‘Enhancing life’ focus of new Divinity School project

Susan Allen
News Officer for Arts and HumanitiesUniversity Communications

The University of Chicago Divinity School has launched a two-year, interdisciplinary project aimed at understanding what it means to enhance life and how the human aspiration for a better life can be fulfilled.

The Enhancing Life Project is supported by a $4.6 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation and led by William Schweiker, the Edward L. Ryerson Distinguished Service Professor at the Divinity School, and Günter Thomas, professor of theology at Ruhr-University Bochum.

The project will bring together international scholars from fields across the humanities and social sciences to study the essential aspirations of human beings. Through their research, these scholars will address how the expansion of various forms of human power, such as technology, has both imperiled life and created new ways for it to flourish.

“We live in an age in which there is the challenge and also the responsibility to orient the many means of altering forms of life so that we actually enhance life,” said Schweiker. “This is a question that reaches in scope from the whole planetary system to the human genome. The Enhancing Life Project is an exciting international and cross-disciplinary undertaking to meet this challenge.

“We have heard a lot about the endangerment to life; we are also interested in enhancing life. From new advances in medicine to revolutions in food production and reduction of poverty levels; from explorations in space to new developments in education, the driving force is to enhance life. But what exactly do we mean by ‘enhancing’ life? How can that be measured? And are there principles that should guide the many ways of enhancing life? Without answers to these perplexing questions, it is not obvious that the many attempts, scientific and otherwise, will in fact enhance life.”

Scholars will address these fundamental questions via research fellowships at two levels: 15 research projects of advanced-career scholars and 20 research projects of early-career scholars. The project will thereby support 35 original monographs in a proposed new discipline of Enhancing Life Studies. In addition, project participants will each develop two courses, focused on the enhancement of life for students at both the graduate and undergraduate levels.

These scholars will also gather for three, two-week residency seminars throughout the project that will allow for focused but informal collaboration and the exchange of ideas across disciplinary boundaries. In addition, they will seek input from leaders and thinkers outside the academy who will visit the seminars and offer feedback on their works in progress.

The Enhancing Life Project will culminate in a public event in Chicago in the summer of 2017, in keeping with its commitment to wide dissemination of the books, course syllabi and overall insights that result from this effort.

More information, including detailed information about applying, may be found at enhancinglife.uchicago.edu. Applications are due Feb. 1, 2015.

About the Templeton Foundation:

The John Templeton Foundation serves as a philanthropic catalyst for discoveries relating to the big questions of human purpose and ultimate reality. It supports research on subjects ranging from complexity, evolution and infinity to creativity, forgiveness, love and free will. It encourages civil, informed dialogue among scientists, philosophers and theologians and between such experts and the public at large, for the purposes of definitional clarity and new insights.