Days 1-2 Working Group Meeting in Chicago – photos

Our 2nd working group meeting of scholars met June 6-10, 2016 at the University of Chicago in the beautiful Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society. Although the sessions were closed, you can read our scholars’ abstracts for their June Meeting Topics here and see more photos up in our Flickr album for the week.



Group photo: Working Group Meeting June 2016

Scholars Team June 2016
Click photo to make it larger. Photo by Marc Monaghan

We’re so happy our scholars are here in Chicago! Find out more about our scholars and their work this week in June here, and working group meetings in general, here.

Our scholars and team are:

From left to right, back row: Santiago Mejia, Michael Gorman, Matthias Haase, Jennifer A. Frey, Father Kevin Flannery, Candace Vogler, Katherine Kinzler, Howard Nusbaum, Talbot Brewer, Reinhardt Huetter, Marc G. Berman (not pictured: Tahera Qudbuddin).

Middle row: Christian Kronsted, Jean Porter, Father Thomas Joseph White, Mari Stuart, Nancy Snow, Heather C. Lench, Angela Knobel,  Erik Angner, Dan McAdams, Valerie Wallace, Jaime Hovey.

Front row: Paul Wong, David Shatz, David Carr, Anselm Mueller.

Questions our scholars are asking – round two


This coming week (June 6-10, 2016, at the Neubauer Collegium at the University of Chicago) is the second of four meetings for our  scholars (the first was December 2015 at the University of South Carolina). These meetings are immersive experiences for these scholars, who are philosophers, theologians, and psychologists; the meetings are aimed at generating systematic and integrated knowledge, including ultimately a new construct for empirical research on self-transcendence, new instruments of assessment, and new data.


Here are summaries of the questions and research our scholars will be discussing with each other in the coming week.


Matthias Haase: Can virtue be cultivated like a habit?


Tahera Qutbudden: Can one enjoy a happy and pleasurable life in this world while also preparing for the next?


Jennifer A. Frey: Is selfishness a particular kind of vice, or the nature of vice?


David Schatz: Is ignorance always a vice, or can it also be a virtue?


Heather C. Lench: Can boredom lead us to virtue?


David Carr: Does spirituality have a material dimension, and if so, can it be developed and educated?


Mari Stuart: Can the indigenous knowledge reflected in a moral ecology worldview teach things that climate science cannot?


Jean Porter: Can malice, like virtue, also give meaning to life?


Erik Angner: Is social well-being the same thing as happiness?


Paul Wong: Is it possible to measure Self-Transcendence?


Katharine Kinzler: Can infant food preferences teach us about the social world?


Mark Berman: Do ugly surroundings encourage criminal behavior?


Angela Knobel: Can the notion of virtue as a gift from God have broad appeal?


Father Thomas Joseph White: Can Aquinas help us understand Nietzsche’s ideas about truth and moral freedom?


Michael Gorman: Is a meaningful life also necessarily a good life?


Nancy Snow: Is magnificence—expenditure for the public good—virtuous, or vicious? Can it be both?


Tal Brewer: Are human beings irreplaceable, and due special forms of regard and good treatment?


Dan McAdams: What is the difference between habit and character? Do we narrate these things about ourselves in different ways?


Reinhard Hütter: How do we overcome the lure of self-sovereignty that surrounds us and attain true self-transcendence?


Father Kevin Flannery: What is the relationship between intention, choice, and virtue?



Recap: 1st Working Group Meeting, days 3, 4, and 5

Nancy Snow, Dan P. McAdams; Reinhard Huetter, Paul Wong, Fr. Thomas Joseph White; David Shatz, Michael Gorman; Matthias Haase, Talbot Brewer; Candace Vogler;  Reinhard Huetter, Mari Jyväsjärvi Stuart, Marc G. Berman;  Marc G. Berman, Heather C. Lench; Reinhard Huetter, Talbot Brewer; Fr. Thomas Joseph White, Paul Wong; Mari Jyväsjärvi Stuart, Heather C. Lench; Reinhad Huetter, Nancy Snow; Michael Gorman, Jennifer A. Frey; Candace Vogler, Michael Gorman; Jennifer A. Frey, Jaime Hovey, Matthias Haase; Kristján Kristjánsson; Erik Angner; Dan P. McAdams; Jennifer A. Frey; Mari Jyväsjärvi Stuart, Jean Porter; Mari Jyväsjärvi Stuart; Marc G. Berman, Dan P. McAdams; Fr. Kevin Flannery, Matthias Haase;  Erik Angner, Jennifer A. Frey; Kristján Kristjánsson, Paul Wong; Jennifer A. Frey, Matthias Haase)

For more photos, visit our “December 2015 Working Group Meeting” Flickr album.

