Michael Spezio
Scripps College 

Harmonious Unanimity: Toward a Multilevel Integrative Account of the Relational Development of Character

Project Description:

This project has two major branches, one based in experimental psychology and neuroscience and one based in the multilevel interpretive engagement of these sciences for constructive work in the theological anthropology of virtue. Both branches are motivated by the pressing need to develop new generative models in which affect/emotion/feeling is regarded as a critical element in the harmonious unanimity captures the information processing and moral action of the virtuous exemplar. The empirical portion of the project leverages ongoing experimental projects initiated by the applicant. The morally relevant behaviors that these projects utilize include actions in the Public Goods Paradigm (Bardsley & Moffat, 2007; Ledyard, 1993) and in a novel Rescuer Paradigm (Spezio, 2010). These projects include a set of completed experiments that have already yielded strong evidence of metastable character across several years and different valuational/moral contexts. The project in theological anthropology will draw on the relational theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Bonhoeffer, 1997, 1998 (1930), 2005(1949); Green, 1999 (1972)) and on the virtue theoretical approaches in the work of Jean Porter (Porter, 1990), Linda Zagzebski (Zagzebski, 2004), and Servais Pinckaers (Pinckaers, 1995).

Michael Spezio is Associate Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Scripps College in Claremont, CA, and a Visiting Associate in social and affective neuroscience at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, CA. He also holds a Visiting Researcher position with the Laboratory of Systems Neuroscience at the Universitaets-Klinikum Eppendorf in Hamburg, Germany, and is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Prof. Spezio studies socially and emotionally inflected conceptual processing and its relation to complex character formation and decision-making, especially tied to love, compassion, and care in moral action. He is a member of the International Society for Science and Religion, co-editor of the Routledge Companion to Religion and Science, and co-editor of Theology and the Science of Moral Action: Virtue Ethics, Exemplarity, and Cognitive Neuroscience. His work has been supported with funding from the National Science Foundation, the Mind and Life Institute, the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences, the Fetzer Institute, and the John Templeton Foundation. His research project at the Center of Theological Inquiry, “Harmonious Unanimity: Toward a Multilevel Integrative Account of the Relational Development of Character,” seeks two kinds of multilevel integration. On the one hand, to explore an integrative account of multiple systems of valuation in the embodied brain that undergird love in action. On the other hand, to develop a scientifically and theologically sensitive account of character that puts relational anthropology at the center, while recognizing the importance of both difference and the uniquely personal in exemplary love for others.