The purpose of this Project is to explore essential aspirations of human beings that move persons and communities into the future. Yet the human drive to enhance life is often an implicit aim in many cultural, technological, and social processes and it is intertwined with what Charles Taylor, a Templeton Award winner, has helpfully called the social imaginary, including religion as well. Because human aspirations are often implicit in a society’s culture and are intertwined with, for example, media narratives, political symbols, or religious rituals, it is not surprising that the drive to enhance life is as pervasive as it is overlooked in the academy and even in public life. The Project explores this rich but widely unexamined dimension of human aspiration and social life.
The goal of The Enhancing Life Project is to address the following Big Questions: (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?” [For an explanation of “spiritual life,” “spiritual laws,” and other terms used in the Project, see the Glossary.] By asking and answering these big questions, The Enhancing Life Project brings to articulation and also assesses assumptions hitherto submerged within the academy and public perceptions about the fullness of life and how it is to be enhanced.
The Project is based on key assumptions one might call hypotheses in a broad understanding of the term. Four guiding hypotheses serve as a framework for the research process:
First, in order to enhance life, the forms of life can be understood in terms of the basic needs and correlate goods required for a species and/or community to attain an enhancement of flourishing.
In order to imagine, plan, and assess the enhancement of life, we need a richly textured, “thick” understanding of life that transcends classical academic boundaries and reductionist approaches. Per definition, a reality without needs is neither living nor is it able to be enhanced in any way. The first hypothesis thereby proposes that attention to species’ and communities’ needs (natural, social, cultural, and spiritual) and the goods that fulfill these needs is a multi-dimensional and disciplined means to understand life in its many forms.
Second, in order to examine the human drive to enhance life, one must explore the key values, that is, what is held as important and worth pursuing as reasons for action, by investigating scientific, social, and cultural legacies of thought.
The human desire for enhancing life takes many forms and encompasses many dimensions of personal and social life (i.e. law, politics, technology, communication, and religious practice) and yet these aspirations are deeply shaped by larger visions of life that extend to “spiritual realities.” These spiritual realities, in turn, move human beings and leave an imprint on human imagination, thereby planning, orienting, and assessing the enhancement of life. The second hypothesis thus proposes that attention to the interrelation of visions of life, such as religious and cultural beliefs, is crucial in order to understand the values that provide the reasons for enhancing life, human and non-human.
Third, just as the enhancement of life entails the claim that a reality without needs is not living, so too a reality without a drive to a future that does not in some way value enhancement is not living and cannot be enhanced. In order to enhance life, one must explore the interconnections between conceptions of an open and not utterly determined future and forms of hope in order to enhance life. We call these futures “counter-worlds” and we seek their spiritual laws.
In the face of spiritual realities for enhancing life, we must reckon with seemingly counterintuitive or even paradoxical beliefs that reveal the undergirding spiritual laws that enhance life: i.e. laws such as: 1) that enhanced life requires conceptions of a counter-world; 2) that life can be enhanced by giving life away in hope for the future; or 3) that one dimension of life can be enhanced by focusing on another dimension.
Fourth, in order to articulate and to explore the spiritual laws that govern the enhancement of life, laws related to but more elusive than natural laws, one must examine cultural and religious resources from multiple perspectives and in light of the three prior hypotheses.
This Project explores religious, cultural, and social resources in order to imagine, plan, and assess the enhancement of life. Yet it does so not only for the sake of discerning their historical or social meaning, but also with an eye to the spiritual laws they encode or presuppose and which govern the actual enhancement of life in all of its dimensions.