Perspectives on Compassionate Love: Lynn G. Underwood

The third plenary session at this year’s CCT annual conference was given by Lynn G. Underwood. Dr. Underwood has published widely in areas such as quality of life, cancer, stress, compassionate love, and the understanding of ordinary spiritual experience in a multicultural context. Originally trained in medicine, she holds a PhD in epidemiology, and is an elected member of the Academy of Behavioral Medicine. She is currently a consultant on projects for Harvard University, the Cleveland Clinic, the University of Connecticut and a variety of social services organizations, and is a Senior Research Associate at the Inamori International Center for Ethics at Case Western Reserve University.


  • Working definition of compassionate love.
  • Qualitative interviews about compassionate love
    • Trappist Monk Study
    • Qualitative work in developing the DSES
  • Quantitative Work
    • The Daily Spiritual Experience Scale
    • A model to help connect science research with life
    • A few examples of research
  • The Arts (Poetry, film/tv, fiction, visual art)
    • A way to get at the essence and complexity of self-giving love.


Compassionate Love

  • Other-centered love, self-giving love, apage, altruistic love, etc.
  • Focus has been on human experience of self-giving love, love centered on the good of the other, with the motivation of supporting their flourishing, not only relieving suffering.


Key Qualities of Compassionate Love

  • Some elements of free choice
  • Some degree of cognitive understanding of the situation
  • Some understanding of the self
  • Valuing the other
  • Openness and receptivity
  • A response of the heart (core, where emotions and cognitions integrate)


Qualitative Research: Structured Interviews


Features of Compassionate Love

  • Asked the Monks, here is what they said:
    • Humility, unselfishness, receptivity, setting aside your agenda for the sake of the other, being present to the stuation of the other, a mature view of reality, sense of detatchment, trust, openness, acceptance of self in order to accept others, listening, suffering with another, helping the other become fully themselves, being aware of our emotions


Internal process for giving compassionate love

  • Weighing individual actions
  • Attitude of heart


Practices for Strengthening Love

  • Quite time, strengthening self-identity, prayer, spiritual reading, critique of aware community, listening, doing compassionate things, cultivating awareness of motives,


Quantitative Research

  • Daily Spiritual Experience Scale (DSES)
    • Designed to transcend religious boundaries but still address theistic experience within particular religious contexts.
    • Measures perception of ordinary interactions with God.
  • How often do you experience the following on a scale of 1-6 (examples):
    • Spiritually touched by the beauty of creation
    • Feel thankful for blessings
    • Feel deep inner peace/harmony
    • Find comfort in my religion or spirituality
    • I feel God’s presence
    • I feel God’s love for me directly
    • I feel God’s love for me through others
    • I feel a selfless caring for others
    • I accept others even when they do things I think are wrong



  • Higher scores on the DSES predicts lower burnout rate for pastors, nurses, parents.
  • People under high stress tend to be less loving, yet when they have higher DSES they are able to be loving even in stressful situation

Published by cwoznicki

Chris Woznicki is an Assistant Adjunct Professor of Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. He works as the regional training associate for the Los Angeles region of Young Life.

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