More than 400 invited professionals from across the country attended the John Templeton Foundation sponsored ”Spiritual Progress and Human Flourishing” conference on Monday, June 25, 2012, in Cravens Hall Auditorium at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee. There experts discussed expanding research on core themes from the Foundation’s groundbreaking research in the areas of Love, Joy, Gratitude, Forgiveness, Perseverance, and Health.
The Foundation supports a broad range of programs, publications, and studies focused on the universal truths of character development, from childhood through young adulthood and beyond. It continues to fund areas of character development, especially projects that deal with the crucial relationship between culture (as expressed in beliefs, values, and worldview) and behavior. For John Marks Templeton, self-awareness and personal growth depended on a deeper understanding of the circumstances in which good character flourished and of the roots of good character in human nature, whether understood from a scientific, philosophical, or religious point of view.
Speakers included: Dr. Stephen Post, Stony Brook University; Dr. George Vaillant, Harvard Medical School; Dr. Matthew Lee, Institute for Research on Unlimited Love; Dr. Robert Emmons, University of California, Davis; Dr. Harold Koenig, Duke University; Dr. David Myers, Hope College and Dr. Nidhal Guessoum, American University of Sharjah.
As John Marks Templeton wrote, “Wherever we find ourselves in life, whatever the circumstances, whatever habits may be influencing our decisions, we can transform each situation into a learning and growing experience. We can determine how to be the masters of our habits so that our habits can be useful servants to us.”
Experts discussed the expanding research on human flourishing: Love, Happiness, Gratitude, Forgiveness, Perseverance, Health and well-being, particularly in the areas of developmental science and organizational studies. They also discussed the leading-edge research and evidence-based practices in medical, educational, and organizational settings and in schools, workplaces, homes and communities. Historical and scientific perspectives from various faiths in understanding and the culture of virtues were highlighted.
Dr. Post is the best-selling author of The Hidden Gifts of Helping (2011) , as listed by the Wall Street Journal. Post founded the free-standing Institute for Research on Unlimited Love in 2001 with a four-year grant from the John Templeton Foundation. The Institute engages in the scientific, philosophical and theological investigation of unconditional and universal love as captured in the passage, “God is love.” Post received the Hope in Healthcare Award for “pioneering research and education in the field of unconditional love, altruism, compassion and service” (2008), the Pioneer Meal for “ground-breaking work in healthcare” from HealthCare Chaplaincy of New York (2012), the Kama Book Award in Medical Humanities from World Literacy Canada (2008); and the Distinguished Service Award from the US Alzheimer’s Association (1998). An elected Fellow of the Philadelphia College of Physicians for “outstanding contributions to medicine,” his book The Moral Challenge of Alzheimer Disease: Ethical Issues from Diagnosis to Dying (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000, 2nd edition) was designated a “medical classic of the century” by the British Medical Journal (2009). Post is professor of Preventive Medicine and founding director (2008) of the Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care, and Bioethics at Stony Brook University School of Medicine. He has written eight scholarly books on altruism, compassionate care, and unlimited (agape) love, and is also the editor of nine other books, including: Altruism & Health: Perspectives from Empirical Research, and Altruism and Altruistic Love: Science, Philosophy and Religion in Dialogue, both published by Oxford University Press. He is lead author of the blockbuster trade book, Why Good Things Happen to Good People: How to Live a Longer, Happier, Healthier Life by the Simple Act of Giving.
Nidhal Guessoum is an astrophysicist; he graduated from the University of California at San Diego (USA), spent extended periods of time as a researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and has had on-going collaborations with various institutions, particularly in France, resulting in many papers, mostly in gamma-ray astrophysics. He is currently Professor and Interim Head of Physics at the American University of Sharjah, UAE. In addition to his technical papers, Prof. Guessoum has published many articles on issues related to science, education, the Arab world, and Islam, and authored or co-authored several books, including: The Story of the Universe – from primitive conceptions to the Big Bang (in Arabic, 4 editions) and Islam’s Quantum Question – reconciling Muslim tradition and modern science (IB Tauris, 2011). He is also a columnist (at Gulf News, The Huffington Post, and for Nature Middle East) and a blogger. He was recently featured in a full-page article in Science (July 29, 2011). Prof. Guessoum has lectured at many renowned universities (Cambridge, Oxford, Cornell, Wisconsin) and has appeared in various international media, including Al-Jazeera, BBC, NPR, France 2, and Le Monde.
