University awarded $3.67 Million to study the nature of character.
The past 30 years have seen a resurgence of interest in character, particularly in the areas of psychology, philosophy, and theology. This work has given rise to a number of challenging questions, such as:
- Do character traits such as honesty or compassion really exist?
- If they do exist, how prevalent are they, and what is their underlying psychological nature?
- Should character traits such as the virtues be the centerpiece of our best ethical theory?
- How should we go about improving our characters and overcoming our character flaws?
- For those working in theology, should thinking about human and divine character be central to theological ethics?
The goal of the Character Project, a research project funded by the John Templeton Foundation, is to address these questions and to foster new advances in the study of character.
The late Sir John Templeton (1912-2008) made his fortune on the stock markets but devoted much of his life to the discovery of what he called “new spiritual information.” The John Templeton Foundation serves as a philanthropic catalyst for discoveries relating to the big questions of human purpose and ultimate reality. It supports research on subjects ranging from complexity and evolution to creativity, forgiveness, love and free will.
Sir John Templeton was also very keen to fund research projects aimed at discovering the nature and content of character, with the goal of better understanding how to become virtuous, flourishing individuals, family members and citizens. Now, the Foundation has awarded Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, a $3.67 million grant for The Character Project.
“When we think about how to understand human behavior, one of the first things we tend to mention is someone’s character and character traits such as honesty, courage or laziness,” says project leader Dr. Christian Miller. “We are very excited about using the complementary perspectives of psychology, philosophy, and theology to better understand what our characters are like and how we can improve ourselves as persons.”
The project’s first initiatives will be to conduct psychology research at Wake Forest and to fund proposals in psychology on the existence and nature of character and the relationship between character traits and beliefs, desires, identities, emotions, behavior and situations. This research will build on the university’s pioneering work on the nature and existence of personality traits in general, including character traits. In addition to the psychology research, similar initiatives will fund research on the philosophy of character and the theology of character.
“Our goal is to figure out what kind of character we have, what kind of character we should strive to attain and how far apart the two are,” Dr. Miller says.