We propose to spend a full year collecting the information, expertise, contacts, and background that would be required for us to propose a multi-year project on “Optimism, Rational Hope, and Human Nature.” An optimistic worldview need not involve rosy-eyed inattention to the obstacles we face as individuals and as a species. Historically, prominent optimists have defended a more moderate, reasoned approach, one that nonetheless motivates hope about both the present context and, perhaps, the life to come. Our goal is to employ empirical and conceptual methods to investigate the nature of that sort of rational optimism and hope. We will also examine the roles that such optimism plays in both fundamental epistemology and philosophical theology. Given our backgrounds, the bulk of the research in the upcoming year will be aimed at developing the empirical components of the project. With the help of our graduate assistants, we will survey recent work in cognitive science, psychology, sociology, anthropology, and political theory on the concepts of hope and optimism, especially as they relate to theories of (a) rationality, (b) human nature, and (c) religious beliefs and practices. One of the main outputs will be a two-day workshop at which at least ten experts in these fields will report on the state of the discussion of our topics. Another output will be an organized database of research on these topics that will be essential to the success of the longer-term project (if approved). The most significant output will be a well-aimed, strategic, multi-year proposal to the John Templeton Foundation. The most important outcome would be the success of the multi-year proposal itself. Other projected outcomes and enduring impacts of this planning grant include (a) renewed interest in (and thus new papers on) our topics by workshop participants and (b) increased collaboration regarding these important and understudied issues.
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