Learning to love and loving to serve 

A study of the socialization of Godly Love and its influence on vocation

Dr Kimberly Alexander (Church of God Seminary, Cleveland, Tennessee) and Dr Mark J Cartledge (The Centre for Pentecostal and Charismatic Studies, University of Birmingham, UK) have been awarded a two-year research grant of $150,000 by the John Templeton Flame of Love Award. 

It is one of five grants funded under the Templeton Flame of Love scheme in partnership with the University of Akron, OH, USA. The goal of the overall scheme is to offer theologically informed social science research into the concept of Godly Love as it is experienced and understood within Pentecostal Christianity in order to establish ‘a new interdisciplinary science of Godly Love’. 

Given that each project is interdisciplinary, that is, social science and theology, it includes at least one person who is conversant with empirical research methods associated with social scientific research. Dr Cartledge brings this expertise as a founding member of the International Society for Empirical Research in Theology (2002) and as someone who has developed the empirical research of Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity. Dr Alexander brings her historical expertise of Pentecostalism and in particular knowledge of American Pentecostalism. The research project also involves the Center for Pentecostal Leadership and Care, under the Directorship of Dr James P Bowers, which is based at the Church of God Seminary. The Center will carry out the data collection for the project and assist with the processing and dissemination of the results. 

The aim of the project is to investigate how Godly Love is socialized within the Church of God (Cleveland, TN) Pentecostal denomination in order to appreciate its impact on understandings and experiences of Christian vocation in church and society. 

This project is a historically informed enquiry into the way in which a Wesleyan Pentecostal tradition socializes its members into particular understandings of Godly Love and its impact on vocation. Therefore it uses historical analysis of this theological tradition in order to suggest key concepts for contemporary sociological and theological analysis. 

This contemporary analysis is undertaken by means of a quantitative congregational survey of members and pastors of the Church of God (Cleveland, TN) denomination (a randomly selected sample of 800 congregations will be approached). The survey will test measures of Godly Love and develop a socialization scale already in use by one of the investigators. 

Socialization will, therefore, be the main theoretical sociological perspective through which Godly Love will be investigated and will be interpreted by means of the theological concept of traditioning. The data will be reflected upon both in terms of sociology and theology in order that each perspective is informed by the other. 

Thus, it combines sociological conceptualization correlated with theological reflection in order to investigate the impact that socialization has on measures of Godly Love and Christian vocation. 

This study is significant for scholarship because it maps for the first time the influence of Godly Love on the nature of Pentecostal vocation in both the church and society. Findings from this research will also be applied to the existing literature on the subject of Christian vocation in order to appreciate the significance of these findings for wider scholarship in the field. 

In this way the impact of the research finding will be broader than just Pentecostal and Charismatic studies: it will be significant for understanding the theory of socialization, attitude formation, and the motivation behind vocation choices and goals.  

Additional information on the project may be found on the Pentecostal Theological Seminary’s website.