Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life: Onward


Just a few short years ago (September 2015) we celebrated as new signage outside our office was revealed – one of the first tangible proofs our project was “real.”

We’re grateful to the John Templeton Foundation for extending our grant through August 2018, and to our Working Group scholars, Summer Seminar scholars, Visiting scholars, and staff at both the University of Chicago and University of South Carolina, all of whom contributed to our mission exploring the interrelatedness of virtue, happiness, and deep meaning. Here is a short video capturing some of what happened in our two and half years.

Our website,, will remain available for those who wish to view the videos of our public events.

Our blog will continue as well, and will be managed by our co-principal investigator Jennifer A. Frey at the University of South Carolina. If you haven’t yet heard it, her new podcast  Sacred and Profane Love is gathering many loyal followers. She will continue to post about the podcast and philosophical content. She will also continue to feature guest bloggers here.

Some of you have asked what each of us will be doing next, so we have gathered our responses here:

Candace Vogler: 

“I have been drawing from our research on self-transcendence and orientation to a larger good to think about bringing character education to students working in economics and those working on degrees in Business.  I will be teaching a new course next Autumn called “Character and Commerce: Practical Wisdom in Economic Life” to this end (it will be listed as a recommended elective for undergraduates in the new business track in the economics major” and am developing a new course offering with Dennis Chookaszian for students at the Booth School of Business.  I will also be working with a new consortium of medical schools to help integrate character education into their programs.  I will continue to work with Hyde Park Institute to provide programming for students at the University of Chicago who are interested in integrating their intellectual and personal formation, and I will be continuing to work with our amazing scholars every chance I get.”

Jennifer A. Frey:

“I plan to take over the blog and continue the podcast as time allows.  Further episodes in the works include one with Dana Gioia, California’s poet laureate (to be recorded in LA in November; content TBD) and an episode with Justin Steinberg (Chicago) on Dante’s love for Beatrice.  After submitting edited volume number one (Virtue and Self-Transcendence: Perspectives from Philosophy, Psychology, and Theology) this week, I will be hard at work at edited volume number two, titled, Practical Reason, Knowledge, and Truth: Essays on Aristotelian Themes.  I have eight articles that are under contract to appear within the next year so I am hard at work on those (which are in various stages of production) in addition to my monograph, Action, Virtue, and Human Goodness.  I’ve got upcoming talks this year so far at  Berkeley, Brown, UT-Austin, Duke, Columbia, Williams College, Liverpool, and the Royal Institute of Philosophy in London.  I submit for tenure in April (yikes!) and then my husband and I are taking our six children on a European adventure; we plan to stay for a month in Rome where I’ll be teaching Honors College students, and then traveling around Italy (especially the north) on our way to Germany, where we will stay in Leipzig and Bamberg for a bit to do some philosophy and hang out with friends.”

Jaime Hovey:

“I am teaching in American Studies at DePaul University, and in Gender Studies online at the University of Mississippi. I will continue working on Virtue, Trans Masculinity, and  Queer Gallantry in 20th-century and contemporary texts.”

Valerie Wallace:

“My new book of poems, House of McQueen, came out this year, and I’ll continue to travel to support its publication, giving readings, talks, and participating in conference panels. I am in the application process to find a new work home in communications/marketing, and will continue teaching literature and English for City Colleges of Chicago.”


We hope you will continue to be interested in virtue and virtue education, and encourage you to follow some of the institutes and scholars you have found here in the blog. As we turn the page of this chapter, we thank you, our readers, and offer this last stanza from “To Be of Use” by Marge Piercy as we say farewell, and reflect on the wonderful work we’ve done here, with you. Onward! To work, and the world.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

Podcast: “Revelations of Love in John Steinbeck” | Sacred & Profane Love, Episode 9

Download Episode 9: “Revelations of Love in John Steinbeck”


In Episode 9 of Sacred & Profane Love “Revelations of Love in John Steinbeck,” Philosopher Jennifer A. Frey speaks with Thomist Theologian, Fr Michael Sherwin, OP, about John Steinbeck’s secular understanding of Christian caritas (charity) and how Steinbeck captures the beauty and power of love in the simple act of sharing breakfast with strangers. Their conversation tackles the nature of divine love as understood by Augustine and Aquinas.


