Templeton awards additional funding to research on problem of evil

by Josh Stowe

Center for Philosophy of Religion

Two faculty in the University of Notre Dame’s Center for Philosophy of Religion have received more than $1.7 million in grant funding to continue their research into the problem of evil, a central issue for scholars who study the philosophy of religion.

Michael Rea, professor of philosophy and the center’s director, and Samuel Newlands, assistant professor of philosophy and the center’s associate director, were recently awarded a grant of more than $339,000 from the John Templeton Foundation. The grant supplements an earlier $1.4 million grant the foundation awarded the two Notre Dame scholars.

The additional funding will support the latest component of their research, which begins with a classic philosophical quandary: How can you reconcile the existence of a God who is omnipotent, omniscient, and benevolent with the existence of evil? This difficult question has given rise to a philosophical and theological subfield known as theodicy—an area that is considered one of Notre Dame’s academic strengths.

“The general topic of these grants—the problem of evil—is almost certainly the most important and widely discussed intellectual obstacle to belief in the doctrines of Christianity and to belief in God in general, and the University of Notre Dame is and has been for the last couple of decades the best place in the world for research in the philosophy of religion,” Rea said.

The new grant funding will allow the Center for Philosophy of Religion to support scholarly research through a one- to two-year research initiative, followed by a multi-day scholarly conference and a large public event to disseminate the results. In addition, the center plans to host visiting speakers during the 2012-2013 academic year.

All these opportunities, will attract scholars from multiple fields to bring their expertise, ideas and questions to Notre Dame, according to Newlands.

“We will be soliciting research proposals from a variety of disciplines, including theology, biology, chemistry, cognitive science, sociology, psychology and philosophy,” he said. “Our hope is that researchers working together across traditional boundaries will shed new light on a problem that is inherently multi-disciplinary.”

By attracting a diverse group of scholars, Rea says, the new grant will help further the University’s research into the problem of evil.

“It is a therefore a great opportunity,” Rea said, “both for us and for the visiting scholars who will be holding our fellowships, to have so many resources available in our center to support conferences, workshops and original research on this important topic.”

The Templeton Foundation strives to be a philanthropic catalyst for discovery in areas engaging life’s biggest questions, ranging from explorations into the laws of nature and the universe to questions on the nature of love, gratitude, forgiveness and creativity.