Is it good to do good? Altruism and Health


Program Description:

Parents and teachers have long encouraged children to be good, telling them that it is its own reward, while many religious teachings emphasize that in giving we receive. Now, a growing body of empirical research indicates that, indeed, concern for others is beneficial to individuals’ physical and mental health. What are we to make of this evidence? Dillon will review different connotations of the meaning of altruism and discuss some empirical patterns informing our knowledge of the impact of care-giving activities -whether directed toward other individuals and groups or social causes (e.g., environmental sustainability) - on individual health. Given research trends indicating that it is good to do good, this can be a springboard for discussion of the nature of altruism, and how universities, other communities, and society as a whole can create diverse care-giving opportunities whose outcomes benefit both self and community.


Michele Dillon

Michele Dillon is a professor of sociology at the University of New Hampshire. Since receiving her Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley in 1989, her research and writing has focused on religion and culture broadly defined to address several pressing questions about the place of religion in contemporary society: the moral politics surrounding abortion and gay rights; the coexistence of commitment and dissent among Catholics; the everyday habits and lifetime journeys of religious and spiritual Americans; and the links between religious/spiritual practices and well-being and altruism. In her writing and teaching, Dr. Dillon emphasizes a pluralistic approach; she uses both qualitative and quantitative research methods and engages with a wide array of classical and contemporary theorists. She is currently President-elect of the Association for the Sociology of Religion, and is past-Chair of the American Sociological Association religion section.

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