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CAMBRIDGE, Ma. – At a time of spiritual dynamism, as religions surge in the global south and traditional faith affiliations decline in the west, the John Templeton Foundation brought together scholars for a three-day symposium at Harvard to discuss a question of growing academic interest: Does religion contribute to human flourishing? And if so, how can such flourishing be measured among individuals, groups, and social and cultural institutions?

The event, organized by the Foundation’s Humble Approach Initiative in collaboration with Harvard’s Program on Integrative Knowledge and Human Flourishing, featured presentations on the topic by over a dozen academics from institutions around the US, UK, and Canada. Together, these researchers represented a range of disciplinary perspectives and expertise, including psychology, sociology, anthropology, political science, economics, history, public health, evolutionary biology, and theology.

The founding director of Harvard’s Human Flourishing program and the chair of the symposium, professor of epidemiology Tyler VanderWeele, offered welcoming remarks and in his presentation outlined ways in which data indicate that religion contributes to individual flourishing (in happiness, health, longevity, relationships, etc.). He also noted evidence that religion has the potential for violence and to oppress those who do not conform, concluding: “Religion does have and continues to have positive effects on human flourishing – how do we enhance these while addressing these difficulties?”

Other presentations focused on varied aspects of the question. Professor Miroslav Volf of Yale presented on the philosophical and theological aspects of the meanings and dimensions of flourishing. Professor Azim F. Shariff of the University of British Columbia highlighted results showing a small positive association between religiosity and pro-sociality and discussed the challenges in determining the cause for this association. Religious people and non-religious people also may disagree on what is moral or flourishing, he noted.

The event also featured the work and participations of scholars including professors Adam B. Cohen (Arizona State University), Celia Deane-Drummond (Notre Dame), Christopher G. Ellison (University of Texas, San Antonio), Laurence R. Iannaccone (Chapman University), Sriya Iyer (Cambridge), Dominic D.P. Johnson (Oxford), David G. Myers (Hope College), Jonathan Rowson (Perspectiva), Ann Taves (University of California, Santa Barbara), and Harvey Whitehouse (Oxford).

The John Templeton Foundation’s Humble Approach Initiative (HAI) has convened dozens of symposia on topics ranging from creativity and complexity, to genius, music, and the search for extraterrestrial life. The Initiative brings together researchers in order to accelerate discoveries and further high-quality scientific research on the most profound and perplexing questions facing humanity. HAI is inherently interdisciplinary, sensitive to nuance, and biased in favor of building linkages and connection. It assumes an openness to new ideas and a willingness to experiment.

For more information about the HAI events, please read more.