Essay Competition – Joy and Adolescent Faith & Flourishing

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Competition Overview


Submission deadline:  January 31, 2018

Winners announced:  April 15, 2018

Awards:  1 First Prize: $2,000; 3 runners up: $500 each


Essay Questions


The Yale Center for Faith & Culture is hosting an essay competition on the topic of Joy and Adolescent Faith and Flourishing. This competition seeks submissions that address questions concerning joy and flourishing (the “good life”) for adolescents.

We hypothesize that the good life has three basic dimensions: agential (what you do), circumstantial (how the world is for you), and affective (how you feel). Given this formal account, our hypothesis is that, on the Christian description, joy is the crown of the flourishing life, integrating all three basic dimensions. Joy is a positive affective response to an objective external good construed rightly and about which one is rightly concerned. Therefore, joy cannot be described without reference to the flourishing life. Likewise, the flourishing life cannot be described without reference to joy. Each is integral to the other.

Furthermore, we know that adolescents face many obstacles to joy and counterfeits of joy—“joy inhibitors”—which, if left unaddressed will have a material detrimental effect on their capacity to experience joy as adults. These obstacles have a variety of sources: class, education, economic status, biology, behavior, racism, and more. On the other hand, we hypothesize that there are practices, attitudes, habits, and virtues that, individually and communally, inspire and sustain joyful, flourishing lives, and these are most beneficial if developed in adolescence. Our hypothesis is that there are spiritual resources found in the theology of joy and the good life that can, when combined with insights drawn from the social sciences and other fields, ameliorate if not eliminate these joy inhibitors.

For the purpose of this essay competition, we ask that participants submit essays that engage with one or more of the following questions:

  1. What is joy?
  2. What is the relationship between joy and human flourishing? How does attention to joy shape one’s vision of a flourishing life? How does attention to an integrated flourishing life shape one’s account of joy?
  3. How can recovery of joy as a central theological category of human experience:
    • return the quest for human flourishing to a central position in Christian theology?
    • return the quest for human flourishing to a central position in individual and social life?
    • help lay the foundations for adolescent flourishing?
  4. What practices, attitudes, habits, and virtues help to inspire and sustain joy and flourishing for adolescents?
  5. What are the biggest obstacles to and counterfeits of joy that adolescents face? How can we offer adolescents the spiritual communities, experiences, and resources that sustain resilience in confronting these obstacles or enable them to live with a measure of joy despite them?



The competition is open to all current (master’s and doctoral) degree-seeking students at accredited institutions, including seminarians. Winning authors must consent to allow their names and excerpts of their work to be featured on the project website.


Prizes and Benefits

First Prize: $2,000

Runners Up (3): $500

In addition to the monetary prize, winning essays will be given feedback intended to help students publish their essays in academic journals or popular outlets. Awardees will be invited to a project conference in the summer of 2018 and recognized there.


Review Process

Submissions will be (blind) reviewed by YCFC scholars and the JAFF Advisory Board. Essays will be evaluated based on the following guidelines:

  1. General quality of essay.
  2. Originality.
  3. Relevance to the topic—particularly the essay’s ability to engage the “big questions” listed above.
  4. Ability of essay to contribute substantially to reviving discussion in the academy of joy and flourishing in adolescence.

All essays must be submitted in English and all payments will be made in US dollars.


Application Instructions

Applicants should submit the following by January 31, 2018:

  1. A separate cover sheet of no more than one page that includes the following:
    • your name
    • email address
    • institution
    • degree program and current year
    • an abstract of no more than 150 words
  2. An essay of no more than 4,000 words (please do not include any identifying information on the pages that contain your essay.)

Submission Instructions

Essay and accompanying cover sheet should be submitted by email attachment as a single PDF (in the order listed above) to:  

The following words should appear in the subject line: “Joy and Adolescent Faith and Flourishing Essay Competition.

The only acceptable file format is PDF. An acknowledgment email will be sent within seven days of receiving your submission. All questions about the application process should be sent to:

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