Is it possible to develop our character by emulating moral exemplars? Can narratives of moral exemplars play a unique role in shaping specific character virtues? Can academic institutions employ exemplar interventions to promote moral development among their students? These questions animate our proposed network project, "Exemplar Interventions to Develop Character." Integrating insights from philosophy, psychology, theology, literature, and education, the project aims to provide a strong foundation for exemplar interventions by examining three Big Questions: 1) which psychological, pedagogical, and spiritual mechanisms influence the impact of exemplars? 2) which types of exemplars are most effective for developing specific character virtues and 3) how scholarly research on exemplars can be translated into effective exemplar interventions.
The proposed network grant aims to provide concrete answers to these Big Questions through a network of multi-site studies that seek insights on how exemplar interventions work for which virtues under what conditions. To test exemplar interventions across different developmental stages, we will analyze key mechanisms in the use of exemplars among middle and high school students (Meindl) and college students (Engelen), while exploring how a university program (Lamb) can provide evidence for the successful design and dissemination of exemplar-based character education. We will examine how varying the content of exemplar narratives (e.g. narratives of overcoming adversity) may help promote specific character virtues, particularly in the wake of adversity (Jayawickreme). In addition, our network grant will focus on the unique role of narratives as a central component of exemplar interventions. To this end, we examine the psychological, literary, and spiritual functions of exemplars narratives across different genres, including spiritual literature, novels, fables, and fairy tales (Gulliford).