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The grant will fund a new research initiative directed by Jesse Couenhoven, PhD, a professor of Moral Theology in Villanova’s Department of Humanities and Department of Theology, and the project’s principal investigator.

The University’s College of Arts and Sciences received a three-year, $3.9 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation to explore how the theology of human nature engages scientific approaches to humanity. This grant marks the largest in the history of the College of Arts and Sciences and will fund a new research initiative, “Collaborative Inquiries in Christian Theological Anthropology,” directed by Jesse Couenhoven, PhD, a professor of Moral Theology in the Department of Humanities and the Department of Theology. 

“This grant offers us a rare opportunity to develop new ways of relating religion and science, while exploring vital questions about what it means to live a good human life,” Dr. Couenhoven said. “Such significant funding for interdisciplinary theological research is extremely unusual.”

The interdisciplinary effort, supported by nearly $700,000 in additional contributions from Villanova, the University of Notre Dame, and 12 other colleges and universities, will explore how the theology of human nature engages with biology and the social sciences. Its primary goal is to nurture ambitious, science-engaged theological scholarship that addresses topics such as human flourishing, moral agency, freedom and the development of virtue.   

The research project’s co-investigators are Gerald McKenny, PhD, Walter Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame, and Neil Arner, PhD, Assistant Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame. The grant will fund a team of more than 30 fellows, mentors and educational advisors to collaborate on long-term research projects. 

Institutions represented include faculty from Boston College, Cambridge University, Princeton Theological Seminary, University of St. Andrews, Wake Forest University and Yale University, among others. Activities will include six summer and winter workshops, through which the grant’s 15 researchers will learn from distinguished experts in a variety of fields and refine their work-in-progress. The grant will also sponsor numerous other presentations, publications and collaborations.   

“Villanova is extremely proud that Dr. Couenhoven is leading the investigation of this critical topic,” Amanda Grannas, PhD, Associate Vice Provost for Research and Chief Research Officer, said. “This work is aligned with our institutional mission and belief that between true science and true religion there is no intrinsic conflict. This project will find new ways of relating religion and science, which ultimately will significantly benefit humanity.”