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The Meaning of Love: A Multidisciplinary Course

A. Sandra Willis with Dr. Josh Reeves

A Psychology Course and Syllabus on "The Meaning of Love"

Professor of Psychology, Samford University
August 1, 2015

This is a course description and syllabus developed from our 2015 course development grant competition. See below for a downloadable syllabus.

The Meaning of Love is an interdisciplinary psychology course designed to consider the big question, “What is Love?” Drawing from the expertise of faculty and professionals from multiple disciplines—psychology, theology, religion, philosophy, history, medicine & bioethics, and human development & family studies—we will study and compare definitions, concepts, theories, and research designed to understand, describe, and, especially, to encourage love and prosocial behavior. The course incorporates application and reflection on benevolent practices using individual and group writing assignments, service learning and field experiences, and group production of educational films.

Click here to download the syllabus for The Meaning of Love: A Multidisciplinary Course

Course Readings

Partial Reading list

Other readings selected by guest speakers will be integrated into Schedule.

History of Love: “Love, Western Notions of.” By Ken Mondschein In The New Dictionary of the History of Ideas (Maryanne Cline Horowitz, ed.). Detroit: Gale Group, Inc., 2004.

Origin of idea of Altruism: The Invention of Altruism: Auguste Comte’s Positive Polity and Respectable Unbelief in Victorian Britain in Science and beliefs: From natural philosophy to natural science, 1700-1900 (2005) By Thomas Dixon

Philosophy of Love: “Why do I Love? And “Reasons for Love” (Chapters 3 and 4) in Personal Relationships: Love, Identity, and Morality (1995) by Hugh LaFollette

Theology of Love: “A Theology of Love Informed by the Sciences” in “Defining Love: A Philosophical, Scientific, and Theological Engagement” (2010) by Thomas Jay Oord

Biblical Ideas of Love: Sermon on the Mount and Parable of the Good Samaritan

Defining Love; Different Types of Love: Wolterstorff reading

Psychology of Interpersonal Attraction: “Attraction and Intimacy: Liking and Loving Others” (Chapter 11) in Social Psychology (2013) By David Myers

Intimacy, Attachment, Commitment: Ainsworth, Shaver, Hazen, Bartholomew and Horowitz, Sternberg, Donaldson and Young Love and Marriage: Why Marriages Succeed or Fail (1994, 2007) by John Gottman

Stress, Coping, and Caring: Tend and befriend theory (2000) by Taylor, Klein, and colleagues

Love and Empathy in Healthcare: “Routine, Empathic and Compassionate Patient Care: Definitions, Development, Obstacles, Education, and Beneficiaries” (2014) by Stephen Post and colleagues

Prosocial Behavior & Altruism: The Good Samaritan revisited (Darley & Batson, 1973); Religion & Helping – Steffen & Masters (2005), “Prosocial Behavior: Helping Others” (Chapter 9) in Social Psychology (2012) by Baron and Branscombe Institutional Benevolence: Stephen Post, Institute for Research on Unlimited Love: Altruism, Compassion, and Service; “The Science, Study, and Practice of Universal Benevolence”

Guest Contributors

Contributors will be invited based on their disciplinary expertise and research or their work role in the University; each will select readings to accompany their presentations/activities; readings will be compiled at the beginning of the semester

Theology of Love Gerald Bray (Beeson Divinity) & Josh Reeves (Center for Science and Religion) Love and Christian Ethics – Dennis Sansom (Classics)

Christian Love – Matt Kerlin, Brian & Rene Pitts, April Robinson (University Ministries, Spirituality) Positive Psychology, Altruism, Forgiveness – Jack Berry (Psychology)

Love relationships, Treatment of Women in 18th   century Britain – Ginger Frost (History) Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr – Jonathan Bass (History)

Love as Motivating Prevention of Violence – Jonathan Davis (Human Development and Family Studies)

Love as Service to Others – students select relevant experiences from University Convo list; Lynnette Sandley to contribute ideas about experiences and places

Faith and HealthCare – Neena Sanders (Dean of the College of Health Sciences) – emphasizing empathy in the education and training of students in the health sciences

Patient Care, Hospital Policy Debbie Duke Baptist Health System Benevolence in the Institutional Environment Brad Creed (Provost)



(Offer panels across Samford Community)

  1. Improving Love relationships for Couples and Families: Clinical/Counseling psychologists, Counselors, Social Workers
  2. Love according to Different Religions or Faith Traditions: Protestant, Catholic, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddist, Native American
  3. Love, Empathy and Healthcare: Neena Sanders, Debbie Duke, University of Alabama School of Medicine reps of Palliative Care, Hospice, other Healthcare occupations
  4. Prosocial Behavior in the Workplace: Brad Creed, Provost – University Administration, Mark Freeman – Organizational Psychologist Collegiality, civility, generativity, sharing, facilitation (conceptualized in overall organization Structure & Function, commitment and specific plan/ ways to implement)

Course Schedule

Week 1: Introduction to Course Conceptualizations/Definitions of Love
Students form Working Groups – get acquainted, consider film First writing assignment (individual)–personal conceptions of love

Weeks 2-3: Attachment, Friendship & Love Relationships Marriage & Family
Second writing assignment (group)
Panel #1 Improving Love relationships for Couples and Families

Week 4: Theology of Love
Jesus and the Ethic of Love
The Apostle Paul: Love Conquers All

Week 5: Theology of Love – readings from Gerald Bray God as Love
Augustine: Theologian of Love
Panel #2: Love according to Different Religions or Faith Traditions

Week 6: Christian Love
Love and Christian Ethics Writing assignment (individual)
Student Groups consider Film Topics, discuss with class, plan filming

Week 7: Positive Psychology & Forgiveness Prosocial Behavior & Altruism Revisiting the Good Samaritan
Service learning, field experience (one 2-3 hour group-selected experience)

Week 8: Love relationships, Treatment of Women in 18th century Britain Love as Motivating Prevention of Violence
Group writing assignment Digital editing session
Week 9 & 10: Prejudice & Discrimination: Cognitive, Emotional, & Social factors Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr
Field trip to Birmingham Civil Rights Institute
Individual writing assignment based on field experience – understanding prejudice & reducing discrimination

Week 11: Love- and Care-centered Ethics: Empathy in Health Care Panel #3: Love, Empathy, and Healthcare

Week 12: Applications of Benevolent Love in the Workplace Panel #4: Prosocial Behavior in the Workplace

Week 13: Meta-Questions
Reductionistic vs Holistic Accounts of Love; Egoism versus Agape
How can we encourage the practice of benevolent love? How can psychological science contribute?