$2.1 Million for the Meaning of Life

Candace Vogler, Ph.D., and David B. and Clara E. Stern Professor of Philosophy at the University of Chicago and Jennifer A. Frey, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of South Carolina, have received a $2.1 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation, to lead a 28 month research project titled, “Virtue, Happiness, and Meaning of Life.”  The project, which begins in August 2015, will be hosted by the Neubauer Family Collegium for Culture and Society at the University of Chicago and the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of South Carolina.  Professors Vogler and Frey will bring together an international team of scholars in philosophy, psychology and religious studies to engage in collaborative, inter-disciplinary research on the concept of self-transcendent good as a framework for investigating fundamental questions about virtue, happiness, and meaning in human life.  The guiding idea of the project is that virtue is the cultivation of a self-transcendent orientation that is necessary for deep happiness and a sense of meaning in one’s life.

“I am especially excited about this opportunity to bring Aquinas’s work into conversation with mainstream analytic philosophical moral philosophy, empirical psychology, and religious studies,” says Vogler.  “Aquinas understood that the work of moral education does not end when we reach adulthood, and was alive to a diverse range of moral exemplars-- important developments in Aristotelian ethics largely unexplored in philosophy and in empirical work on these topics,” says Vogler.

One key innovation of the project is that rather than bringing independently conceived and executed projects into conversation with at large conferences, the researchers working on this grant will be investigating these topics together through biannual cross-disciplinary working group meetings on campus in Columbia and Chicago.  This kind of network project offers distinctive advantages, as it enables researches from different disciplines not only to share ideas and results, but also enables the character of that research to be shaped and informed by the insights provided by other members of the group while the research is still developing and progressing.    

“We are very gratified and grateful to be awarded this opportunity for meaningful, cross-disciplinary intellectual exchange, which is rare in our field,” says Frey.  “This kind of research has the potential not only to reignite interest in virtue and happiness within philosophy, but also to transform empirical work being done on these topics as well.”

The team of scholars selected for this grant are divided into three disciplines:


  • Dan McAdams (Northwestern University)
  • Paul Wong (Emeritus, Trent University)
  • Howard Nusbaum (University of Chicago)
  • Marc Berman (University of Chicago)
  • Katherine Kinzler (Cornell University)
  • Erik Angner (George Mason University)

Religious Studies and Theology

  • Josef Stern (University of Chicago)
  • David Shatz (Yeshiva University)
  • Reinhard Huetter (Duke University)
  • Fr. Thomas Joseph White (Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception)
  • Michael Gorman (School of Philosophy, The Catholic University of America)
  • Jean Porter (Notre Dame University)
  • Angela Knobel (School of Philosophy, The Catholic University of America)
  • Mona Siddiqui (University of Edinburgh)
  • Joshua Ralston (Union Presbyterian Seminary)
  • Tahera Qutbuddin (University of Chicago)
  • Mari Stuart (University of South Carolina)


  • David Carr (Professor Emeritus, University of Edinburgh)
  • Matthias Haase (University of Leipzig)
  • John O'Callaghan (University of Notre Dame)
  • Fr. Kevin Flannery (Pontifical University Gregorian)
  • Kristjan Kristjansson (University of Birmingham)
  • Nancy Snow (University of Oklahoma)
  • Talbot Brewer (University of Virginia)
  • John Haldane (Baylor University and St. Andrews University)

The scholars working on the grant will share their research results on the project’s website in various digital media formats: blog posts, podcasts, videos, and a livestreaming feed.

Other highlights of the grant include:

  • Two weekly summer seminars at the University of Notre Dame geared to early career philosophers and graduate students.
  • A 2 day philosophy workshop at the University of South Carolina in Spring 2017.
  • A website that will host a blog, podcasts and video content relating to our research.
  • 4 public lectures
  • A major capstone conference in Fall 2017 at the University of Chicago

In addition to the Templeton Foundation, additional support for the grant comes from the University of Chicago, the University of South Carolina, The Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues, the Jacques Maritain Center at Notre Dame, and the Lumen Christi Institute.

For more information, media inquiries, or to schedule an interview, contact us at virtue@uchicago.edu

For more about this project in the news, visit our News Archive.