Founded in 2016, the Human Flourishing Program at Harvard's Institute for Quantitative Social Science aims to study and promote human flourishing, and to develop systematic approaches to the synthesis of knowledge across disciplines.
Many topics that are fundamental to human well-being such as happiness itself, or virtue, religious community, meaning, and purpose have traditionally been viewed as principally falling within the purview of the humanities, often of philosophy or theology. However, a robust empirical research literature on these topics has now developed from sociology, political science, economics, education, psychology, medicine, public health, and other empirical sciences.
Although interdisciplinary conferences and discussions are not uncommon, the question as to how to unite and synthesize our knowledge across numerous diverse disciplines remains largely unaddressed, with each discipline naturally showing favor towards its own approach, occasionally making use of the insights from other fields. The program’s research contributes to the broad question of how knowledge from the quantitative social sciences can be integrated with that of the humanities on questions of human flourishing and how best to carry out this synthesis of knowledge across disciplines.
The program accomplishes this by considering a number of important topics relevant to human flourishing, which may include family, friendship, virtue, community, work, beauty, forgiveness, religion, purpose, and meaning. The program aims to bring together knowledge across disciplines and attempt to integrate such knowledge into a coherent whole, with the goal of a better understanding of and capacity to promote human well-being.
The program’s methodological research may include topics such as what forms of knowledge arise from multiple disciplines, the theory and methods used within different disciplines, the limits and boundaries of the knowledge produced by the various disciplines, how knowledge from one discipline can help inform another, and how such knowledge can be synthesized.
The program produces research publications and sponsors educational activities, such as courses, seminars, and conferences, for the Harvard University community all aimed at bringing knowledge together across disciplines and reflecting upon how knowledge from different disciplines might form a coherent whole.
Research and Educational Activities
One of the initial research activities of the program will be research reports summarizing empirical social science research as well as philosophical and theological traditions on topics that may be seen as pathways to human flourishing, including (i) family, (ii) work, (iii) education, and (iv) religious community. The reports will both summarize empirical research literature on how each pathway contributes to human well-being inclusive of health, happiness, meaning and purpose, virtue and character, and relational connection, and also summarize philosophical and theological traditions on these topics.
These four pathways of family, work, education and religious community were selected on the grounds of being relatively common in human societies, and also having evidence that suggests modestly large effects on various human flourishing outcomes. A review of this literature is summarized in a paper On the Promotion of Human Flourishing published from the program in 2017 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, U.S.A. The reports will consider on what points the empirical social science research and the philosophical and theological traditions may converge, where there appear to be tensions, and how the insights of various disciplines may inform one another.
The reports will also summarize any interventions that have been developed, and tested in randomized trials, which pertain to improving the quality of or participation in family, work, education, and community and how these interventions relate to other outcomes. Special attention will be given to interventions that have been shown to be effective for those in disadvantaged settings. After completion, the reports will be published as either a series of peer-reviewed papers, books, or book chapters. Similar work may be carried out on other more specialized topics depending on the research interests of the program’s faculty and research fellows.
In later years of the Program’s activities, research will be initiated on using insights from analytic philosophy and from theological traditions to inform and develop better empirical measures for constructs such as forgiveness, happiness, human flourishing, and love for use in empirical social science research.
The Human Flourishing Program hosts conferences on topics that would benefit from the integration of insights and knowledge from both the humanities and the empirical social sciences. Faculty from numerous disciplines are invited each year to participate, with preference given to those carrying out research or teaching at the interface of the social sciences and humanities. Our first two conferences were held in December 2016 and January 2017 on the topics of religion and health, and on the interdisciplinary study of suffering. More information on the program's current and past conferences is available on the events page.
The Human Flourishing Program will be sponsoring its third annual Summer Seminar Series in 2018 with three separate one week-long courses on topics central to questions of human flourishing. These seminars are ideal for students interested in the integration of knowledge between the humanities and social sciences. Past summer seminar titles have included: "Religion in the Social Sciences," "Kierkegaard and the Happy Life," and "Religion and Human Well-Being." For more information, click here.
The program provides mentorship and guidance to humanities scholars who may be interested in courses and training in statistics so as to be able to better read through and critically assess the empirical social science literature. The program will likewise provide guidance for scholars in the social sciences seeking to develop basic familiarity with analytic philosophy.
The Program is open to visiting faculty who wish to spend a period of time engaged in research on topics that would benefit from the integration of insights from both the social sciences and the humanities.