Happiness and Human Flourishing

December 9-10, 2011

The United States Declaration of Independence famously declares the pursuit of happiness to be an inalienable right, but what is happiness? To what extent is happiness properly considered the crown of a flourishing human life, and of what import is happiness to our mutual well-being as creatures and communities?

Over the last twenty years, the question of “what is happiness?” has produced a new field, ‘happiness studies,’ with its own journal, The Journal of Happiness Studies. Happiness economists study what conceptions of well-being operate both macro-economically and micro-economically, and whether the various ingredients (e.g. relationships and children, freedom and control, financial and physical security, leisure, health, employment and achievement) can be measured in terms of the same units. Evolutionary psychologists study cross-culturally whether there are ‘human universals’ and whether they can give an evolutionary account of their development in the human species. Behind these sorts of studies stand deep philosophical and theological questions about what makes for a good human life, which we sought to bring into conversation with practitioners of happiness studies in this consultation.

Contributing Scholars

Adam B. Cohen
Arizona State University

Adam B. Cohen is Associate Professor of Psychology and affiliated faculty of the Barrett Honors College, the Center for Social Dynamics and Complexity, the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict, the Jewish Studies area, and the Center for Strategic Communication, at Arizona State University. He was the 2009 Margaret Gorman early career award winner from the American Psychological Association and the 2013 of the Godin award from the International Association for the Psychology of Religion.

“Religion and well-being” (with Kathryn A. Johnson)

Eric Gregory
Princeton University

Eric Gregory is Professor of Religion at Princeton University. His interests include religious and philosophical ethics, theology, political theory, law and religion, and the role of religion in public life. A graduate of Harvard College, he earned an M. Phil. and Diploma in Theology from the University of Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, and his doctorate in Religious Studies from Yale University.

“Happiness: Experienced and Remembered”

Kathryn A. Johnson
Arizona State University

Kathryn A. Johnson is Assistant Research Professor in the Department of Psychology at Arizona State University. She is interested in the social perception of non-human agents across different religious and cultural worldviews. She is also interested in why people come to represent God in these different ways and how representations of God ultimately influence many of our values, moral intuitions, and behaviors.

“Religion and well-being” (with Adam B. Cohen)

Luke Timothy Johnson
Emory University

Luke Timothy Johnson is R.W. Woodruff Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at Candler School of Theology at Emory University. His research concerns the literary, moral, and religious dimensions of the New Testament, including the Jewish and Greco-Roman contexts of early Christianity, particularly moral discourse, Luke-Acts, the Pastoral Letters, and the Letter of James. He received the 2011 Louisville Grawemeyer Award in Religion for Among the Gentiles: Greco-Roman Religion and Christianity.

“Jesus among the Philosophers: Ancient Conceptions of Happiness” 

Marilynne Robinson
University of Iowa

Marilynne Robinson is F. Wendell Miller Professor of English and Creative Writing at Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa. She is the author of the novels including Housekeping, Gilead, and Home. Her awards include the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (2005), the Orange Prize for Fiction (2009), the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction (2005), the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvoel Award for the Art of the Essay (1999), and the Louisville Grawemeyer Award in Religion (2006).


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