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

“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.

What we’ve been up to: Excerpt of our report to Templeton

Chicago Cultural Center Chandelier and Tiffany Dome
Photo by Chris Smith.

Our project is funded by a generous grant from the John Templeton Foundation; the following is an excerpt of our last report to them, sent in January 2018.

We are on schedule for our Outputs and Outcomes. We held all 4 of our Working Group meetings, accompanied by 4 public lectures. We completed both Summer Seminars, and both Spring courses taught by Visiting Scholars, accompanied by their reading groups. Our Aristotle workshop, “Practical Truth: Reflections on the Aristotelian Tradition,” took place last April at the University of South Carolina. Our public Capstone conference was held October 14-15, 2017 at UChicago, along with two public keynote addresses. We are planning our April “Virtue and Corporate Life” event in partnership with the Booth School of Business. Frey’s podcast series on “Sacred and Profane Love” is being planned for a Spring deployment.

We surpassed our goal of 20 articles springing from the VHML project, with 22 articles and 3 books published or accepted. We will be or have been featured on KZUM radio Nebraska, BYU radio, London radio Newstalk 1290 CJBK, and in the Daily Nous, Philosopher’s Magazine, Quartz, Inside Philanthropy, The University of Chicago Daily Maroon, Tableau, Tableau web extra, Virtue Insight, Suburban Living, and Chicago Catholic. Our outputs have been shared online by the Institute for the Study of Human Flourishing, The Wisdom Center, The Jubilee Centre, Lumen Christi, the Hyde Park Institute, and the Thomistic Institute, as well as the University of Chicago, University of South Carolina, the Neubauer Collegium, the UChicago Divinity School, and Notre Dame Society for Ethics.

As of December 31, 2017, our website, has had 22,541users and 66,051 page views. We have 4,168 page likes on Facebook, 664 followers on Twitter, 161 followers on Instagram, and 1495 views on Flickr. Our Virtue Blog was ranked one of the top “Happiness” blogs of 2017, with 48,782 visitors and 94,169 views.

Progress Report: Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life


Reporting period January 1 – March 31, 2017

Our project continues to engage the public and influence the work of prominent scholars and graduate students here and abroad. We will hold our 4th Working Group meeting at the University of Chicago in June; Jean Porter will deliver our public lecture, which will be videotaped and streamed live on our site. We anticipate at least 150 people will attend her lecture in person. We are now accepting abstracts from our scholars for that meeting.


We have selected 25 students from 66 applications for our second Summer Seminar in June on “Virtue, Happiness, and Self-Transcendence,” and all have confirmed. We reserved Seminar space and lodging and finalized faculty selection and session topics.



Our second Visiting Scholar, Father Stephen Brock, Professor of Medieval Philosophy at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome, is here teaching our second of two undergraduate courses at the University of Chicago, this time on “Aquinas on Human Nature.” The Reading Group, also led by Father Brock, is exploring “Free Choice and Natural Law.” Father Brock is also giving a public lecture May 12 on “Aquinas and the Life of the Mind.”


In January Jennifer Frey and 4 of our scholars discussed our project at the annual Jubilee Centre conference in Oxford, UK and Candace Vogler delivered a keynote address. Vogler met with people at the UChicago Booth School of Business to plan a public lecture, “Corporate Life and the Larger Good.” In February Vogler discussed our project at the UChicago medical school. In March Vogler delivered The Aquinas Lecture “The Intellectual Animal” and a talk on “Synderesis” at Blackfriars College, Oxford; gave a talk at the Georgetown Humanities Workshop on “Ordinary Moral Knowledge in the Climate of Doubt”; and spoke at the Faculty Seminar at Baylor University on “Intellectual Virtue.”



Our Aristotle workshop, titled “Aristotelianism: Past, Present, and Future,” takes place April 21-22, 2017 at the University of South Carolina, where our co-P.I. Jennifer Frey and several of our scholars will give papers. Portions of the conference will be videotaped and streamed live on our site. On May 4-6 our scholar Erik Agner will discuss our project at his Virtue conference in Stockholm. Our PIs Candace Vogler and Jennifer A. Frey will give the keynotes at this conference, discussing the themes of our grant. Frey’s talk will focus on self-love and self-transcendence and Vogler will be speaking about the natural habit of  “synderesis.” on On May 27, we co-sponsor an undergraduate class on Virtue taught by NY Times columnist David Brooks. On June 4 we begin our week-long Working Group meeting; on June 5, Jean Porter will deliver a public lecture on “Courage and Cowardice in Modern Life.”


New York Times columnist and PBS political analyst David Brooks, excited by our project, will lead a student seminar on Virtue at the University of Chicago on May 27, 2017. We have 15 confirmed presenters for our Capstone conference to be held in Chicago October 14-15, 2017. We are on schedule for our 2017 Capstone conference to be held October 14-15, 2017 at the University of Chicago. Cardinal Cupich and Jonathan Lear have agreed to be our keynote speakers, and we anticipate large audiences.


