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Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News – March 2, 2008
Mar. 2–Encyclopedia of Love. The title alone sounds like an author’s hot ticket to Oprah or The View.
But the new, illustrated reference book, edited by Rollins College professor Yudit Kornberg Greenberg, is more ecumenical than racy.
The complete title, The Encyclopedia of Love in World Religions, makes it sound almost staid.
But with about 300 entries “from Adultery to Yoga,” Greenberg says there is plenty to engage the general reader.
The entries from 200 international scholars are roughly balanced between “the dichotomy of spiritual and physical love,” and range from 800 to 3,000 words each. Five deal with adultery in different traditions. An equal number explore beauty. There are sections on homosexuality and celibacy; ecstasy and purity; as well as charity, forgiveness and filial love.
Greenberg, 57, says the book is for “anyone who is curious about how love is expressed in religion, from its most mundane and trivial to its most sublime.”
It is, she writes in the preface, “the first reference work to offer a comprehensive portrait of love in the context of the classic and contemporary literature of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism, as well as other cultures and philosophies.”
Her approach is multidisciplinary and cross-cultural, and she says the book’s timing is critical.
“It is such an important moment in our history,” she says. “In a time of violence and hatred and claims to exclusive truths, the metaphor and concept of love in world religions is an essential topic.”
Classic works of religious literature — Song of Songs, Gita Govinda and, yes, the Kama Sutra — have their own entries.
Her standard for choosing the pictures was that they not be too risque, she says, “illustrative but not offensive.”
The encyclopedia is a classic, comprehensive reference book, and Greenberg “a brilliant and visionary mind,” says Stephen Post, professor of bioethics at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine in Cleveland.
Speaking about the new book during the fall meeting of the American Academy of Religion, Post said the encyclopedia is “a terrific starting point for any scholar.”
It “serves to center our attention on the underpinnings of love in the religions of the world, in all of its aspects, from the ethereal to the practical,” he said.
The book has a strong Central Florida flavor, beginning with longtime Orlando community activist Patricia Ambinder’s contribution as Greenberg’s research assistant. Greenberg wrote 10 entries herself. Contributors also include four other Rollins faculty members in the philosophy and religion department: Mario D’Amato (Buddha), Thomas Cook (Intellectual Love of God), Scott Rubarth (Platonic Love) and Eric Smaw (Martin Luther King’s Beloved Community). And there’s an entry by Jean Downey, a Winter Park independent scholar.
Most of the submissions are original, but a few — from Pope Benedict XVI, the Dalai Lama and Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson — are excerpted from other writings.
The encyclopedia, Greenberg says, is aimed at readers “from junior high to the most sophisticated scholar and specialist in religion and philosophy, and can be used as a research tool for a high school paper or graduate research, as well as for one’s personal edification.”
At $265 a set, the Love Encyclopedia is probably headed to more libraries than homes. But a planned single-volume, paperback edition may reach a wider audience.
Greenberg, who was born in Israel, has been married 30 years and has two grown sons. At Rollins, where she has taught for 20 years and serves as director of the Jewish Studies Program, her signature course is titled “Love, Eros and Religion.”
The subject of love and religion first intrigued Greenberg when she was writing her dissertation on Jewish philosopher Franz Rosenzweig at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Calif.
It also came from the Old Testament.
“When you read Song of Songs as the dialogue of love,” she says, “the barrier between spiritual and physical love collapses.”
Greenberg is not finished with the subject. Thanks in part to a grant from the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love, she has completed work on her upcoming book, The Metaphysics of Desire: Reading Love and Eros in Jewish Thought.
After all these years, she is convinced she made the right choice of love and religion as her life’s work.
“I was very fortunate,” she says. “It has enriched my life.
“There isn’t a day when I don’t think of love’s enlightening power,” she adds. But I also am aware of its dark side — jealousy and greed and their remedies in the form of forgiveness, sacrifice and selflessness.
“Love has these incredible opposites. There is a lot of suffering in love. Hatred is when love turns sour.”

Mark Pinsky can be reached at or 407-420-5589.

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