Joy is increasingly absent in contemporary society. Although poets, sages, and saints have commended joy for centuries as an essential dimension of the good life, joy and reflection on joy—and on the good life more generally—have been marginalized as matters of cultural concern and subjects of academic inquiry. As a result, both our academic research, and more importantly, our individual and collective pursuits of the good life are impoverished.

The purpose of this project is to develop a theological account of joy and the good life—in Christian theology, in comparative context, and in the lived experience of adolescents. The present proposal is the result of a six-month, JTF-funded planning grant on the “Theology of Joy” that convened more than 30 scholars in the US and Europe to identify the most important questions on this topic. This research has led us to hypothesize that these two important questions—What is joy and how is it cultivated? What is the good life and how is it cultivated?—are intimately related.

Therefore, this project proposes to pursue these two questions in tandem through consultations and collaborative research within Christian theological traditions, research on joy in other religious traditions, as well as research and the development of resources for youth ministry as the initial dissemination effort. These activities will produce a new body of research on joy and the good life (articles, book chapters, edited volumes, and a monograph) as well as dissemination materials (courses, curricula, readers, and curated video library).

The result will be three innovations: 1) a new theological movement that places reflection on joy and the good life at the center of Christian theology; 2) the foundation of a new mode of inter-tradition dialogue built around questions of joy and the good life; and 3) new resources for youth ministries to help adolescents lay the foundation for joy and the good life at an inflection point in their lives.