied to religious studies because it is, in fact, a concept absent from religion. Chapters on Judaism, Christianity, and Islam reveal that followers of these religions cannot genuinely perform self-sacrificing acts because God has promised to reward every good deed. Moreover, the separation between the self and the other that self-sacrifice necessarily implies, runs counter to Buddhist thought, which makes no such distinction.

By challenging our assumptions about the act of self-sacrifice as it relates to religious teachings, the authors have shown altruism to be more of a secular than religious notion. At the same time, their findings highlight how charitable acts operate with the values and structures of the religions studied.
Jacob Neusner is research professor of theology and senior fellow at the Institute of Advanced Theology at Bard College. He is the editor of God's Rule: The Politics of World Religions and is the author of several books on Judaism.

Bruce Chilton is Bernard Iddings Bell Professor of Religion and director of the Institute of Advanced Theology at Bard College. He is the author of several books including Rabbi Jesus: An Intimate Biography and Rabbi Paul: An Intimate Biography.
"These careful textual studies disclose the reward structure ingredient in the world's great religious traditions. Their impact is theologically provocative, to say the least. Stunning!"—Barbara DeConcini, executive director, American Academy of Religion

"A fascinating assessment of the 'place' of altruism in religion. Generally perceived as a religious value, it is surprising to learn that altruism as generally defined in the West is either irrelevant or in tension with the fundamental concerns of most of the world's major religious traditions. It is not that the world religions neglect duty to others, benevolence, charity, and the like, but rather that our contemporary understanding of altruism is not capable of accounting for these values in their local contexts. The conference from which this book proceeds was a very interesting intellectual experiment and has provided a valuable collection of essays."—Don Wiebe, professor in the faculty of divinity at Trinity College, University of Toronto and cofounder of the North American Association for the Study of Religion

Table of Contents

Introduction: Altruism and the Study of Religion
William Scott Green

1. Altruism in Greco-Roman Philosophy
Robert M. Berchman

2. Altruism in Classical Judaism
Jacob Neusner and Alan J. Avery-Peck

3. Altruism in Christianity
Bruce Chilton

4. Altruism in Islam
Th. Emil Homerin

5. Altruism in Classical Buddhism
Todd Lewis

6. Altruism in Contemporary Buddhism: Thich Nhat Hanh's Socially Engaged Buddhism
Bradley S. Clough

7. Altruism in Japanese Religions: The Case of Nichiren Buddhism
Ruben L. F. Habito

8. Altruism in Classical Hinduism
Richard H. Davis

9. Altruism in Chinese Religions
Mark Csikszentmihalyi

William Scott Green


Alan J. Avery-Peck Robert M. Berchman Bruce D. Chilton Bradley S. Clough Mark Csikszentmihalyi Richard H. Davis William Scott Green Ruben L. F. Habito Th. Emil Homerin Todd T. Lewis Jacob Neusner