Professors give grants to study moral character

Moral character, what drives it and what determines it, has preoccupied thinkers for thousands of years.  In a variety of fields, including psychology, philosophy and theology, men and women have painstakingly worked to develop and investigate theories on the subject.

Photos by Holly Hinshelwood/Old Gold & Black

The university has recently joined this endeavor, awarding nearly $2 million in grants to researchers around the world studying moral character. William Fleeson and Michael Furr, professors in the psychology department, conducted the grant review and selection process for the 12 winning research proposals.

“The process took about a year,” Furr said, “from the time we started writing initial announcements (summer 2010), through the initial review of the 120-ish letters of intent, through the second-phase review of the 23 full proposals, and to the formalities of finalizing the grant contracts.”

The heads of the project were thrilled by the results of their labor.  Due to the number and quality of the proposals submitted, the professors were able to successfully petition the John Templeton Foundation for an additional $500,000. The money made it possible for the professors to award more grants than they originally intended. Furr and Fleeson’s work is only the first part of a much larger program.

In the coming semester, researchers in the fields of philosophy and theology will also be reviewed and awarded grants.

The Character Project, the organization that is coordinating the grants, is a three-year, $4.18 million program directed by Associate Professor of Philosophy and Zachary T. Smith Faculty Fellow Christian Miller.

“The goal of the Character Project is three-fold,” Miller said, “to better understand what character is, determine if we actually have it, and determine ways of improving it.”

Miller is also currently overseeing the review of philosophy proposals seeking grants, alongside Angela Noble of the Catholic University of America, who is reviewing the theology proposals.

Furr, Fleeson, Miller and Noble’s work has been made possible by the John Templeton Foundation, an organization funding inter-disciplinary research on human purpose and ultimate reality.  The organization was founded in 1987 and since then has become well-known for its charitable donations that often, controversially, seek to reconcile science and religion.

The efforts of the men and women in the Character Project and the Templeton Foundation will come to fruition in two years, during the summer of 2013.  At two conferences held at the Graylyn International Conference Center, winners in all three fields will present the results of their studies.