April 16, 2010
The famous Beatles song professes that "all you need is love." In his new book, Divine Love: Perspectives from the World's Religious Traditions, Baylor University's Dr. Jeff Levin describes how a common core value of most of the world's major faith traditions is the imperative of a loving relationship with God. To love God and to externalize this love through acts of justice, mercy and kindness is a vision that lies at the center of traditions as diverse as Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Islam and Buddhism.
The book project was a change of pace for Levin, who by training is an epidemiologist and biomedical researcher. He holds a distinguished chair at Baylor, where he is University Professor of Epidemiology and Population Health and director of the Program on Religion and Population Health at Baylor's Institute for Studies of Religion. He holds Baylor's first ever distinguished appointment in the public health field. In addition, he serves as professor of medical humanities at Baylor.
In Divine Love, edited along with his colleague, renowned Stony Brook University bioethicist Dr. Stephen Post, Levin outlines this "redemptive charge" as a challenge to each believer to "translate the moral wisdom of respective religions into ethical actions that elevate the holiness of God's creation."
Through a loving relationship with the Source of Being, as taught by the great religious traditions, only normative religion can serve as a means to unite rather than divide humankind. This cannot be achieved by people trapped in "the intellectual and spiritual prison of fundamentalism, the parched desert of secularism and materialism, or the swamp of ersatz religions," Levin writes.
The book's contributors include some of the most preeminent academic theologians and religious scholars in the world, including the University of Chicago's David Tracy, Bard College's Jacob Neusner, McMaster University's Clark Pinnock and SMU's Ruben Habito.
Levin holds a degree in religion from Duke University, where he remains an adjunct professor in the medical school. In addition, he is a prominent figure in gerontology, the study of human aging.
"He is most known for his decades of pioneering empirical research on religion and health, much of it in collaboration with his colleagues, Drs. Robert Taylor and Linda Chatters of the University of Michigan School of Social Work. The three friends were among the founders of this field, beginning in the 1980s," said Dr. Byron Johnson, professor of sociology at Baylor and co-director of the ISR.
The uniqueness of a dyed-in-the-wool biomedical scientist and gerontologist producing a work of moral theology and comparative religion is not lost on Levin.
"Only at Baylor could I do something like this and have it be so supported and appreciated. It's such a blessing to be part of the faculty at an institution that would enable me to do this kind of work. Where else could research and writing at the intersection of medicine, aging and religion -- and moral theology -- be considered as central to the mission of the university?"
Levin said he is hopeful that his unusual background as a biomedical scientist, religious scholar and gerontologist will enable him to contribute to Baylor's future growth in the health sciences. "We have an opportunity before us to make a tremendous impact in medical education, biomedical research and global health. We're poised to become a world leader, with the uniquely faith-based perspective that only Baylor can provide. But it will take a big vision and the moxie to see it through."
Levin plans more forays into theology and religious studies. He is currently editing a volume on theology and medicine, along with a colleague at Vanderbilt, comprising essays by leading Christian and Jewish theological, pastoral, and bioethical scholars. He has completed a book manuscript providing an introduction to Jewish moral theology and applied social ethics. He also will be serving as editor in chief of a new multi-book series for Baylor University Press on social science research and religion. In addition, Levin serves as scientific chair of the Kalsman Roundtable on Judaism and Health Research at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.