Welcome to our first working group meeting (December 14-19, 2016).

On Wednesday Father Thomas Joseph discussed the relationship between grace and nature, and Paul Wong talked about measuring happiness. In the afternoon Marc Berman discussed his research on nature restoration theory, or how nature commands attention from the mind in a way that restores cognitive energy and creativity. Michael Gorman discussed a purposeful life, and how sometimes we need to stop and listen rather than throw ourselves into “doing something.”


On Thursday Nancy Snow and her collaborator Jennifer Cole Wright discussed their work on measuring ordinary virtues. In the afternoon, Eric Angner spoke on the science of “happiness,” and Reinhard Hütter talked about doing without religion and the virtue of religion.


Friday morning Dan McAdams presented his work on stories of generativity, or the commitment to future generations. Jennifer Frey talked about happiness as a constitutive principle of action in the work of Aquinas. On Friday afternoon Mari Stuart spoke on Hindu moral ecology in an era of climate change, and the meeting week ended with Matthias Haase discussing G. E. M. Anscombe’s “stopping modals” and the necessity for justice.

Recap: 1st Working Group Meeting, days 1 and 2

(Jennifer A. Frey, Candace Vogler; David Shatz; Candace Vogler, Heather Lench, Marc G. Berman,  Mari Jyväsjärvi Stuart, Mattias Haase, Paul Wong, Jean Porter; Jennifer A. Frey, Michael Gorman, Nancy Snow, Fr. Thomas Joseph White; Mari Jyväsjärvi Stuart, David Shatz, Paul Wong, Nathan Cornwell; Fr. Thomas Joseph White, Reinhard Huetter, Fr. Kevin Flannery, Heather C. Lench; Reinhard Huetter, Fr. Kevin Flannery; Candace Vogler, Jean Porter, Kristján Kristjánsson, Mari Jyväsjärvi Stuart; David Shatz, Kristján Kristjánsson, Candace Vogler; Talbot Brewer, Kristján Kristjánsson; John Haldane; Fr. Kevin Flannery; Talbot Brewer, Matthias Haase; Kristján Kristjánsson, Reinhard Huetter; Talbot Brewer)

For more photos, visit our “December 2015 Working Group Meeting” Flickr album.

Welcome to our first working group meeting (December 14-19, 2016).


Some of us started arriving in Columbia, South Carolina as early as Saturday. The weather was nearly 70 degrees when we left the airport that evening and drove into town. Columbia was teeming with graduating students and their families, everyone dressed in their best clothes to celebrate, and the air was golden. It did not feel like the middle of December, which everyone agreed was a good thing.


On Sunday evening we had a cocktail reception at the Hilton Columbia Center for arriving scholars, where we met and mingled for a couple of hours. On Monday things began in earnest, with breakfast at 8 a.m. followed by the first of our working group sessions. Our first morning session featured David Schatz talking about humility, and Kristján Kristjánsson talking about awe. Schatz argued that knowing your weaknesses was the crux of humility, while Kristjánsson suggested that awe makes us at once greater and more humble beings.


There was no afternoon session that day, so everyone was free to rest, take a walk, or explore downtown Columbia. That evening John Haldane delivered a lecture at the Law School on Virtue, Happiness, and Meaning. Haldane used images from the Columbia Museum of Art to discuss how we can recoil from a seeming absence of meaning in the world, or we can probe further for meaning. More than 100 people attended the talk and enjoyed the reception afterward.


