Stephen Pope
Boston College

Science, Human Flourishing, and Theological Ethics

Project Description:

Major figures in the classical Christian tradition maintained that virtue is the indispensable key to living the best life possible as well as to attaining perfect happiness in the next life. My project seeks to integrate relevant scientific findings and theories of human well-being within an account of the Christian life as structured for happiness by the theological and moral virtues. The first part will examine scientifically-based writing on the connection between various positive moral traits and human happiness (and related terms like well-being, good functioning, and flourishing, and even health). It will draw from three contemporary scientific approaches to human behavior: evolutionary psychology (specifically how evolution in the course of ancestral environments has shaped human psychology in ways that make difficult the attainment of happiness), positive psychology (the contribution of various virtues to subjective well-being, both “hedonic” and “eudaimonic”), and neuroscience (how happiness is dependent processes that influence serotonin and dopamine levels in the brain). The second part of the book will offer an interpretation of the relevance of these theories for a theological ethics of virtue. Most theologians tend to dismiss scientific studies as either irrelevant or reductionistic, but this project will seek their critical appropriation within contemporary theological virtue ethics. Whereas modern Christian ethics tends to divide happiness and virtue, this project will explore the question of whether and how modern scientific studies can provide insights that might help to bring happiness and virtue back into closer alignment. 

Stephen J. Pope is a professor in the theology department at Boston College, where he teaches courses on social ethics and the intersection of science and theology. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. His publications include The Evolution of Altruism and the Ordering of Love (Georgetown University Press, 1994), Human Evolution and Christian Ethics (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007), and Solidarity and Hope: Jon Sobrino¹s Challenge to the Christian Theology, editor (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Press, 2008), and ³Restorative Justice as a Prophetic Path to Peace,² Catholic Theological Society of America Proceedings 65 (2010):19-34. He has worked for five years as a volunteer for Catholic chaplaincies in several Massachusetts prisons, and served on a variety of workshops focused on the contribution of religion to political reconciliation for Catholic Relief Services and the Jesuit Refugee Service.