April 23, 2014

Cornell Receives Grant To Study ‘Optimism’

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By ANUSHKA MEHROTRA

Cornell is one of two universities to receive a $3.8 million dollar grant from the John Templeton Foundation to fund an interdisciplinary humanities research project which will seek to examine the nature of “hope, optimism and related states,” the University announced Wednesday.

The research initiative — called “Hope and Optimism: Conceptual and Empirical Investigations — will be led by Prof. Andrew Chignell, philosophy, and Prof. Samuel Newlands, philosophy, Notre Dame, according to a University press release.

The grant is the largest in history to have been awarded to a university philosophy department, according to the University. With additional funding from the two universities, the entire study is estimated to cost $4.5 million and will span three years.

Chignell noted humanities and social science grants of this magnitude are uncommon.

“Grants of this size in the humanities [that] are shared between two universities are extremely rare,” he said in the press release.

According to Chignell, hope is a “fundamental” component of the human psyche.

“It’s clear that hope … is essential to our psychological health and ability to keep going,” he said. “But we’re interested in taking the analysis further, and in making connections to some of the big questions in epistemology, ethics, action theory, economics, and the philosophy of history.”

The funds will be used to award research fellowships to students and University faculty studying social science and philosophy, according to the press release. Fellowship recipients will also be invited to participate in a seven-day conference — which will take place during summer 2016.

Additionally, the grant will go “beyond” academic fields and be used to sponsor additional humanities projects, according to the University.

The foundation will allocate an additional $60,000 towards a video-creation and playwriting competition, the release said. Winning entries will be featured on the organization’s website, and the winning play will be performed in Ithaca.

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