2018 Summer Seminars

The Human Flourishing Program at Harvard University is sponsoring its third annual Summer Seminar Series with weeklong courses on topics central to questions of human flourishing. The Program provides lodging, breakfast and lunch for participants. Each seminar includes a week of intensive discussion based on close reading of assigned texts and is ideal for students studying in the humanities and social sciences.   

The Program welcomes undergraduate and early graduate students in the humanities and social sciences to apply.

Summer Course List & Dates

The application deadline for all courses is April 30. Applicants may apply to more than one course and should expect to receive a decision by May 7.

The Wisdom of Work

Instructor: Dr. Jeffrey A. Hanson, Ph.D.
Dates: July 23 - 27th, 2018 
We spend much of our waking lives at work, but we rarely think about what it means. There is a growing sense, at both the popular and academic levels, that our work is or should be important, even though it is also widely regarded as difficult or burdensome. When we do think about the meaning of work we are often at a loss as to how to defend its value. We tend to assess its worth in economic and instrumental terms. This course will show why that is by examining a wide variety of historical sources of philosophical and theological wisdom for their relevance in explaining how work matters to a life well-lived.  This short course will place special emphasis on the dominant tradition of positive reflection on work: the Platonic and Augustinian heritage as carried forward through the Middle Ages and into the 20th century. We will see that the merely economic rationale for work is a late development in modern history and that it is a minority position in Western thinking. Fortunately, this Platonic-Augustinian tradition has a wealth of conceptual resources for thinking about work today. This class is open to both undergraduate and graduate students interested in thinking about the importance and meaning of work. Our readings will include portions of Plato and Aristotle, monastic literature, and Augustine’s The Work of Monks, in addition to other possible selections from Hugh of St. Victor, Bernard of Clairvaux, Petrarch, Martin Luther, John Locke, Karl Marx, and the papal encyclicals.

The Art and Science of a Meaningful Life

Instructor: Dr. Matthew T. Lee, Ph.D.
Dates: July 30 - August 3rd, 2018
Social science findings have enriched the theory and practice of how to lead a meaningful and abundant life. Although clinical and survey data reveal a crisis of meaning and purpose afflicting millions, a thoughtful review of the empirical research demonstrates the extraordinary capacities we possess for crafting a life that is worth living. Our class meetings will incorporate introductory lectures followed by seminar-style discussions of theoretical and empirical topics, framed by enduring insights from the humanities and enlivened by a handful of carefully curated experiential activities.
This short course is geared towards advanced undergraduates and early graduate students interested in an integration of the social sciences and humanities, with particular emphasis on empirical research. An ability to understand statistical tables in research articles is helpful but not required.  We will read and discuss articles from such journals as American Sociological Review, American Journal of Health Promotion, Applied Research in Quality of Life, The Journal of Positive Psychology, and The Journal of Research in Personality, supplemented by chapters from such books as The Quest for Purpose: The Collegiate Search for a Meaningful Life, The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom, and Being Called: Scientific, Secular, and Sacred Perspectives.

Virtues, Vices and Situations: The Importance of Character for the Good Life

Instructor: Matthew F. Wilson, Ph.D.
Dates: August 6 – 10th, 2018
The exercise of virtuous character traits has been long thought to be central to living a flourishing human life. However, several contemporary philosophers and psychologists have recently challenged the empirical adequacy of this perspective. Their challenge is known as the situationist critique, one version of which asserts that situational features rather than character traits such as virtues are what primarily cause and explain human behavior. This critique directly challenges both long held views about human flourishing as well as recent attempts to devise ethical systems based on virtues. The course will consider the evidence for and responses to the situationist critique of virtue ethics.
This short course should be of interest to students interested in virtue, vice and character formation. The course is geared towards undergraduate and early graduate students who are unfamiliar with the situationist critique or who would like to study its challenge in more depth. Our readings will incorporate perspectives from both the social sciences and philosophy, as we look to see how these disciplines inform each other on this important topic. We will read philosophers such as Aristotle, John Doris, Gilbert Harman, Mark Alfano, Christian Miller and Nancy Snow, as well as social psychologists such as Lee Ross, Walter Mischel, and Yuichi Shoda.

Application Instructions

Summer seminars are open to undergraduate and early graduate students. To apply, please send the following documents to mfwilson [at] fas.harvard.edu.

1) Cover letter discussing the reasons for your interest in the seminar, an overview of any relevant experience in the seminar's topic, and your current position and course of studies.
2) A curriculum vitae
3) Contact information (name, position, email, phone) for two faculty members familiar with your work who would be willing to provide an informal reference. (Formal Recommendation letters are not necessary).

For questions about these courses, please email  mfwilson [at] fas.harvard.edu.