Wake Forest University has announced a $3.9 million grant from the Templeton Religion Trust in support of efforts to identify and define what makes people "morally exceptional" and better understand how moral character can be improved.
With the goal of launching a new subfield of study and kick-starting meaningful conversations about moral character, the Beacon Project will examine individuals who have been publicly recognized for moral virtue as well as lesser-known moral exemplars. The three-year initiative will include competitive grant awards to psychology, philosophy, and theology scholars in support of research on the morally exceptional; research projects led by Wake Forest psychology and philosophy professors; conferences, a summer seminar, and a campus reading group and lecture series; and a website featuring project activities and resources.
The project builds on the Character Project, which received a three-year, $3.67 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation — the largest of the three foundations created by Sir John Templeton — in 2010 to research the nature of character. Professors of psychology William F. Fleeson and R. Michael Furr, who led that project, also will be involved in the Beacon Project. "A lot of attention has been paid to intellectual genius, but the morally exceptional represent a form of 'genius' that also deserves attention," said Fleeson.
"At the heart of this project is figuring out what makes people good," said Furr. "What are the psychological, cultural, and spiritual factors that make people morally excellent? We are hoping what we do can lay the foundation for how we can foster these attributes."