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Sources of altruistic calling in Orthodox Jewish communities: A grounded theory ethnography

Stephen J Linenberger, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


This study of altruistic calling the Orthodox Jewish community began with a line of inquiry, grounded in previous hypotheses and studies of factors that motivate altruism in the general population, including empathy, unintended consequences of altruism, altruistic role modeling, collectivism, and principlism. Counter to past research suggesting altruism is activated along an empathy-altruism path (Batson, et al., 2007) the findings of this study revealed a consistent low empathy response by participants when asked about their feelings about those in need. However, when asked to describe outcomes of helping situations, there was a consistent high empathetic joy response, indicating the helper and the helped both experience satisfaction and improved affect from such interactions. ^ A collectivism-altruism path appears to have been established by a strong sense of community, which is manifested in the notion that "everyone is responsible for everything". In addition, the Jewish community acts as a sort of collective moral audience that reinforces kind acts and discourages selfish acts. Finally, both the empathy-altruism and collectivism-altruism paths seem to converge at the principlism-altruism path, in which altruism is ultimately activated by a desire to uphold a moral principle - in this case, the Three Pillars of Judaism: Torah (Study), Avodah (Service), and Chesed (Kind Act). These principles seem to be engaged by a moral imagination and reinforced through continuous reflection and by taking account of one's actions. ^ The study was conducted using a grounded theory ethnography methodology. The researcher collected data from various ethnographic sources such as Jewish community experiences, celebrations, observations, and semi-structured interviews and grounded finding in relevant theories of altruism and calling. Ethnographic data were triangulated through verification, member checking, and by constantly comparing findings to the extant literature on altruism and calling. The results are presented as a grounded theory model of altruistic calling in the Orthodox Jewish community. Implications for future research on servant leadership and other tangential concepts are offered.^

Subject Area

Religion, General|Psychology, Social|Jewish Studies

Recommended Citation

Linenberger, Stephen J, "Sources of altruistic calling in Orthodox Jewish communities: A grounded theory ethnography" (2010). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3432432.