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October 30, 2015

$2.1 million grant funds project looking for the meaning of life

The University is participating in a $2.1 million project to investigate the meaning of life. The John Templeton Foundation is sponsoring the collaborative effort with the University of South Carolina, set to span 28 months.

The project’s primary researchers and leaders are Jennifer Frey of the University of South Carolina and Candace Vogler of the University of Chicago. Both women are professors in their schools’ respective philosophy departments.

“It will be a huge breakthrough if our team can begin to show in a rigorously interdisciplinary way that virtue, happiness, and meaning in life are related not merely in theory but also in practice. The implications for social policy and education could be considerable,” Frey said in an interview with the Columbia Regional Business Report.

The project hosted a kickoff presentation at the University of Chicago’s Humanities Day on October 17. Six public lectures will follow through 2017. The project will also feature two weeklong seminars offered in June 2016 and in June 2017 at the University of Notre Dame. Two courses will be taught at UChicago by visiting scholars and will be open to both undergraduate and graduate students.

“The project’s enduring impact will be to bring focus on self-transcendence to the forefront of cutting-edge research and public discourse about virtue, happiness, and the meaning of life and to develop a new self-transcendence construct for empirical research,” Vogler noted during her presentation at the kickoff event.

The project has launched a website, virtue.uchicago.edu, that explains its objectives and future plans. The website describes the mission as one that encourages intensive collaboration among philosophers, religious thinkers, and psychologists. Together, they will investigate the role of self-transcendence in determining how virtue connects to a central happiness and human life’s meaning.

The website presents three integral questions the project will seek to tackle. The first concerns the role of self-transcendence in virtuous activity. The second asks when and how virtue results in a fulfilling human life. The third and final question considers the kind of happiness that results from virtue.

The project’s team has also published a blog, The Virtue Blog. It will be used to post research content, interviews, discussions, and other links with information about the project. Scholars have already published posts such as “Does Money Buy Happiness?” to pose questions that relate to conventional ideas of happiness. On the blog, the team has provided additional links to the project’s Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter pages so that those interested in the project can track its progress.

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