Project Description

III. The Big Questions

One of the most profound spiritual capacities human beings possess is the ability to imagine how life can be enhanced and to strive for new and enriched futures for persons and communities. The longing to overcome physical and social limitations, the ability to imagine heavenly realms, and the capacity of hope even in the face of death are definitive qualities of the human species.[1]


We also know the devastation caused to people who are deprived of hope or disempowered as agents in attaining their aspirations. Furthermore, virtually every known culture, and likewise every human life, is oriented with respect to imagined futures about the enhancing of life. These imagined futures range from, for instance, beliefs about heaven, ideas about the end of times, utopian dreams of a just community, and claims about a possible trans-human future as well as new biological technologies to enhance life. Dreaming, imagining, and hoping for a future that enhances human individual and social life seem to be defining features of human existence. It is also the case that religious frameworks of meaning, symbols, and ideas about the future eventually fade and lose cultural relevance when they do not and cannot orient human individual or communal life towards enhancing life.[2]  In a word, there is something distinctive in the human drive to enhance life, and religious ideas and ideals can and must be interpreted and assessed mindful of that human distinctiveness. Yet the Big Questions that this distinctive human spiritual capacity pose are admittedly deceptive in their seeming simplicity: 1)“What does it mean to enhance life, including spiritual life?” (2)Correlatively, what are the spiritual laws for the strategies, social mechanisms, and technologies that enable us to enhance life in its many dimensions and in measurable ways?”


The Enhancing Life Project intends to help answer those Big Questions by exploring the human spiritual aspiration and capacity from different perspectives and in relation to cultural, social, and religious traditions (see below). The Enhancing Life Project will promote research, facilitate public discussion, and develop a core group of scholars dedicated to work on enhancing life as a human aspiration and the spiritual laws that can condition and orient that aspiration in concrete and measureable ways. That is, we seek both to understand and yet also to assess, measure, and explain “enhancing life.”


What do we mean by “spiritual laws?” Laws in the social world, most simply put, are rules and measures of human action, individual or social, established by some authority, promulgated, and thus knowable, and which concern the order and flourishing of the individual or community. Thus, spiritual laws are those laws which rule and measure enhancing life in relation to the authority of some counter-world, and are promulgated in and operative through the socio-cultural imaginary. These spiritual laws, some of which we mention in this Project Description, are often implicit in the socio-cultural imaginary and some of them must necessarily operate in that implicit, inarticulate, way in order to be effective.  Other spiritual laws can and must be articulated in order for them to guide and measure the enhancing of life.[3] The Enhancing Life Project seeks to identify these two types of spiritual laws present in the religions, especially Christianity, but also in the emerging global socio-cultural imaginary.


Our focus on enhancing life and on the interaction among scholars from different disciplines within this Project are meant to facilitate a more concrete, measurable, and proactive approach to understanding and orienting this human spiritual aspiration and capacity than previous accounts of hope or imagined futures. Well-known are the utopian hopes, say, the visions of some religious sects or political groups, and technological ventures, like the millions of dollars spent on Cold Fusion research in the late 1980s promising inexpensive energy, that were meant to enhance life and yet failed to do so. How can we understand, assess, and explain strategies for enhancing life and also uncover cultural resources? Further, this Project accounts for a salient feature of our age, namely, the radical extension of human power to realize imagined futures.[4] Indeed, it is often noted that through technological means human power has now outpaced religious and moral insight and direction. In this social and historical context, it is vitally important that scholars of various disciplines join with others in developing ways to understand and assess enhancing life.  The Enhancing Life Project undertakes that task and it thereby can be seen as developing a new discipline of thought, Enhancing Life Studies.



            [1] See e.g., Ronald Cole-Turner, Transhumanism and Transcendence: Christian Hope in an Age of Technological Enhancement (Washington: Georgetown University Press, 2011); David E. Klemm, and William Schweiker, Religion and the Human Future: An Essay on Theological Humanism (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2008); Ulf Görman, Willem Drees, and Hubert Meisinger, eds., Creative Creatures: Values and Ethical Issues in Theology, Science and Technology (London: T&T Clark, 2005).

            [2] See, Lucian Hölscher, ed. Das Jenseits: Facetten Eines Religiösen Begriffs in Der Neuzeit (Göttingen: Wallstein, 2007).

            [3] We are mindful of some radically different uses of the terms “spiritual laws.”  There is, for instance, an evangelistic Christian tract, The Four Spiritual Laws, that explains Christian faith concerning salvation. In a very different way, Ralph Waldo Emerson, in his Essays: First Series (1841), includes an essay on “Spiritual Laws.” There are also the specific teachings of various religions that are themselves spiritual laws: the Four Noble Truths in Buddhism, Torah for Jews, the so-called Golden and Silver Rules, the Five Pillars of Islam, and, for Christians, the Ten Commandments or the “Sermon on the Mount,” to name just a few.  

            [4] See Mark Chan and Roland Chia, eds., Beyond Determinism and Reductionism: Genetic Science and the Person (Adelaide: ATF Press, 2003); Celia Deane-Drumond and Peter Manley Scott, eds., Future Perfect?: God, Medicine, and Human Identity (New York: T&T Clark International, 2006); Michael Murphy, The Future of the Body: Explorations into the Further Evolution of Human Nature (New York: J.P. Tarcher and Putnam, 1992); and Marcus Düwell, Christoph Rehmann-Sutter, and Dietmar Mieth, The Contingent Nature of Life: Bioethics and Limits of Human Existence, International Library of Ethics, Law, and the New Medicine (Berlin: Springer, 2008).