An emerging literature argues that we have a great deal to learn by studying exemplars rather than the behavior and attitude of average members of a population. Following in the spirit of William James who asserted that research on religious virtuosos is a fruitful path to understanding the many varieties of religious experience, this planning grant focuses on developing a research strategy, methodology, hypotheses and dissemination plan for studying Spiritual Exemplars--namely, extraordinary individuals whose faith and spiritual practice motivate and sustain them in acts of altruistic service, heroic efforts to explore the wonders of the universe, and other acts of generative social and scientific engagement. Exploratory research and investigation during the planning grant stage will assess the viability of a three-year project that would be global in scope and cross multiple religious traditions, including individuals who are spiritually motivated but may not be associated with organized religion. While the Templeton Foundation has funded research on various virtues (e.g., love, forgiveness, wisdom, gratitude, and purpose), this project will examine the virtues identified by Sir John in a holistic manner, assessing the ways in which these virtues develop during the life course and, as a gestalt, interact to produce exemplary people who make substantial contributions to human progress. Utilizing social media as well as publication in popular and scholarly venues, this project intends to foment a conversation about the "good life" and the role of the spiritual dimension in human existence. The core element of the larger project will be 100 case studies that profile Spiritual Exemplars in a variety of global contexts. Research will be done by journalists as well as social scientists. Each profile will be accompanied by a short video documentary, drawing in part on the methodology of journalists such as Nicholas Kristoff of the New York Times.
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