Rev. Prof. Michael Sherwin OP, was one of our faculty for our 2016 Summer Session “Virtue & Happiness”, and is Professor of Fundamental Moral Theology at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland. Fr. Sherwin is director of the Saint Thomas Aquinas Institute for Theology and Culture and of the Pinckaers Archives.  Author of articles on the psychology of love, virtue ethics and moral development, his monograph, By Knowledge and By Love: Charity and Knowledge in the Moral Theology of St. Thomas Aquinas (CUA Press, 2005) has been reissued in paperback.


Jennifer A. Frey is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of South Carolina. Prior to joining the philosophy faculty at USC, she was a Collegiate Assistant Professor of Humanities at the University of Chicago, where she was a member of the Society of Fellows in the Liberal Arts and an affiliated faculty in the philosophy department.  She earned her PhD in philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh, and her B.A. in Philosophy and Medieval Studies (with Classics minor) at Indiana University-Bloomington. Her research lies at the intersection of philosophy of action and ethics, with a particular focus on the Aristotelian-Thomist tradition.


Preview on iTunes

This podcast is a project of Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life, and is made possible through a generous grant from the John Templeton Foundation.

Content copyright the University of South Carolina and the University of Chicago.

Music credits, “Help me Somebody,” by Brian Eno and David Byrne, licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.5.

Congratulations to the Institute for the Study of Human Flourishing: “Self, Virtue and Public Life Project”

The University of Oklahoma Institute for the Study of Human Flourishing is the recipient of a $3.9 million grant from the Templeton Religion Trust to advance the “Self, Virtue and Public Life Project.” The grant will provide funding for new research projects, conferences, edited volumes and community outreach activities. The project is set to begin September 1, 2018, and conclude on August 31, 2021.

“The Institute is truly grateful to the Templeton Religion Trust for its support of this important project,” said Nancy Snow, director of the institute. Nancy Snow is also a scholar with the project Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life.

37126878223_788b711fa8_zThe research will include approximately 10 new research projects at $190,000 each; two conferences for grant awardees to present their work; two edited volumes in “the Virtues” series; two conferences for volume contributors to share ideas and interact; two volumes authored by Snow; and four postdoctoral students who will produce articles and share at conferences.

Community outreach activities funded by this grant include the “Civic Virtues Project,” which will integrate and study the effects of civic virtues education in courses taught at Norman High School, Norman North High School and Irving Middle School. A “Teachers’ Guide to Civic Virtue: Civility, Compassion and Fairness,” will be produced and made available on the project website.

Six two-day workshops in a series entitled, “Beyond Tolerance: Civic Virtues in Nonprofit Leadership,” is planned in collaboration with the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits, an organization that reaches 240 nonprofit leaders throughout the state of Oklahoma.

A high-profile speakers’ series entitled, “Faith and Civic Virtue in Public Life,” will include three speakers who will visit the OU campus to discuss the topic. Audiences impacted are academics and teachers, students, nonprofit leaders and the general public.

For more about the award, visit

Slow Down to Be More Intentional in Life

Double exposure

Note: This is a repost from Lola Wright’s blog, which originally appeared October 6, 2017, and can be found here.

We are wired for impact. We want to know that we make a difference. That our lives matter. It’s the existential orientation of our nature to seek problems and long for answers.

In today’s over-scheduled, highly connected world, we often feel like there’s never enough time, energy, or any number of other resources to accomplish what we want. We live by the motto: never enough.

Which is a load of shit.

There is an eternity of time. And when we are spinning on that merry-go-round, it’s time to jump off.

Because your wellbeing matters.

I am a devoted meditator. It has become a habit, much like brushing my teeth or showering. It doesn’t look like sitting in the lotus position with a perfectly erect spine. It doesn’t necessarily look like a solid 30 minutes. It doesn’t occur at 4 a.m., and it isn’t always noticeably sacred. That being said, it does always make a difference in my perspective on life.

