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 a 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 numerous 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.
Preface 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 Epilogue William Scott Green Contributors Acknowledgements Index