Motivating the Self to Virtue

Motivating the Self to Virtue in Western and non-Western Countries: Does Nation or Faith Matter More?

PI: Michel Ferrari, Ph.D.

Applied Psychology & Human Development, Buddhism and Mental Health Program, University of Toronto


Monika Ardelt, Ph.D.

Sociology and Criminology & Law, University of Florida


Hyeyoung BANG, Ph.D.

School of Educational Foundations, Leadership & Policy Studies, Bowling Green State University


Michael Connell, Ed.D.

Native Brain, Arlington


Ricca Edmondson, D.Phil.

School of Political Science and Sociology, National University of Ireland


Gilles Mongeau, Th.D.

Regis College, Toronto School of Theology, University of Toronto


Melanie Munroe, M.A.

Wisdom & Identity Lab, University of Toronto


John Vervaeke, Ph.D.

Buddhism and Mental Health Program, Psychology, University of Toronto


View a proposal of this project, presented at the SMV Project’s 2015 Interdisciplinary Moral Forum. Visit our YouTube channel for more.

Our international interdisciplinary team plans to interview people from 4 faith conditions (Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, and Agnostic), in 2 countries (Canada and Korea) to address the question whether faith or national community matter more in the development of a virtuous self, and how wisdom, as a master virtue, might interact with faith and culture to contribute to other virtues at two different stages of adulthood.

We will adapt methods developed within the autobiographical analysis of wisdom experiences and narrative phenomenology to analyze participant responses and compare interview data with questionnaire measures of self, motivation, virtues, and wisdom. At the same time, we will use narratives about exemplary individuals to illuminate the speakers’ own standards and expectations related to virtues. Participants will also take part in a Multiplayer Simulation for Researching Effective Interpersonal Dynamics (developed through research supported by the John Templeton Foundation) that allows us to study decision-making in dynamic, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous situations.

In Study 1, we will interview participants from two age groups at opposite ends of adulthood, with potentially very different views of the motivations that inspire a virtuous self: (1) emerging adults (age 18-25) and (2) retired older adults (age 60-80) (N=240). They will be asked about their understanding of virtue and how they might attempt to achieve virtue in their own lives, acknowledging that faith traditions do not regard selves entirely in isolation, but see them as needing support from faith communities. In addition, participants will complete a set of self-report questionnaires about religious faith, wisdom, self-construal, values, and quality of life. They will also be asked to nominate religious authorities and lay people they consider wise, who will form the subject pool for Study 2. Study 2 will further explore these issues with religious authorities in each country, with agnostic lay people nominated as wise considered agnostic authorities (N=120).

The goal is to explore the cultural determinants and universality of virtue, and whether understandings of virtue are more commonly shared within national cultures or religious faiths (i.e., whether Canadian Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, and non-religious participants have more in common because they are Canadians rather than Koreans, or whether Christians in Canada, Iran, and Korea are more alike than Muslims, Buddhists, and non-religious participants because they strive to live a life of Christian virtue). Long term, we expect a theoretical integration from questionnaire, simulation, and interview data to: (i) dis/confirm existing factors within questionnaire measures; (ii) discover new understandings of self, motivation, wisdom, and virtue via foreign-language interviews, and (iii) create an expanded typology of motivations of self to virtue in different nations, in different faiths, and at different ages. All of these theoretical innovations will enrich discussion and research about motivating the self to virtue.