Summer Seminars

Teaching collageThe Human Flourishing Program offers week-long intensive summer seminars to students from around the country focused on various topics related to human flourishing. These seminars are ideal for students interested in the integration of knowledge between the humanities and social sciences. This past summer, our seminar titles included: "The Art and Science of a Meaningful Life," "Virtues, Vices, and Situations: The Importance of Character for the good life," and "The Wisdom of Work."  For descriptions of past seminars, please see the tabs below:

Summer 2018

The Human Flourishing Program at Harvard University is sponsored its third annual Summer Seminar Series with three weeklong courses. Each seminar included a week of intensive discussion based on close reading of assigned texts and is ideal for students studying in the humanities and social sciences, designed for undergraduates and early graduate students.   

Summer Course List

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.

Summer 2017

2017 Summer Seminars

Kierkegaard and the Happy Life

Instructor: Jeffrey Hanson, Harvard University

Dates: July 31-August 4, 2017

The work of Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) is generally regarded as the product of a grim mind, one occupied with despair and death. Contrary to the stereotype of the brooding existentialist though, some of Kierkegaard’s most important and influential works can be read as addressing the most basic sort of issues of how we can be happy even when life involves suffering. His most famous book, Fear and Trembling, seems on the surface not much to do with happiness: It tells the story of Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his son Isaac and how his response to God’s scandalous demand exhibits faith. Readers are understandably fixated on Abraham’s anxiety and the shocking aspects of the story, but Kierkegaard intends shock to be therapeutic. The main argument of Fear and Trembling is ultimately that beyond Abraham’s distress is the prospect of a real and profound happiness that only faith can secure. A similar concern for human happiness in the face of trauma is also discernible in The Concept of Anxiety and The Sickness unto Death. Despite their forbidding titles, these works also explore the possibility of a faith that can bring genuine happiness. Both works discuss a number of false ways of thinking about life that omit faith and lead to misery, while the way of faith is shown to be the happiest path, even though walking it will inevitably entail suffering and pain. 


Religion and Human Well-Being

Instructor: Tyler VanderWeele, Harvard University

Dates: July 24-28, 2017

The course will examine empirical, theoretical, and historical research on how religion has contributed to, and also at times inhibited, individual and societal well-being in the western world. The focus of the course will be on recent empirical research on how participation in religious communities contributes to virtue and character development, mental and physical health, happiness and life satisfaction, purpose and meaning in life, generosity and civic engagement, and marriage and social relationships. Discussion will also be given to religious communities’ understandings of well-being and wholeness. Evidence for the historic contributions of religious communities to individual and societal well-being will also be discussed.

Summer 2016

2016 Summer Seminar

Religion in the Social Sciences 

Instructor: Tyler VanderWeele, Harvard University

Dates: June 13-17, 2016

The Human Flourishing Program hosted a graduate-level short course on religion in the social sciences in Cambridge, MA at Harvard’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science. Topics included measurement of religion, religion in politics, religion and the family, religion and public health, religion and cooperation, and civil religion. Students from Baylor University, Duke University, Emory University, Harvard University, Stanford University, and the University of Virginia, amongst others, participated. Faculty lecturers included David Campbell (University of Notre Dame), William English (Georgetown University), Martin Nowak (Harvard University), Laura Olson (Clemson University), Tyler VanderWeele (Harvard University), and Bradford Wilcox (University of Virginia).