Sewanee Receives $1.1. Million Templeton Grant To Study Essay Contest

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The University of the South, familiarly known as Sewanee, has been awarded a grant by the John Templeton Foundation to study the Laws of Life Essay Contest. The award of more than $1.1 million will allow principal investigator Sherry Hamby, research associate professor in the Department of Psychology, to conduct a comprehensive mixed-methods evaluation of the essay contest.

The Laws of Life Essay Contest will be familiar to many people who either participated as students or have children who participated in the contest. The contest originated in Franklin County, Tn., the home of Sir John Templeton. The Laws of Life are principles such as the Golden Rule or "honesty is the best policy." Students choose the Law of Life that has been most important to them and write an essay on how it has touched their lives.

The Laws of Life Essay Contest has now celebrated its 25th anniversary and has expanded across the world. More than 100,000 students participate every year. It is one of several Templeton Foundation projects to promote moral character development.

The research project will be the first-ever scientific evaluation of the essay contest. Considerable research on other types of expressive writing and journaling programs indicates that these writing experiences can have long-lasting positive effects. Hamby and co-investigators Victoria Banyard (University of New Hampshire) and John Grych (Marquette University) will talk with people of all ages who have participated in the Laws of Life Essay Contest, as well as with a comparison group of people who did not participate. The study might include as many as 3,000 people from Franklin County and surrounding Tennessee counties.

The researchers will assess a wide range of possible outcomes to provide a comprehensive assessment of the effects of writing the essay and how expressive writing on the Laws of Life might help people as they experience challenges in life.

Ms. Hamby sees benefits to the University of the South, through the involvement of students and alumni in the research, and to its surrounding community. “Most importantly,” she said, “we hope that the results of the project will provide new insight and impetus to efforts promoting positive character development among young people here and in other countries.”

Sewanee: The University of the South, familiarly known as Sewanee, comprises a nationally recognized College of Arts and Sciences and a distinguished School of Theology. Located on 13,000 acres in Tennessee’s Cumberland Plateau, Sewanee enrolls 1,500 undergraduates and approximately 100 seminarians. 

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