Joy and its Analogs in Other Traditions

A significant component of the Theology of Joy and the Good Life project will investigate the role of joy and its analogs in non-Christian traditions.

This work follows from a formal description of the good life that serves as a working hypothesis for the project as a whole. That description suggests that the good life has three dimensions: agential (life led well), circumstantial (life going well), and affective (life feeling well). While, Christianity and Judaism describe the affective dimension as the life of joy, other traditions give different accounts. Islam, for example, tends to use language of happiness, which, while it has some overlap with joy, is not exactly the same. Some Buddhists might be inclined to use language of “contentment.” Non-religious traditions like Aristotelianism will talk about eudaimonia.

In order to understand joy in relief against this comparative background, the project will hold a subgranting competition ($160k) to fund scholars of non-Christian traditions to produce accounts of the good life articulated in these traditions, with special attention to the affective dimension. Subgrants in the amount of $20k ($3k of which will support the work of junior scholars who will act as co-authors and co-presenters) will be awarded to senior scholars of eight non-Christian traditions. Possible traditions include but are not limited to:

  • Judaism
  • Islam
  • Buddhism
  • Hinduism
  • Confucianism
  • Utilitarianism
  • Nietzscheanism
  • Positive Psychology
  • Existentialism
  • Aristotelianism/Virtue Ethics
  • Marxism
  • Naturalism

At the end of the project, subgrantees will gather for a roundtable symposium to compare their findings and revise their accounts. These accounts will be published in an edited volume, providing a valuable resource for comparative studies of normative visions of the good life (like YCFC’s Life Worth Living course).

Ultimately, the goals of this sub-project are to find common ground between traditions, to identify further areas of research, and to explore how attention to the good life and its affective dimension might create new opportunities for meaningful dialogue between traditions, or even the opportunity to build an inter-tradition “Alliance for Joy.”

For more information, contact Director of Research & Publication, Matt Croasmun.


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The Theology of Joy & the Good Life project is made possible by the John Templeton Foundation with additional support from the McDonald Agape Foundation.