We have 16 articles published or accepted from our VHML project, toward our goal of 20 articles. Our social media shows growing public engagement, with thousands of visitors reading our Facebook and Twitter pages as well as our blog. From January through March 2017 our total page “likes” on Facebook in that period are 1,947, with 2.5K interactions (likes, loves) with our posts; for Twitter, we gained 71 new followers for a total of 1,279 followers, with 61.3K Twitter impressions and 1,395 profile visits; the Virtue Blog shows 6,492 total unique visitors and 11,139 views between January 2017 and April 2017; and our Virtue website shows 2,386 active users who viewed 6,849 pages of our content.

Recap of our launch event: “Virtue, Happiness, and the Meaning of Life: A Collaboration” – Humanities Day, 10-17-15

Recap of our launch event: “Virtue, Happiness, and the Meaning of Life: A Collaboration” – Humanities Day, 10-17-15

It was a capacity crowd at the Neubauer Collegium for the October 17th Chicago Humanities Day project launch for “Virtue, Happiness, and the Meaning of Life”, a talk led by Jennifer Frey, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of South Carolina, and Candace Vogler, the David E. and Clara B. Stern Professor of Philosophy at the University of Chicago. Frey and Vogler spoke for about thirty minutes on the philosophical, religious, and scientific questions framing the project before taking questions from the audience. Right before the presentation, as audience members drifted into the room and both scholars rehearsed their talk, I listened to Vogler rehearse. She uttered a sentence that to my mind perfectly captures the spirit of the larger project. “We are not perfect,” she said.

She continued, “Indeed, at times, we are our own worst enemy. We all operate this way, and even very good people will find themselves messing up. This is not just due to bad luck.”

These are some of the precepts that 13th century philosopher and theologian Thomas Aquinas held to be true of the human condition, and they reflect his sense that being virtuous is an ongoing project and a journey. But why use the concept of “virtue”? Why be virtuous? Why use Aquinas to think about virtue, rather than Aristotle? What is the relationship between happiness and virtue? How can we measure happiness, or meaning?

During their presentation, “Virtue, Happiness, and the Meaning of Life: A Collaboration”, Vogler and Frey explained that their research for this project endeavors to pull apart the strands that bind virtue to happiness, and happiness to meaning, emphasizing that Aquinas believed that the truth is out there, but unlike the classical philosopher Aristotle, and unlike many doctrinaire Church fathers, he also believed the truth might take many forms. They noted that Aquinas’ sense of character and innate goodness is much better than that of Aristotle, who tended to have a much more elitist take on virtue. While Aristotle believed that virtue was primarily the province of those males from prominent families brought up to be virtuous, Aquinas believed that anyone might be virtuous, and that virtue was also to be found among women, the poor, and the uneducated. Both Frey and Vogler emphasized that the notion of virtue is important because virtue helps you not get in your own way, or sabotage your life. Human beings have a lot of trouble with balance. We aren’t always attracted to what is good for us. Virtue helps with balance. Virtue is a philosophical term with an emphasis on balance.

We are not perfect.

In short, as both speakers maintained, Aquinas has a much more expansive notion of the virtues that are missing from Aristotle—virtues such as hope, charity, and mercy—and a more diverse picture of moral exemplars than Aristotle could have imagined. Even women(!) could be recognized as mystics and moral beings. Most importantly, Aquinas brings with him the sense that we can learn from a whole range of people and their experiences. And so Aquinas, argued Frey and Vogler, is a good place to begin when we want to ask questions about happiness and meaning in relation to virtue, questions such as:

What kind of happiness comes of virtue?

When and how does cultivating virtue lead to a meaningful life?

When and how does a sound moral center anchor a meaningful life?

Both speakers set about defining “self-transcendence” as one of the project’s key concepts. Noting the difference between people whose lives appear to be successful but who are unhappy and people whose lives may or may not be conventionally “successful” but who are deeply happy, Vogler defined self-transcendence as the sense that something matters beyond the “me and mine” immediate concerns of family, job, and success, involving a devotion to something greater.

Continue reading “Recap of our launch event: “Virtue, Happiness, and the Meaning of Life: A Collaboration” – Humanities Day, 10-17-15″

Webcast October 17, 2015 – “Virtue, Happiness, and the Meaning of Life: A Collaboration”

Streaming live from the Neubauer Collegium. Registration for this event is full, so closed, but you can view a live webcast here on Saturday, October 17, at 2pm central time.  Click here to live stream the event.

Principal Investigators Candace Vogler and Jennifer A. Frey present “Virtue, Happiness, and the Meaning of Life: A Collaboration”

Under what conditions do the everyday activities associated with being a good person provide a source of happiness and meaning in human life? What is the difference between morally serious people whose lives give them deep happiness and a sense of purpose, and morally serious people whose lives feel hollow?

We are embarking on a 28-month project funded by the John Templeton Foundation to explore and research these questions. The project, hosted by the Neubauer Family Collegium for Culture and Society at the University of Chicago and the University of South Carolina at Columbia, brings together an international gathering of 30 scholars in philosophy, psychology, and religious studies to engage in collaborative research on trans-personal, self-transcendent good as a framework for investigating fundamental questions about human life.