The Human Flourishing Program

Achieving individual, social, and environmental flourishing is a project that occupies thinkers in many fields from psychology and medicine to social sciences and humanities.

ACU will bring a new perspective to this important research through investigating how Christians in antiquity understood flourishing, and what these ancient accounts can offer to modern understandings of creating a good life for individuals and societies.

The Human Flourishing Program at Harvard is partnering with ACU to support the project, as part of a broad endeavour to integrate empirical research about human flourishing from the quantitative social sciences with the research insights of the humanities.

Associate Professor Matthew Crawford is the Program Director of the Biblical and Early Christian Studies group which is conducting the project. He said contemporary positive psychology is exploring how various domains of human life impact flourishing, including not only mental and physical health but other areas such as meaning and purpose in life alongside character, virtue, and close social relationships. Meanwhile research into human development is investigating the various capabilities required for human wellbeing such as imagination, emotions, and practical reason.

“Our project aims to enter into constructive dialogue with these areas of research. Studying flourishing is an attempt to make sense of what it means to be human and to live a good life as part of a wider ecology of relationships to other human and non-human creatures as well as to the divine. Because part of what it means to be human is to grapple with a world that is broken in many ways, we are seeking to understand the role that human weakness, vulnerability, and dependency play in wellbeing, alongside the more obvious capabilities necessary for people to reach their full potential.”

Associate Professor Crawford said the project would bring ancient insights to a very contemporary subject.

“Contemporary movements like #MeToo or Black Lives Matter renew attention to persistent individual and structural injustices that impede flourishing. There is an urgent need to interrogate how various aspects of the human experience, in interaction with wider systems and ecologies, contribute to or hinder wellbeing.

“The Flourishing Project brings to bear on these pressing questions the expertise of scholars of early Christianity, ranging from the New Testament to the end of Late Antiquity.”

The project will seek to understand how early Christians theorised flourishing in literature and art, in comparison with Greco-Roman and Jewish approaches, and how these theories helped or hindered the wellbeing of individuals, societies, cultures, and the environment.

It also aims to apply what can be learned from historical case studies of flourishing to contemporary debates about human wellbeing in other fields, including positive psychology and the capability approach.

The project will take in three strands of enquiry: health, reason and creativity, and communities.

Health: Being and Feeling Well investigates the bio-psycho-social approach of early Christian writers, attitudes to sickness, disability, and health, and changing beliefs about the agency of individuals to control their own health.

Cultivating the Good Life: Reason and Creativity focuses on emotions, senses, imagination, discursive thought, and practical wisdom, as exhibited in literature, philosophy, theology, and art.

Flourishing Communities: Communal Ecologies and Places explores social relationships and the relationship of humans with the natural world.

A series of capstone seminars will relate each of these strands to key distinctive elements in Christian doctrine, including resurrection and redemption, vulnerability and suffering, and receptivity to Divine love.

Visit the Flourishing in Early Christianity page

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