The Virtue Blog

Happiness without religion? Vogler and Frey weigh in before debate

Candace Vogler and Jennifer A. Frey at the 2016 Summer Seminar “Virtue & Happiness”. Photo by Valerie Wallace.

Our principal investigators and one of our scholars will debate the idea of happiness without religion this coming Saturday. If you’re in New York, we hope you can join us!


Candace Vogler explains, “Our topic is whether a (presumably mature) human being (presumably with her wits about her) needs religion in order to be happy—at least, happy in her embodied mortal life.”


Vogler expressed that, “largely from ignorance, in discussing religion I will have in mind socially organized spiritual practice that tends to be monotheistic, whether or not it operates with a shared body of doctrine and whether or not its practitioners produce theology or philosophy in connection with their religious practices.


“The second place that I have a hitch is around questions about happiness. [For example,] although thinkers far greater than I have held that people in general pursue happiness, it is not clear what sorts of things might be involved in pursuing happiness understood in any of the usual psychological senses (one worries that the quickest line of pursuit will be pharmacological). Neither is it clear that flourishing accounts are picking out a single sort of target to home in on.


Vogler concludes, “Basically, if you do not think that there is a core need to be right with divinity built into human life, and you notice that religious practice can be very hard and can make you unpopular, it is hard to see the link between religion and happiness, at least in terms of the varieties of religious practice I have encountered.”


Jennifer A. Frey commented that she “understands religion as a virtue, and since the virtues are necessary for human happiness, I see this as a question of which virtues are part of the happy human life. That’s right in our wheelhouse. And since religion concerns what we owe to God, I think it relates to self-transcendence, since God is that which utterly transcends us, and insofar as we engage in the acts that give God what is owed–due honor and reverence, for instance–it is a question of the role of self-transcendence in the happy life as well.”


Frey continues, “Ultimately I say you can be non-trivially happy without religion. Whether you can be perfectly happy without it is a separate question, and I don’t commit myself either way.”

The debate is Saturday, September 10, 2016 at 3pm, at the Catholic Center, New York University, 236 Thompson Street, New York, NY.

The full lineup is:


This event is free and open to the public. Register at

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