In January 2009 the University of Notre Dame launched the Science of Generosity, an initiative funded by a $5 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation to Christian Smith, the William R. Keenan Jr. Professor of Sociology and director of the University’s Center for the Study of Religion and Society.

The grant is one of the largest ever received by a faculty member in the University’s College of Arts and Letters. John McGreevy, the Dean of the College of Arts and Letters, has praised the new initiative, explaining that “research projects such as this—that investigate broad moral questions and the common good—are integral to Notre Dame’s academic mission.”

The initiative is guided by a board of advisors that includes scholars in the human and social sciences and nonprofit professionals. For more information, you can contact the staff of the initiative.

Three Components and a New Field of Inquiry

The initiative has three components: the Request for Proposals (RFP), the Notre Dame Research project (NDR) and a communications effort. The RFP is an international funding competition designed to stimulate scientific research on generosity. The competition is proceeding in two waves and being decided by a panel of experts in the human and social sciences. The first phase ends in November 2009, when the initiative will grant awards of $250,000 to $500,000 to four to eight of the most promising research proposals. The second phase will end in July 2010, when awards of up to $150,000 will be granted. Click here for more details on the RFP.

The second component of the initiative (NDR) is an original, primary data research project conducted by a research team here at Notre Dame. Employing various innovative research methods, NDR will study the operation of generosity in naturalistic settings in order to understand better the causal social mechanisms that generate and obstruct generosity.

While the Science of Generosity is grounded in the scientific research of scholars in various academic disciplines, the initiative aims to reach beyond scientific and academic culture to share resources and research with corporate, civic, religious, and political leaders; non‐profit and non‐governmental organizations, philanthropic foundations, and policy centers; and the general public. The ultimate aim of the communications effort is to foster sustained general reflection on the value our society places on generosity, voluntary financial giving, altruism, informal helping, relational self‐giving and other generosity‐related practices.

Finally, the most effective scientific inquiry requires a coherent field of study where a community of scholars can share important questions, problems, developments and approaches. One of the basic aims of the Science of Generosity initiative is to integrate generosity studies from different and often disconnected disciplinary approaches that use a diverse array of terms such as philanthropy, volunteerism, altruism, gift‐giving, organ donation, pro‐social behavior and others.