Desire and Human Flourishing

December 10-11, 2010

Desire is arguably a constitutive feature of human being—and one, in any case, in which our contemporary culture is heavily invested. But what exact role does desire play in the accomplishment and thwarting of true flourishing in individuals and communities?

The theological heritage of desire has roots going all the way back to St. Augustine, who famously claimed that our desire for God mobilizes our fundamental ‘restlessness’ as creatures. Though clearly implicated in our collective flourishing, both desire’s precise nature and the extent to and means by which we ought to discipline and channel it remain matters of great debate. To ask about the necessary transformations human desire must undergo in order to facilitate the flourishing of human beings is also to recapitulate, on a more concrete level, the questions explored in our first consultations: is God necessary to human flourishing and, if so, of what relation are non-theological conceptions of flourishing to properly theological ones? This consultation assembled scholars concerned directly with these questions, each engaging in a reading of how desire circulates in our present culture and of what sorts of visions of the good life undergird, chasten, and animate our loving and wanting.


Contributing Scholars

Wendy Farley
Emory University

Wendy Farley is Professor of Religion and Ethics in the Department of Religion at Emory University. Her teaching and research interests include women theologians, religious dialogue, classical texts, contemporary ethical issues, and contemplative practices. Her most recent book, Gathering Those Driven Away: A Theological of Incarnation, reflects on the meaning of Christian faith and tradition for women, queers, and others that the church has had difficulty recognizing as part of the body of Christ.

“Reforming Desire: a Theology of Incarnation”

Jennifer Herdt
Yale Divinity School

Jennifer Herdt is the Gilbert L. Stark Professor of Christian Ethics at Yale Divinity School. She is the author of Religion and Faction in Hume’s Moral Philosophy and Putting on Virtue: the Legacy of the Splendid Vices, together with many articles and book chapters on a host of subjects. She is currently working on a book manuscript on happiness, obligation, and Christian ethics.

“Desire for the Common Good: A Defense of Eudaimonism” 

R. R. Reno
First Things

R. R. Reno is the editor of First Things magazine. He was formerly a professor of theology and ethics at Creighton University. He is the author of several books including Fighting the Noonday Devil, a theological commentary on the Book of Genesis in the Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible series. His work ranges widely in systematic and moral theology, as well as in controverted questions of biblical interpretation.

“The Empire of Desire”

Jennifer Prah Ruger
University of Pennsylvania

Jennifer Prah Ruger is Associate Professor of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at University of Pennsylvania. She conducts theoretical and empirical studies of health equity to reduce global and national health inequities with a focus on the most impoverished populations worldwide, especially women and children. She has been Principal Investigator and Co-Investigator on awards from the National Institutes of Health, Fogarty International Center, Hewlett Foundation, Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and she was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship to complete her forthcoming book, Global Health Justice and Governance. She received a Greenwall Faculty Scholar Award in Bioethics and a Donaghue Investigator Award in ethics and economics of health disparities.

“Shared Health Governance”



The God and Human Flourishing consultations are sponsored by the McDonald Agape Foundation.