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Hope and Optimism project funds philosophical research, awards playwrights and video producers

Author: Brian Wallheimer

Samuel Newlands Samuel Newlands

An interdisciplinary research collaboration between the University of Notre Dame and Cornell University has awarded more than $344,000 to seven projects in the final year of the program that explores the theoretical, empirical, and practical dimensions of hope and optimism, as well as related states such as pessimism, anxiety, and despair.

The project, Hope and Optimism: Conceptual and Empirical Investigations, also announced the winners of its Hope on Stage and Hope on Screen contests, which challenged artists to create both original plays and original films that explored the concept of hope. The project is funded through a grant from the John Templeton Foundation with support from both universities.

The Hope on Stage competition winner, playwright Georgette Kelly, received $10,000 and her play, I Carry Your Heart, will have its world premiere produced by the grant at the Hangar Theatre in Ithaca, New York, in April 2017, and then at the Bootleg Theater in Los Angeles in May 2017. The play explores the relationship between a young poet dealing with the death of her mother and the woman who receives the mother’s heart through organ donation.

“We were hoping to get a handful of applications, and we wound up getting 800 full-length play submissions,” said Samuel Newlands, the William J. and Dorothy K. O’Neill Collegiate Associate Professor of Philosophy in Notre Dame’s College of Arts and Letters, and co-director of the Center for Philosophy of Religion and the Hope and Optimism Project. “It meant that the competition was extraordinarily strong.”

The Hope on Screen contest winner, Keaton Davis, produced a three-minute film called Hope Is that shows music bringing moments of clarity to an Alzheimer’s patient who cannot otherwise remember her daughter’s name. Davis received a $2,500 prize.

“We heard from people from all over the country—schoolchildren in Oklahoma, professional filmmakers in Chicago and New York, a grandmother from Hawaii—just a huge range of people on what hope means in their lives,” Newlands said. “I was amazed at how much of a story a person could convey in three minutes.”

Among the research projects funded this year are:

  • “How Do We Cope?” by Luc Bovens, a professor of philosophy at the London School of Economics and faculty fellow at Cornell University. Bovens aims to write a book, Coping: a Philosophical Guide, that examines the moral psychology of the coping strategies we use in the face of hardship.
  • “Where Can We Find Hope in a World Full of Injustice?” by Katie Stockdale, a Ph.D. student at Dalhousie University and residential dissertation fellow at Cornell. Her dissertation will argue that the feminist perspective on hope reveals insights about how hope is “formed, lost, and cultivated, as well as the role of hope in struggles against oppression.”

Andrew Chignell, associate professor of philosophy at Cornell’s Susan Linn Sage School of Philosophy and co-director of the Hope and Optimism Project, pointed to the broad range of ideas explored and researchers brought together as a success that can be built upon even after the program ends next year.

"We’re happy to be supporting both prominent senior people and up-and-coming junior faculty and students,” he said. “We’re encouraging them to collaborate on these projects so that we not only get some new results right away but also put in place a foundation for future work on these topics."

The other projects receiving funding are:

  • “Can Hope Help Us Overcome Obstacles to Doing What We Should?” by Nicole Hassoun of Binghamton University
  • “Can Hope Tell Us How to Live?” by Michael Milona of Cornell University
  • “When is Hope Good and When is it Bad?” by Miriam McCormick of the University of Richmond
  • “What is the Role and Value of Christian Hope?” by Mark Bernier of Azusa Pacific University
  • “What Can a Pessimist Hope For?” by Jesse Couenhoven of Villanova University

For more information about the project, or to see videos from the Hope on Screen competition, along with a list of other awards given in that and the Hope on Stage contest, visit