Defining Love

A Philosophical, Scientific, and Theological Engagement

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"A compelling example of interdisciplinary research useful to many. . . . The definition of love offered by Oord, as informed by the nuances of thought and research throughout the book, offers academic conversations on love a measure of specificity and clarity."--David B. Ward, Koinonia
Some scientific studies suggest that human beings are innately selfish and that virtues such as self-sacrifice are a delusion. In this intriguing volume, esteemed theologian Thomas Jay Oord interprets the scientific research and responds from a theological and philosophical standpoint, providing a state-of-the-art overview of love and altruism studies.
The emerging field of scholarship that relates issues in love, science, and theology has the potential to assist humanity in understanding itself in light of the most powerful forces in civilization. Defining Love introduces this field of work and offers a definition of love that is scientifically, theologically, and philosophically adequate. Oord reviews major research results and hypotheses related to love in the social, biological, and cosmological sciences. He then provides a theological vision that accounts for the definition, forms, and recipients of love while being consonant with research on love emerging in various scientific fields. Positing love relationally as that which "entails acting intentionally, in sympathetic response to others, to promote overall well-being," Oord mounts a case for Christian agape and ultimately for an open, relational, and loving God. The book will appeal to professors, students, and scholars in theology, ethics, and the sciences as well as those engaged in the science-and-religion dialogue.
1. Love and the Science-and-Theology Symbiosis
2. Love's Diverse Forms and Multiple Recipients
3. Love and the Social Sciences
4. Love and the Biological Sciences
5. Love and Cosmology
6. A Theology of Love Informed by the Sciences


"Thomas Jay Oord is as devoted to the theology, philosophy, science, and practice of love as anyone alive today. His writing is very accessible, reflecting his ample experience as a journalist writing thoughtfully for a wide audience. The book covers all the aspects of the new science and theology of love in a phenomenal overview of the existing literature, shaped by the author's own wonderfully constructive position. This is a splendid book that does more than any other to introduce the worlds of science and theology to a new field of integrative research and conceptualization that is giving agape a new centrality in our lives."--Stephen G. Post, president, Institute for Research on Unlimited Love

"Research on love has flourished across the disciplines in the past two decades. Thomas Oord has had an important role in this development and is now able to provide a sweeping, but detailed, survey of the results. He shows that science supports the best in Christian teaching, and he offers his own richly nuanced doctrine of love, involving God's love for the world and our love for God and our fellow creatures to which we are all called. This book is deeply reassuring to all who have been troubled by the challenges of science to Christian faith."--John Cobb, professor emeritus, Claremont School of Theology

"Tom Oord has been on the cutting edge of interdisciplinary research on love for many years. This book represents his most comprehensive contribution to date. Newcomers to the science and religion dialogue on altruism and related themes will appreciate the clarity of his definitions and his overview of the issues. Longtime participants in this dialogue will appreciate the creativity and courage of his controversial proposal for a 'theology of love' informed by the social and natural sciences. Sure to generate discussion in both the church and the academy!"--F. LeRon Shults, professor of theology and philosophy, University of Agder, Norway

"By focusing on the theme of love, Thomas Oord's impressive book provides a refreshing example of how to connect the insights of science to the visions of religion and theology. This informed and readable work deserves a wide readership. Strongly recommended."--John F. Haught, senior fellow, Woodstock Theological Center, Georgetown University

"This book is a thorough-going and wide-ranging effort to place 'love' on the world map by examining cosmology, biology, psychology, social science, interpersonal love, and Christian agape. Oord knows the issues and the sources and is a sure-footed guide in dealing with them. Who are we, and what ought we to do? Oord's vision is that we are placed on Earth with inexhaustible opportunities to love. That makes an examined life worth living. Indeed, that makes life divine."--Holmes Rolston III, University Distinguished Professor, Colorado State University

"In this extraordinary meditation on the forcefield of love, science, and theology, Tom Oord cuts through sentimentalism, reductionism, and dogmatism to start a fresh kind of conversation. The text presents some of the most exciting edges of contemporary science, bringing them into revelatory interchange with the most important questions of theology. But it also risks real answers. Consistently readable and generously teachable, Defining Love brings a strong and surprising voice to current questions about divine power, the gift, creation, and cosmology."--Catherine Keller, professor of theology, The Theological School of Drew University

"If love is God's primary attribute, why do theologians shun the topic? Perhaps they're embarrassed that discussions of love are often superficial and simplistic, more emotional than reasonable. Not so here. Tom Oord's rigorous survey of the scientific data and philosophical resources breathes new life into the study of theology's central topic. A must read."--Philip Clayton, Ingraham Professor, Claremont School of Theology

The Author

  1. Thomas Jay Oord

    Thomas Jay Oord

    Thomas Jay Oord (PhD, Claremont Graduate University) is ordained in the Church of the Nazarene. He taught for many years at Northwest Nazarene University. Oord is the author of Science of Love and the editor of The Altruism Reader.

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"Drawing together strands from theology, biology, sociology, psychology, and philosophy, Defining Love is a compelling example of interdisciplinary research useful to many. For those interested in integrating scientific and theological investigation with the meaning, varied nature, extent, and potential of love, Oord's work will provide an invaluable review of the available literature as well as a thoughtful and careful conversation partner for future work. Further, the definition of love offered by Oord, as informed by the nuances of thought and research throughout the book, offers academic conversations on love a measure of specificity and clarity."--David B. Ward, Koinonia

"Remarkable. . . . Very much worth reading and pondering. . . . Significantly, unlike many who use the term without heedful attention to what it means, Oord recognizes that the very concept of 'love' requires careful analysis and refinement. He is concerned primarily with 'love' as biblically grounded and with what it ought to mean for theology today. His approach to love is historical, critical, analytic, and prescriptive. . . . [I have] great appreciation for and massive overall agreement with what he has accomplished. . . . His arguments are very persuasive and challenging."--Rem B. Edwards, American Journal of Theology and Philosophy

"There is much to commend in Oord's work. He demonstrates that theology and science are compatible dialogue partners. He also demonstrates that finding satisfactory language for both sides is a challenging task."--Stephen Mills, Religious Studies Review