Project Description

V. Research Framework

In order to advance knowledge about the Project’s Big Questions, the following are key assumptions within disciplinary areas arranged in logical order: 1) some implied theory of change that requires analysis; 2) an idea of the plasticity or malleability of life; 3) imagined futures; 4) some conception of the continuity and discontinuity of the form of life being enhanced; and 5) examination of various dimensions of life, especially the spiritual dimension of life expressed in the world’s religions and cultures.


A further implication of enhancing life is that life appears to be organized in forms that at the same time interact with each other – for both fascinating mutual reinforcement and surprising difficulties – and challenge each other. These challenges call for intellectual humility because in the attempt to answer one aspect one might, unwittingly, impede other attempts to enhance life.[1] Sometimes called “wicked problems” in social policy discourse, the idea is that some problems must be seen from multiple perspectives and also that answering such problems from one perspective might create problems at some other level. More precisely, a wicked problem is a social or cultural problem that is difficult or impossible to solve for as many as four reasons: incomplete or contradictory knowledge, the number of people and opinions involved, the large economic burden, and the interconnected nature of these problems with other problems.[2] For example, the advancement of economic well-being might create specific challenges to the family as the bedrock of society. A religious revival might challenge the functioning of the political order and endanger civil society.


In addition, the very idea of enhancing life implies recognition of the value or worth of forms of life, as well as their possible futures. The Enhancing Life Project seeks to examine the elements of enhancement just enumerated and also the forms, values, and futures of life with respect to guiding frameworks, narratives, and images as specific and interrelated aspects of socio-cultural and religious worldviews. The contention here is that the meaning of enhancing life must be interpreted in a way that is mindful of the fact that human action and social cohesion are linked to meaning-giving and orienting beliefs and values at interrelated levels of analysis. One cannot properly understand the flourishing of life, its full enhancement, without analyzing the dimensions of life. Accordingly, the examination of the religious and cultural dimension of life is interrelated with the exploration of other dimensions. For instance, scholars as well as religious and social leaders, increasingly recognize the extent to which the pursuit of science itself can be encouraged or encumbered by religious or cultural beliefs, values, and ideas. For this reason, the Project will explore the creative potentials of religious and cultural traditions to promote the enhancement of life on a broad scale, including social imaginaries, legal developments, media narratives, religious ideas, and technological change.[3]


The framework of this Project intersects in various ways with divergent accounts of enhancement and signals the need for a new direction of thought and even an integrated field of study. Sad to say, many specific agendas of enhancement are only implicit or assumed in scientific research and social life, and therefore have not received critical analysis that would expose contradictions or unanticipated consequences, or uncover their creative potentials.[4] Again, the central purpose of the Project is to take the bold step of fashioning new ways of understanding and advancing the enhancement of life. In this respect, the Project is thoroughly future-oriented in exploring the deeply rooted and frequently overlooked factors propelling the dynamics of enhancing life.


As an example of deeply rooted factors that shape different ways of enhancing life, one may consider two strands in Western thought.  One strand that shapes the lives of peoples and nations around the world has emphasized the goodness of finite human life. With a sense of humility, those who hold this conviction seek to maximize life within finite conditions. Enhancement on this account is worked out in various ways within the limiting conditions that also characterize finite existence. These limits might be set by God within a theistic framework or by finite natural reality itself. So, beliefs about the sanctity or dignity of life have frequently been used as ideas to articulate the goodness of those limits of finitude. Not surprisingly, debates that deeply impact social existence swirl around worries about “designer genes” as “playing God,” the manipulation of species, and the enhancement of human life at the expense of nonhuman species.[5]


Another framework of enhancement in teaching and social practice has emphasized that enhancing life requires a creative sense of life’s possibilities and the pursuit of the perfection of life.[6] Perfection might be understood within a religious tradition in terms of the deification of finite life through God’s grace or through ideas and images about the genetic enhancement of human capacities, the development of new social, legal, and political formations, and technological inventions and advances in communications and media. Spiritual practices, breakthroughs in genetics, utopian social experiments, and the pursuit of excellence in various cultural activities have characterized this strand of thought about enhancing life. The Project’s overall objective is to explore the driving ideas and practices that support the search for enhancing life in diverse fields of inquiry. For this reason, The Enhancing Life Project seeks applications from scholars in various fields, e.g., anthropology, sociology, law, psychology, political sciences, communication, media studies, philosophy, religious studies, and tradition specific theology (e.g., Christian or Hindu or …).


The assumptions behind enhancing life as well as the interrelation of concepts provide a general structure to this Project.

            [1] For a succinct call for this kind of humility see David G. Myers, “The Psychology of Humility,” in God, Science, and Humility: Ten Scientists Consider Humility Theology, ed. Robert L. Herrmann (Philadelphia: Templeton Foundation Press, 2000).

            [2] accessed 2/27/2014. Also see Don S. Browning, Equality and the Family: A Fundamental, Practical Theology of Children, Mothers, and Fathers in Modern Societies (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishers, 2007); John Witte, Christian Green, and Amy Wheeler, eds., The Equal-Regard Family and its Friendly Critics: Don Browning and the Practical Theological Ethics of the Family (Grand Rapids, Mich: William B Eerdmans Publishers, 2007);  Lisa Sowle Cahill, Family: A Christian social perspective (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000).

            [3] See, e.g., Ted Peters, Robert J. Russell, and Michael Welker, eds., Resurrection: Theological and Scientific Assessments (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002) and Stephen G. Post et. al., Altruism and Altruistic Love: Science, Philosophy, and Religion in Dialogue, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).

            [4] A broad field of inquiry where the values of enhancing life are only implicit is “quality of life research.” See e.g., Richard J. Estes, ed., Advancing Quality of Life in a Turbulent World (Dordrecht: Springer,, 2006), and for a limitation of the spiritual dimension to individual religiosity, cp. Kenneth C. Land, M. Joseph Sirgy, and Alex C. Michalos, eds., Handbook of Social Indicators and Quality of Life Research (Dordrecht: Springer Science+Business Media B.V, 2012).

            [5] David F. Noble, The Religion of Technology: The Divinity of Man and the Spirit of Invention (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997); Ruth Page, “The Human Genome and the Image of God,” in Brave New World: Theology, Ethics, and the Human Genome, ed. Celia Deane-Drummond (London: T&T Clark, 2003); and Ted Peters, Playing God?: Genetic Determinism and Human Freedom (New York: Routledge, 2003).

            [6] See, e.g., Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, I.II.1-5 (London: Burns, Oates, and Washbourne, 1920-25); Jonathan Edwards, The Nature of True Virtue (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1960); Vladimir Lossky, In the Image and Likeness of God (London: Mowbrays, 1975); and Emilie Townes, ed., Embracing the Spirit: Womanist Perspectives on Hope, Salvation, and Transformation (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1997).