September 10, 2015
The John Templeton Foundation has awarded a $4.2 million grant to the Yale Center for Faith and Culture at Yale Divinity School to conduct a three-year research project to develop a theological account of joy and the good life, in order to recover joy as a central theological category and human experience. The principle investigator will be Miroslav Volf, director of the Yale Center for Faith & Culture (YCFC) and the Henry B. Wright Professor of Theology at Yale Divinity School (YDS).
“Contemporary Western culture is characterized by a troubling lack of reflection on what constitutes the good life, with foundational questions like ‘What makes a life worth living?’ and ‘What are the grounds of human hope and joy?’ relegated to the margins of teaching and scholarship,” Volf said. “For a vision of joy and the good life to take root in the academy and the wider culture, we need to change the way that theology as a discipline understands itself and its role. That is one of the goals of this project.”
The fundamental questions of the project were formulated in part during the YCFC’s 2014 planning grant on the theology of joy, also funded by the Templeton Foundation. “The research we conducted on the theology of joy has led us to the conviction that neither joy nor the good life can be adequately studied apart from one another. Joy for joy’s sake is vapid; the good life without joy is crushing,” said Matt Croasmun, Director of Research and Publication at the Yale Center for Faith & Culture.
A major area of focus will be joy and adolescent faith and flourishing, which will examine adolescence as a uniquely opportune and consequential phase of moral and spiritual development with profound implications for long-term prospects of a life of joyful flourishing. The project will facilitate a three-year series of 34 lectures on the foundations of adolescent joy and flourishing and publish scholarly articles, an anthology, an independent treatise, and curricular materials on both the foundations of joy and flourishing life and the spiritual resources supporting resilience in the face of the various sources of adolescent suffering.
“The Foundation recognizes the promise of this initiative to generate innovative theological work on the topic of joy as distinct from happiness,” said Christopher Stawski, Vice President of Strategic Program Initiatives at the John Templeton Foundation. “The work of this project to cultivate greater understanding and practice of joy in the lives of youth may have profound impact on the well-being of religious and non-religious communities.”
The project will also study joy and its analogs in other traditions by exploring joy within and across other religious, and non-religious, normative traditions. “For more than a decade, Miroslav Volf and the Yale Center for Faith & Culture have pursued the question of the good life,” said Croasmun. “This grant will enable us to explore joy and its analogs, constructing a theology of joy and the good life that goes far beyond Christian theology and Christian communities and works in our modern pluralistic society, a theology that functions as bridge-builder rather than gatekeeper.”
The project is led by an extraordinary group of scholars and religious leaders representing more than twenty institutions from around the globe, including Jürgen Moltmann, Jonathan Sacks, N. T. Wright, and Nicholas Wolterstorff.
The project will distribute more than $900,000 in subgrants and prizes. Over the three years, the project will result in publication of scholarly and popular articles, at least four books, and a website of resources and information for participants and others, such as local churches.
“This is an important project that has the potential to make a significant difference not only in theological circles, but in broader circles that take human flourishing seriously,” said YDS Dean Greg Sterling. “It is a model for the combination of basic and applied research in a theological setting. Heartfelt congratulations to Miroslav and the entire team for formulating the proposal and to the Templeton Foundation for recognizing its value.”
More information about the Theology of Joy and the Good Life project is available at joy.yale.edu.
The John Templeton Foundation serves as a philanthropic catalyst for discovery in areas engaging life’s biggest questions, ranging from explorations into the laws of nature and the universe to questions on the nature of love, gratitude, forgiveness, and creativity. Visit www.templeton.org for more information.
Yale Divinity School, one of the professional schools of Yale University in New Haven, CT, is an interdenominational institution that draws its faculty from the major Christian traditions, with a student body representing more than three-dozen denominations and groups. Instruction is provided in the history, doctrines and polity of all the major church bodies.
The Yale Center for Faith and Culture was established in 2003 to critically examine and promote practices of faith which advance authentic human flourishing and the global common good. The Center’s core programs are God & Human Flourishing, Life Worth Living, and Adolescent Faith & Flourishing. Visit faith.yale.edu for more information.
Yale Divinity School
Yale Center for Faith & Culture