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Jul 14, 2022

Gains in Wisdom After Difficult Experiences with Dr. Santushi Amarasuriya & Professor Igor Grossman (video)

Research across North America,the Philippines and Sri Lanka exploring diverse conceptualizations of wisdom and how to come by it.

By Templeton Staff with Luana DeBorst

This recording is from a series of public seminars given by scholars lecturing at St Antony’s College, University of Oxford as part of the Templeton World Charity Foundation (TWCF) supported project, Education, Purpose and Human Flourishing in Uncertain Times (EPHF). EPHF explores new understandings of education, purpose, and human flourishing through annual convenes and publications.

Play the above video to hear from TWCF grantee Dr. Santushi Amarasuriya, of the University of Colombo, Sri Lanka and Igor Grossmann, Professor of Psychology at the University of Waterloo, Canada speak about their research into what wisdom means, and how it is gained, in North America, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka.

Grossman and Amarasuriya begin by laying out the range of beliefs about the development of wisdom, and how that relates to potential for human flourishing.

  • One perspective is that of Christian-influenced affluent Western countries, which tend to use an Etic approach to wisdom. There, the pervasive belief is that wisdom comes from facing and overcoming difficult life experiences.
  • In contrast, beliefs about the production of wisdom arising from the Philippines and Sri Lanka tend to take an Emic approach, which recognizes the importance of unique cultures to explain the variability of knowledge, beliefs, and the gaining of wisdom.

The presenters suggest that although there has been a considerable amount of psychological research on wisdom in recent times, most attempts to evaluate such claims have originated from affluent parts of North America and Western Europe. It remains unclear if these are applicable across different socio-economic strata of the population in North America, and also if they apply to the people in the Global South.

In their presentation, Grossman and Amarasuriya aim to evaluate wisdom-related claims through a mixed-method approach.

  • First, using empirical data from socio-economically and age-diverse North American samples, they examine whether and how different major life experiences relate to stability and change in wisdom-related characteristics, including intellectual humility, perspective-taking, or open-mindedness to change.
  • They then expand their focus beyond North American samples, to examine common understanding of wisdom development through focus groups conducted in the Philippines and Sri Lanka.

The researchers discuss their attempt to examine the degree to which Western psychological concepts of wisdom align with local understandings of these same concepts among Filipinos and Sri Lankan from different faith-based communities and socio-economic backgrounds. They also identify unique cultural notions to be included within standard frameworks of wisdom to arrive at a more culturally-inclusive and diverse understanding of this construct. The role of different experiences for development of relevant characteristics is noted as well.

Santushi Amarasuriya is a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Medical Humanities in the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Colombo, Sri Lanka, in which she has been on the academic staff since 2006. She is a Clinical Psychologist by profession and obtained her PhD from the University of Melbourne in 2016. She is the Project Director of a Project measuring and developing wisdom in Sri Lanka and the Philippines funded by a Global Innovations for Character Development Grant through the Templeton World Charity Foundation Inc.

Igor Grossmann is an Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Waterloo, Canada, where he leads the Wisdom and Culture Lab. As a behavioral/social scientist, Grossmann has been working on demystifying what makes up a “wise” judgment in the context of revolving societal and cultural changes. His chief work aims to uncover misconceptions about wisdom and societal change and identifying cultural and psychological processes that enable people to think and act wisely.

Dr. David Johnson, Junior Proctor, University of Oxford, Reader in Comparative and International Education, and Fiona Gatty, DPhil., Research Project Coordinator and TWCF Fellow in Comparative Education, are Principal Investigator and Co-Investigator of the EPHF ProjectLuana DeBorst, Research Assistant, University of Oxford, assists with the project.