Hope & Optimism: Conceptual and Empirical Investigations

Hope-Optimism Illustrations Layout 2

Project Website: hopeoptimism.com


Hope and optimism are high-profile attitudes. Politicians invoke them, religious and business leaders promote them, psychologists cultivate them, self-help authors recommend them, artists explore and express them.

The press is interested too: over the past few years, articles in the L.A. Times, Washington Post, Time, and Atlantic have discussed their natures, sources, risks, and benefits.

Such popular discussions, especially of optimism, often draw on empirical work by scientists like Michael Scheier, Tali Sharot, Martin Seligman, and C.R. Snyder. However, there is a corresponding lack of empirical work on hope.

Both hope and optimism have been understudied in philosophy.  But philosophers may be able learn a great deal from the social scientific work on these concepts while also contributing a sense of their implications and normative import.  That sort of philosophical discussion might, in turn, influence new empirical research.

Though there is a rich tradition of practical arguments for and against religious belief, new research on such arguments that explicitly incorporates discussion of attitudes other than belief – e.g. hope and optimism – might help to advance the discussion.

We find the relative lack of research on these traits unfortunate: hope and optimism are theoretically, practically, and existentially significant topics with a rich philosophical history – one that needs updating in light of new empirical research.

Given the popular interest in hope and optimism, their inherent significance, the lack of interdisciplinary academic research on them, and the resulting potential for uncareful, unserious, or even unscrupulous use of them in the broader culture, this three-year joint research venture between Notre Dame and Cornell, and with generous support from the John Templeton Foundation, will bring social scientists, philosophers, and philosophers of religion together to generate original, high-quality, collaborative work on these and related topics.

Given the prevalence of hope and optimism in popular discourse, the project also will have a prominent public component consisting of playwriting (“Hope on Stage”) and video competitions (“Hope on Screen”). These competitions will aim to stimulate creative efforts that will, in turn, engage the broader public and encourage interest in hope, optimism, and related traits.

We’re sponsoring a wide-ranging series of research activities and events, including:

  • residential fellowships

  • non-residential fellowships

  • conferences

  • workshops

  • publications

  • stage and screen competitions

Samuel Newlands, William J. and Dorothy K. O'Neill Collegiate Associate Professor in Philosophy and Co-Director of the Center for Philosophy of Religion, and Andrew Chignell, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Cornell University’s Susan Linn Sage School of Philosophy, are directing the research initiative.