Dr. Emmons is Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Davis where he has taught since 1988. He received his Ph.D. degree in Personality and Social Ecology from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, and his Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Southern Maine. He is the author of over 125 original publications in peer reviewed journals or chapters and has written or edited five books, including The Psychology of Ultimate Concerns (Guilford Press), The Psychology of Gratitude (Oxford University Press), Words of Gratitude for Body, Mind, and Soul (Templeton Press) and THANKS! How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier (Houghton-Mifflin). A leader in the positive psychology movement, Dr. Emmons is founding editor and editor-in-chief of The Journal of Positive Psychology. He is past president of the American Psychological Association’s Division 36, The Psychology of Religion. His research focuses on personal goals and purpose, spirituality, the psychology of gratitude and thankfulness, and subjective well-being. Dr. Emmons has received research funding from the National Institute of Mental Health, the John Templeton Foundation, and the National Institute for Disability Research and Rehabilitation. His research has been featured in dozens of popular media outlets including the New York Times, USA Today, US News and World Report, Newsweek, Time, NPR, PBS, Christianity Today, Consumer Reports, and Reader’s Digest. He lives with his wife Yvonne and their two sons, Adam and Garrett, in Davis, California.
Harold G. Koenig, MD, MHSc, completed undergraduate education at Stanford University, medical school training at University of California, San Francisco, and geriatric medicine, psychiatry, and biostatistics training at Duke University. He has been board certified in general psychiatry, geriatric psychiatry, geriatric medicine, and family medicine, and is professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and associate professor of Medicine at Duke, and also on the faculty at King Abdulaziz University, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, as Distinguished Adjunct Professor. Dr. Koenig directs the Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health at Duke, and has published extensively in mental health, geriatrics, and religion, with nearly 400 scientific peer-reviewed articles and book chapters and 40 books in print or in preparation. He has given invited testimony to both the US Senate and US House of Representatives on religion and public health, and is recipient of the 2012 Oskar Pfister Award from the American Psychiatric Association.
Charlotte vanOyen Witvliet, Ph.D., is the Jacobson Professor of Psychology at Hope College. Trained as a scientist-practitioner clinical psychologist, she runs an emotion and psychophysiology research lab. Witvliet studies the embodied responses people have when reliving past interpersonal transgressions, holding grudges, experiencing justice, cultivating forgiveness, and developing gratitude. Her publications have appeared in journals such as Psychological Science, The Journal of Positive Psychology, and the Journal of Psychology and Theology. Supported by grants from the John Templeton Foundation and the Fetzer Institute, Witvliet’s forgiveness research has been featured in over a hundred media outlets, including Time, Newsweek, O, The Oprah magazine, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and CNN.
Matthew T. Lee is Professor and Chair of Sociology as well as Conflict Management Fellow at the University of Akron. He is vice-president of the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love and served as vice-president of the Center for Restorative Justice of North Central Ohio. He is the founding editor of Altruism, Morality & Social Solidarity Forum, the newsletter and a forum for scholarship for the Altruism, Morality, and Social Solidarity Section of the American Sociological Association. His latest book (coauthored with Margaret M. Poloma and Stephen G. Post), The Heart of Religion: Spiritual Empowerment, Benevolence, and the Experience of God’s Love, will be published by Oxford University Press this fall. Dr. Lee sits on the editorial boards of three scholarly journals and is an ad hoc reviewer for the National Science Foundation.
Professor of psychology at Hope College, Michigan, Dr. Myers’ scientific writings, supported by National Science Foundation grants and fellowships and recognized by the Gordon Allport Prize, have appeared in three dozen academic periodicals, including Science, American Scientist, American Psychologist, and Psychological Science. Myers also has digested psychological research for the public through articles in some four dozen magazines, from Scientific American to Christian Century, and through seventeen books, including textbooks for introductory and social psychology, and general audience books, including A Friendly Letter to Skeptics and Atheists: Musings on Why God is Good and Faith Isn’t Evil.
Dr. George E. Vaillant is Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and Consultant in Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital. Dr. Vaillant has spent his research career charting adult development and the recovery process of schizophrenia, heroin addiction, alcoholism, and personality disorder. For 35 years he was Director of the Study of Adult Development at the Harvard University Health Service. His published works include Adaptation to Life, 1977, The Wisdom of The Ego, 1993, and The Natural History of Alcoholism Revisited, 1995. His summary of the lives of men and women from adolescence to age 80, Aging Well, was published by Little, Brown in 2002. A graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Medical School, Dr. Vaillant did his residency at the Massachusetts Mental Health Center and completed his psychoanalytic training at the Boston Psychoanalytic Institute. He has been a fellow at the Center for the Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, is a fellow of the American College of Psychiatrists and has been an invited speaker and consultant for seminars and workshops throughout the world. A major focus of his work in the past has been to develop ways of studying defense mechanisms empirically; more recently he has been interested in successful aging. Dr. Vaillant has received the Foundations Fund Prize for Research in Psychiatry from the American Psychiatric Association, the Strecker Award from the Institute of Pennsylvania Hospital, the Burlingame Award from The Institute for Living, and the Jellinek Award for research in alcoholism. Most recently he received the American Psychiatric Association Pfister Award for his book, Spiritual Evolution. His history of the Study of Adult Development (The Grant Study) titled The Triumph of Experience will be published this year by Harvard Press.