Being still and slowing down can happen anytime. While you’re waiting in line to pick up your kids. While you’re in the shower. While you’re on a walk. While you’re in bed (before you jump up and immediately look at your phone). Close your eyes, take a few conscious breaths, and acknowledge the moment you’re in, not the one you’re jumping to get to.

Personal wellbeing is the foundation to a happy and healthy life. Slowing down enables you to work more effectively and creatively. Running on fumes does not produce great results—it creates a sense of lack and burnout.

Which is not reality. That’s manufactured drama.

As someone with a significant level of accountability in the world—mother to four kids, community organizer, oldest grandchild, board member, extrovert—I learned early on that solitude and personal reflection are a must.

The people you are in relationship with will always have needs. Your to-do list will never be complete. Your calendar will always continue to get filled. And likely none of the commitments or demands will recommend you take care of you before you address the concerns before you.

So here are some simple ways you can bring yourself to a center point of wellbeing in an instant:

  1. Start by closing your eyes: at work, in the kitchen, at your kid’s soccer game, etc.

  2. Soften your belly and relax your jaw.

  3. Breathe in through your nose.

  4. Notice your belly expand and your chest rise.

  5. Exhale slowly and completely, emptying your lungs and letting your body relax.

It’s that easy.

Taking ten conscious breaths before entering an appointment, walking in the door, or getting up in the morning is one of the loving and generous practices you can give to your central nervous system.

As you integrate conscious breathing and regular meditation into your daily life, it will become clear the importance and value of slowing down.

Very little that gets us worked up is worthy of the strain that stress causes on our body and mind.

We were never intended to go 100 miles per hour, 100 percent of the time. Slow down. Enjoy yourself. Play. Have fun.

“Learn to pause…or nothing worthwhile will catch up to you.”

— Doug King

Lola Wright is the Spiritual Director at Bodhi Spiritual Center, a preeminent mindfulness-based community organization in Chicago. She spoke with Candace Vogler for a Chicago Humanities Festival event last November.

Darcia Narvaez: “The Indigenous Worldview: Original Practices for Becoming and Being Human

Darcia Narvaez is Professor of Psychology at the University of Notre Dame and writes a blog for Psychology Today called “Moral Landscapes.” This is a talk given at the conference, Sustainable Wisdom: Integrating Indigenous Knowhow for Global Flourishing, which took place at the University of Notre Dame in 2016. Narvaez is also a scholar with the project Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life.

Letters from Prison

Martin Luther King Jr. looks out the window of his cell at the Birmingham City Jail. The photo was taken by the Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker in October 1967, when both leaders served time in the Jefferson County Jail in Birmingham. (UPI)

When she saw many references to MLK’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” on social media recently,  Anne K. Knafl, Bibliographer for Religion, Philosophy, and Jewish Studies at the University of Chicago Library, compiled the following sources of that transcendent letter as well as other letters from prison. We thought our readers might enjoy having these resources as well. 

Hover over the text for the hyperlink. 

  • Martin Luther King, Jr. “Letter from A Birmingham Jail draft,” Albert Burton Boutwell Papers, 1949-1967, Collection Number 264, Archives Department, Birmingham Public Library, Alabama. Published, print versions are available at the University of Chicago here.
  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Prisoner for God: Letters and Papers from Prison, edited by Ebehard Bethge, translated by Reginald H. Fuller. (New York: Macmillianm 1966).
  • “Prison Interviews with Angela Y. Davis”, on, excerpted from If They Come In the Morning…: Voices of Resistance. (New York, NY: Third Press, 1971
  • Oscar Wilde, De profunis. 2nd edition. London: Methuen, 1905. (T. and A. Constable) From HathiTrust.
  • Reflections in prison: voices from the South African liberation struggle. Edited by Mac Maharaj (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2002). Print copy from our collection.
  • The Prisons Foundation: open access distribution of creative works by incarcerated and formerly incarcerated men and women.

“Right Behind the Rain” | VIDEO

“Right Behind the Rain” tells the story of the Institute for the Study of Human Flourishing, led by our scholar, philosopher Nancy Snow — and the impact it is having at the University of Oklahoma and in the broader community.