Global Voices in Human Flourishing: Beyond Western-centric Research (video)

By Templeton Staff
September 24, 2021
Panelists share their approach for integrating diverse perspectives and voices into their work on Human Flourishing.

This video is the first in a new series of discussions and events exploring the distinct challenges and opportunities related to advancing the science of human flourishing. A panel of recent Templeton World Charity Foundation awardees who have received initial funding to pursue research projects through the Grand Challenges in Human Flourishing initiative join moderator Ellen Morgan, Principal Advisor for TWCF's Global Innovations for Character Development, to shed light on some of the key gaps that exist in flourishing science and also the challenge of how to make the science of flourishing more representative of the breadth and diversity of human experience.

Our moderator identifies three gaps that have emerged through TWCF's continued engagement and conversation with researchers, funders, practitioners, and others who are working on ways to advance the science of human flourishing.

  1. There is a knowledge gap, meaning that conceptual models, as well as the type of scientific data that informs current understandings of flourishing, are generated primarily from a small subset of the global population that is WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic).
  2. There is a methodological gap, in that many of the tools and methods used to measure flourishing have likely not been validated in diverse contexts and tend to privilege the individual rather than the collective as the unit of analysis.
  3. There is a structural gap, referring to the underrepresentation of researchers from the majority of the world and the barriers to participation from diverse communities, especially those facing chronic adversity.

This panel features awardees Dr. Toni Antonucci, University of Michigan and Dr. Pamela Wadende, Kisii University; Dr. Blaine Fowers, University of Miami; and Dr. Carol Henry, University of Saskatchewan, and Melani O’Leary, World Vision Canada.

The research project that Dr. Antonucci, whose team includes Dr. Wadende, is pursuing will redress gaps in studying in human flourishing globally by looking at how it is achieved in low-income countries, specifically Africa, where the concept of human flourishing is defined as communal rather than individual. Wadende explains their project will bring "underrepresented,  specifically African voices to research in the field" by looking at flourishing from the perspective of ten different scholars from academic fields including educational psychology, early childhood education, philosophy, developmental psychology, math instruction, and special education.

"We aim to collect ideas about human flourishing from several African countries representing diverse cultural backgrounds both within and across countries—we acknowledge that this will by no means represent the African continent or the majority of the world but we see it as an appropriate starting point or an opportunity for preliminary steps," Wadende adds. Antonucci agrees, and adds that piloting instruments in multiple languages "is a pretty significant task we have set for ourselves but the team believes that there are some core elements of human flourishing that we will be able to identify."

Dr. Fowers, and his colleague Dr. Guerda Nicolas at the University of Miami, will study human flourishing in multiple cultural groups beyond WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic) populations in order to render it more accessible and applicable to world populations, illuminate various models of flourishing, define common factors and differences in flourishing across cultures and degrees of affluence, and identify a variety of barriers to flourishing across cultures. Fowers uses two resources to guide his work: evolutionary science and Aristotle's Ethics. "Evolutionary science gives us a scientific way to try to deal with this idea of human nature rather than just an intuitive way," he says.

Aristotle’s Ethics is "where we get most of our ideas about virtue ethics," Fowers explains, and ethics is an introduction to The Politics, where the idea of communal well-being is emphasized. But although he is focused on Aristotle, he sees room for contrasting philosophies to be voiced, and looks forward to how they raise new questions, open up new possibilities, or harmonize with other findings. "If we want to have a really global understanding, we're going to be instructed by people from around the world. It will unfold in the dialectic between flourishing as an expression of human nature, and flourishing as an expression of being cultural creatures."

Dr. Carol Henry and Melani O'Leary, and their collaborators throughout Canada and in Uganda, will look to understand the determinants of flourishing among adolescents with the goal of developing a conceptual framework that integrates elements of physical, mental, and social dimensions of well-being through a gender-transformative lens. Dr. Henry shares more about the multidisciplinary, multisectoral, and participatory tactics her team's research involves: "We're taking a gendered approach, focused on young people and their understanding of flourishing. We're also looking at the role of partnerships," such as communities, families, schools and indigenous leaders. From a community-development perspective, this team examines "relationship-building, and how the whole idea of trust and trust-building might be a potential indicator of the success of this framework and how this framework will be measured." 

The concept of involving adolescents―voices missing from a lot of scientific literature on flourishing―as "co-researchers" is at the heart of Henry and O'Leary's project. O'Leary highlights the importance of different identity characteristics when exploring this type of work: "We know across the world that women and girls face discrimination in many areas of their lives and so we're really just trying to understand, as we're looking at adolescents, what elements related to agency and decision-making and abilities to translate goals into accomplishments are gendered experiences, and what does this mean for girls in particular? How do we identify that within a theoretical framework of flourishing but and design approaches to overcome those chronic adversities?"


For the second installment of this series, three more awardees from Templeton's Grand Challenges in Human Flourishing initiative will talk with Dr. Dawid Potgieter, Director of TWCF's Programs in Discovery Science. They  focus explicitly on the stories we tell ourselves and others as humans, the importance of listening well, and the role of emotions in promoting societies that flourish.

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