Expanding Knowledge about Flourishing beyond WEIRD Populations: What Constitutes Flourishing for the Other 88%?
Aristotle etc. defined flourishing as living in the best way as a human being, and as the unifying aim of human life. Flourishing research has exploded, but virtually all studies have focused on WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic) populations, including an enormous oversampling of U.S. college students. Therefore, while knowledge about flourishing is growing, it does not generalize to 88% of the world's citizens. This biased sampling unintentionally suggests either that the WEIRD model of flourishing should be applied to all people, or that flourishing is only available to people in affluent western societies – both abhorrent implications. This project will examine how flourishing differs for diverse individuals and communities. Flourishing is generally conceived as a human aspiration, not simply a culturally bound aim. The project will also investigate whether the expected substantial unity in flourishing is evident amidst this diversity of understandings. Engagement with a set of characteristic human goods (e.g., belonging, meaning) may be one source of this unity. Although these goods are understood differently across cultures, these cultural formulations have a family resemblance. Finally, the project will study whether a multifaceted account of flourishing can illuminate how the various facets are weighted differently across cultures.
Decades of research has generated significant but culturally bound knowledge (U.S. and Europe). Studying flourishing more broadly will render it more accessible and applicable to world populations. This project will also illuminate various models of flourishing, enriching understanding and opening previously unrecognized pathways to living well. The expected family resemblances in flourishing will help to define common factors of flourishing across cultures and degrees of affluence. Culturally based research can foster policy and intervention studies in multiple cultural groups, dramatically improving the likelihood of flourishing globally. This work has been done with life satisfaction, but flourishing is a richer concept.
The primary challenge is that there is relatively little theory to guide flourishing research, let alone a consensus theory. The value of this project is contingent on developing its theoretical coherence sufficiently to begin the generation of intersecting and cumulative knowledge.
A second challenge is identifying and gathering a set of intercontinental researchers, and fostering projects that intersect in important ways. The danger is having multiple research projects that seek divergent and disconnected knowledge.
A third challenge is the longevity of this intercultural research. Planning is necessary to maintain continuity and ensure a sustainable project for the coming decades.
The key foundation of this project is to create a nexus for an international community of researchers studying flourishing interculturally. Having a localized home (with internet and social media connections) will allow ongoing affiliation and collaboration, which will be facilitated by annual summer institutes with a small number of invited researchers. These institutes can provide a forum for the kind of theory development and consensus that can only thrive in an ongoing, collaborative environment – and which is a vital foundation for intercultural work.
The project will host challenge grant competitions in order to attract appropriate researchers, based on how they developed theory and research proposals. In addition to evaluating proposals, potential participants will be vetted for their demonstrated ability to collaborate across theoretical and cultural differences.
Grants should be offered in stages (pilot, small grant, larger grant) to develop the most promising projects. It will be important to prioritize early career researchers as a way to build capacity for long-term intercultural research on flourishing.
Key Indicators of Success
3 years: Assess the success of the first two summer institutes and pilot studies based on formulation of an initial intercultural consensus theory of flourishing and a related set of hypotheses to be tested.
5 years: Evaluate the success of the first four summer institutes, the pilot studies, and small grants based on full formulation of an intercultural theory of flourishing, and the results of pilot studies in 10 cultural groups.
10 years: Determine success of the project based on full formulation of an intercultural theory of flourishing, and on substantial tests proving its validity in 5 cultural groups.
These research ideas were submitted in response to Templeton World Charity Foundation’s global call for Grand Challenges in Human Flourishing, which ran from September through November 2020.
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