The next day, Tuesday, Jean Porter presented on Thomas Aquinas and Justice, arguing among other things that what orients us towards justice is hope and charity. Heather Lench discussed her work on how seemingly disruptive emotions can be very productive for helping people achieve their goals. After lunch Tal Brewer talked about dialectical activity as spontaneous rather than fixed in its intention, and Father Kevin Flannery explored issues of complicity, guilt, and evil.

Moral Ecology and Climate Change

photo by Mari Jyväsjärvi Stuart

What cultural and religious frameworks do Indian Hindus draw on when making sense of chaotic and unusual weather patterns brought on by global climate change? While South Asia’s rural inhabitants perceive radical changes in weather patterns that affect their daily lives and livelihood, their perceptions about the underlying reasons vary. Few frame the developments in terms of climate change as a global phenomenon; instead, chaotic climate events are often attributed to either divine retribution or human moral corruption.


These diverse, even conflicting ways of articulating the role of the human and the divine in destructive climatic patterns invite the questions: How do religious agents in Hindu India understand human moral responsibility, particularly the role of human morality and goodness, in shaping both long-term and short-term climactic and environmental patterns? What kinds of perceptions about the impact of morality on ecology and climate do we find in traditional Hindu sources, and how do contemporary Hindus draw on similar conceptions in making sense of contemporary global climate change? Perhaps most important are the potential implications of these questions: if human individual moral laxity plays a role in aggravating detrimental climate change, could it then be that, conversely, human moral excellence and virtue might have the power to mitigate such climate change?


While scholars of religion have studied the interface between religion and ecology since the early 1970s, the specific question of religious responses to global climate change has until now received little attention. This is at least partially because climate change has emerged as a subject of global, widespread discussion only in the last decade. Climate scientists are now nearly unanimous in warning about the potentially catastrophic consequences of unchecked global warming. A changing global climate has already begun to affect human societies, making them increasingly vulnerable to disasters, crop failures, and forced migration.


In confronting the questions of safety, sustenance, livelihood, consumption, and environmental justice resulting from this situation, communities worldwide also inevitably end up having to engage questions of moral, spiritual, and religious tenor as well. Some have even suggested that the world’s religious traditions have unique potential to motivate concern and activism to address the problem of climate change. After all, religion remains a powerful force and motivator in the lives of most people in the world, influencing believers’ worldviews, values, and relationship to the natural world. Because of this strong resonance, religious leaders are able to engage large audiences and mobilize them unlike few other actors. Religious narratives also provide people with a sense of meaning, and present a natural context for ethical deliberation (Veldman, Szasz, Haluza-DeLay 2013; Sponsel 2005).


The situation is particularly urgent in India, home to over a billion people, where the effects of climate change are affecting the most vulnerable part of the population: India’s rural poor. Similarly, the moral and spiritual resonance of environmental issues is particularly rich there, as Indian Hindu religious stories, myths, and practices have always been interwoven with natural phenomena and the very shapes of the landscape.


My research project centers on investigating what I, following Ann Gold (2002) and Frédérique Apffel-Marglin (2000), call the “moral ecology” of contemporary Hindu India – namely, the ways in which religious agents perceive a connection between the human moral condition and the condition of the environment. Unlike Gold and Marglin, however, I consider this question specifically in relation to the phenomenon of climate change. The primary questions driving this research are: What cultural and religious frameworks do Indian Hindus draw on when making sense of chaotic and unusual weather patterns brought on by global climate change? To what degree do they view environmental degradation as being due to human choices and actions—as opposed to, say, divine agency or fate? What moral and spiritual resources does the Hindu tradition offer in the face of the unprecedented challenges posed by a warmer and less predictable world?


My research for this project has involved carrying out interviews (in Hindi and in English) with farmers, educators, and environmental activists in the three states of Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, and Andhra Pradesh. My preliminary findings suggest that while India’s rural inhabitants perceive radical changes in weather patterns that affect their daily lives and livelihood, their perceptions about the underlying reasons vary. Few frame the developments in terms of climate change or rising CO2 levels; instead, they tend to attribute chaotic climate events to either divine retribution or human moral corruption. However, a great deal more work is needed for me to fully explore these complex questions.

Mari Jyväsjärvi Stuart is Assistant Professor, Religious Studies, University of South Carolina and a scholar with Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life.