Project Description

IV. The Purpose Of The Project

Without doubt, we are living in an age in which forms of life—biological, social, reflective, and religious—can be enhanced or demeaned through the exercise of individual and communal capacities on a scale never seen before. Today, throughout the globe, human capacities are being exerted and extended in ways that have far-reaching, even radical, consequences for the future of life on this planet in all its forms. This transformative expansion of human capacities is obvious in the numerous creative developments in technology and the natural and social sciences. In the academy, there are developed ways to enhance life (say, artificial limbs, more efficient methods of food production, pharmaceutical research and anti-aging procedures). With equally far reaching consequences, policies are being implemented in commerce, government, religion, and civil society. In a word, attempts to enhance life bring together innovative initiatives, new technologies, social needs, and cultural/religious ideals.[1] Ideas about and measures to enhance life are influencing the way people think, live, and communicate, and yet such ideas and measures have not been closely examined or well understood to date. In each of these sectors of academic and public life, highly consequential decisions, technological inventions, and social changes are being pursued on the assumption, often tacit, unexplored and unacknowledged, that such decisions, inventions, and changes do in fact enhance life and hold the promise of a better future. 


In the desire to bring knowledge to bear on the Big Questions of the enhancement of life, The Enhancing Life Project proposes to organize a new venture of interdisciplinary research that will analyze the working assumptions that guide thinking about the enhancement of life. Through this research and analysis, the Project aims not only to make these assumptions about the enhancement of life more clear and explicit, but also to test their adequacy and develop their potential contributions to the flourishing of human and non-human life. The principal investigators for The Enhancing Life Project think that this investigation will shape a sophisticated, interdisciplinary debate that will directly contribute to the shaping of policy initiatives, technological and scientific agendas, and cultural and religious thought and practice, a goal that is reflected throughout each feature of this Project’s design.


Human cultures, of course, have richly diverse legacies of ideas about the form and future of human and non-human life (animals, flora, and fauna) and thus differing views on the constraints and possibilities that will shape life’s enhancement. Equally important for this Project is the fact that various academic disciplines also have quite diverse perspectives on the decisive features of life and the critical questions that will guide its enhancement. Both the diversity of cultures and the diversity of academic disciplines are crucially important to The Enhancing Life Project. With respect to cultural and religious diversity, the Project assumes that religious and cultural traditions provide rich repositories of ideas about the enhancement of life, theories of transformation over time and visions of the future. The Project will give careful consideration to the framing assumptions, narratives and symbolic forms through which religions interpret the possibilities for the enhancement of life. Further, the Project will explore the process of diffusion through which these religious and cultural frameworks and narratives have influenced other domains of society and politics.


The principal investigators think that because social assumptions about the enhancement of life are largely implicit, it will require the collaboration of several disciplinary perspectives to render these assumptions visible and available to investigation and evaluation. In doing so, the Project aims to make life, especially human life, more open to enhancement. The Project is thereby structured through broad research trajectories within a primary focus on the religions that have import for making life richer and deeper (see below.) Further, a new, integrated inquiry about enhancement of life will best result from research strategies that accentuate the diversities of cultures, religions, and academic disciplines.


The following two sections of this proposal expand on the subject of this new integrated inquiry and the research trajectories that will give it structure.

            [1] On the role of imagination in this process see among others A. Coskun Samli, From Imagination to Innovation: New Product Development for Quality of Life (New York: Springer, 2011); Rosalind H. Williams, Notes on the Underground: An Essay on Technology, Society, and the Imagination(new ed., Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 2008).