Staff at the Press is now back in the office after AAR/SBL Annual Meeting in San Diego. The exhibit was a great success for us, as we not only sold many of our books but had the opportunity to see many of our authors and meet many of our readers.
The founder of Templeton Foundation Press, Sir John Templeton, strongly believes that thanksgiving should be practiced every day. As our annual observance of Thanksgiving draws closer, I share with you Sir John’s words about thanksgiving from his book The Humble Approach:
Templeton Foundation Press will be exhibiting at the 2007 American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature in San Diego, California, November 17–20. Come stop by the booth, 514, to see our new books. We’ll be in the same area as our parent organization, the John Templeton Foundation.
The Thursday, October 25, issue of the Duke Chronicle featured one of Templeton Foundation Press’ most prolific authors, Dr. Harold G. Koenig, and the Duke Center for Spirituality, Theology, and Health in an article.
Elizabeth Johnston Taylor recently contributed an article to The Learning Scope that discusses how nurses can address patients’ spiritual pain. The article incorporates ideas from her book, What Do I Say?
Through the authors’ analysis of established religious, philosophical, and scientific theories of altruism as well as the incorporation of real-life anecdotes and hypothetical examples, a new, comprehensive definition of altruism emerges. One of the coauthors, Andrew Michael Flescher, answered some questions that relate to the content of The Altruistic Species.
TFP Editor: How did you become interested in studying altruism?
Flescher: My interest in altruism began with my explorations of the writings of a political saint and a religious philosopher, both of whom expressed the same, somewhat radical idea. They were the American civil rights activist, Martin Luther King Jr., and the French Judaic thinker, Emmanuel Levinas, and their idea is that we are “born in the red.” We are already, in our very inception, answerable to other human beings worse off than we are. In this idea I saw a profound challenge to two of the most taken for granted assumptions in American contemporary society, namely, the assumption that morality is primarily about the avoidance of wrongdoing and the related assumption that our individual and civil liberties are goods to be prized above all others. In these two assumptions I am essentially free to do as I wish as long I do not act in violation of others. According to King and Levinas, morality is, by contrast, a more proactive, demanding enterprise whereby I must always try to build virtue into my life. For these two, as opposed to those who subscribe to the prevailing wisdom, altruism, not the avoidance of wrongdoing, is the kernel of the good life; we are not “morally in the clear” unless we are vigilant and introspective, making sure that we go out of our way, whenever we can, to seek out and assist the suffering everywhere. As I read King and Levinas, and then began to interview altruists themselves, I was struck by the degree to which they all claimed of altruism that it is not a “praiseworthy” activity but a non-spectacular one that, as such, we can realistically expect to be performed on a regular basis by ordinary people. Taking this testimony at face value I was led to ponder: is altruism akin to a God-given talent, as the standard view suggests? Or is it, rather, a learnable skill, one available to be cultivated by most in society? If the latter, then the vast majority of us are capable of becoming altruistic to a greater degree than our legal system compels us to be.
In spring 2008, Templeton Foundation Press will be publishing Tibetan Buddhism and Modern Physics: Toward a Union of Love and Knowledge by Vic Mansfield. In anticipation of this publication, Mansfield has begun scheduling lectures and events on topics in this book. His schedule can be found on his Web site.
Each fall, Templeton Foundation Press publishes a small inspirational book extrapolating on a virtue that relates to Sir John Templeton’s vision. This season, Everett L. Worthington contributes a second volume to our inspirational series: Humility: The Quiet Virtue. In addition to this book, Worthington also contributes a chapter to Jesus and Psychology edited by Fraser Watts, which TFP will publish in November.
In fall 2005, TFP published Worthington’s other inspirational book: The Power of Forgiving. We’ve had tremendous international success with this title, having sold translation rights in five languages.
TFP Editor: Why should a person desire to be humble? Are there benefits to humility?
Worthington: Research on humility is just beginning. Social scientists are starting to unravel the mystery of how to measure humility. We cannot simply ask people if they are humble. What if they say “yes.” Would you trust that this was an indication of humility? So, one of the few benefits uncovered is that people want acquaintances to be humble, friends to be selectively humble (humble toward us, but not so much toward others, proving that we are special), mates to be humble (but not doormats), and political leaders to be humble unless their strength is challenged. I think that most people’s motivation to be humble, though, is that, as humans, we seem to have the capacity for both virtue and vice, and virtue attracts us.
In April of this year, Templeton Foundation Press published Unexpected Grace: Stories of Faith, Science, and Altruism by Bill Kramer, a freelance journalist who lives in the Cleveland, Ohio, area. Kramer gives us the opportunity to observe the events of four compelling studies of compassion in action, which are all contributing to the study of altruism in the twenty-first century.
Kramer has arranged several book readings to be held throughout the fall, which are posted on our Web site.
TFP Editor: How is the field of altruism expanding?
Kramer: For more than a century, funding in psychology and much of science focused on the destructive nature of mankind—everything from mild neurosis to outright psychosis. So the very fact that since the early 1990s researchers have been investigating the moral high ground of humanity is a major first step in this new field of scientific inquiry. These studies ask: Who are the moral exemplars of our era—and what makes them live the kind of life that inspires us? I’m talking about people like Ghandi, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, all the ordinary Europeans who sheltered Jews from the Nazis, and young people right here in America who do volunteer work and learn the lifelong value of service. Today, there are a growing number of organizations around the country devoted to funding and investigating this kind of research: the John Templeton Foundation, The Fetzer Institute, The Institute for Research on Unlimited Love, the Metanexus Institute, the Institute of Noetic Sciences—to name just a few. Each may have its own particular mission, but all of them are proceeding in this general direction. And as we add to knowledge in the field of altruism, so too will the importance and the expression of altruistic impulses expand in our personal lives. It’s like a chain reaction—one that we desperately need in a world plagued by conflict and sorrow.
In May of this year, Templeton Foundation Press published Cosmic Impressions: Traces of God in the Laws of Nature by Austrian physicist Walter Thirring. Originally published in German, Cosmic Impressions, using modern science, paints the picture of the creation of the universe, leading to reflections about the Creator. Thirring includes colorful vignettes of prolific twentieth-century scientists (Einstein, Pauli, Heisenberg, and Schrödinger) who he worked with throughout his prolific scientific career.
TFP Editor: What prompted you to write Cosmic Impressions?
Thirring: In my view, the great mysteries of the cosmos concern everyone alike. They have to be investigated with openness and humility, without prejudice and polemics. Their exploration should unite humanity, not split it into hostile camps. I even sympathize with Niels Bohrs saying that about the deepest truth one can talk only jokingly. I wanted to tell the story in this style.
TFP Editor: At what moment in your life did you realize that science and religion were compatible?
Thirring: I am only an occasional churchgoer, but in the course of time I was exposed to different religious views in many parts of the world and, through my scientific activity, I learned what science says. Therefore, when Henry Margenau asked me this question in 1988 for his collection of views on the subject, I had been thinking about it for more then half a century and I responded, “the fierce battles between scientists and theologians which are mentioned in your letter seem to me not so much inherent to these subjects but rather to the pretentious character of some of their representatives who believe that they understand more than they do.”
In the September 2007 issue of the online newsletter The Global Spiral, Freeman Dyson, a former Templeton Prize winner, contributed a very interesting and thought-provoking essay, “The Varieties of Human Experience,” in which he remarks on the philosophies of William James and Sir John Templeton.