Literary Studies in Human Flourishing

full name / name of organization: 
James O. Pawelski and D.J. Moores / UPenn and Kean University
contact email: 

The field of positive psychology, catalyzed in 1998 by Martin Seligman and others, has generated new interest in the concept of well-being—conceived in its fullest sense as human flourishing—the implications of which scholars in other disciplines have begun to explore. Owen Flanagan, a philosopher at Duke University, has coined the term eudaimonics to designate the growing, multi-disciplinary framework for critical inquiries into well-being, a topic fueling research in psychology, medicine, neurology, philosophy, ethics, neuroeconomics, and other fields. To date, however, scholars from the humanities, despite noteworthy contributions from philosophers and ethicists, have generally not addressed the subject. Literary Studies in Human Flourishing represents a "positive" turn in the humanities and an attempt to bolster the new critical framework, not by ignoring oppression, injustice, and psychological disease but by focusing on how such "negatives" may be explored in different conceptual lights, as well as through an exploration of previously unexamined, positive aspects of human experience. The collection is thus intended to provide literary scholars with a critical forum for the exploration and development of ideas on flourishing. Critics, theorists, and writers are invited to submit proposals of 250 words for 4000-7000-word essays that enrich the discussion of well-being in interesting and complex ways.

At the heart of the volume are nine broad goals: (1) to help to facilitate the positive turn in the humanities by exploring the construct of individual and collective flourishing from literary and theoretical perspectives; (2) to open up or expand upon lines of inquiry into what it means to be well, to actualize potentials, to achieve mastery, to develop healthy relationships and thriving communities, to have a sense of meaning and purpose, to be happy, to live the good life, to be fully alive, to soar; (3) to discover not only new dimensions of flourishing but also previously neglected possibilities in literature and critical theory by focusing on health and well-being in light of new discoveries in the physical and social sciences; (4) to explore the ways in which literary texts and theories can complement and even enrich the various discussions of flourishing; (5) to challenge the pathologizing tendency in much critical discourse to interpret human experience solely in terms of disease and suffering; (6) to explore the concept that suffering and disease do not fully represent the human experience, which is also informed and greatly enhanced by positive emotions and experiences; (7) to investigate the concept of growth-inducing hardship and the wisdom that can result from suffering, conflict, struggle, and even tragedy; (8) to demonstrate that flourishing can be just as theoretically sophisticated as pathology as a subject of critical inquiry; and (9) to analyze the construct of agency, a widespread concern in literary studies, not in terms of its inhibition but its successful facilitation. Contributors should share in such general goals.

We welcome contributions that shed light on any aspect of human flourishing. Of particular interest are essays that examine literary or theoretical configurations of the following determinants of human subjectivity and the role these play in facilitating flourishing: values, race, ethics, class, ideology, culture, economics, language, gender, spirituality, sexuality, nature, and/or the body. Possibilities also include essays that refute pathologized interpretations of salutogenic, or health-engendering, experiences or conceptual models as they appear in literary texts or critical theories; examinations of the (potentially) positive outcomes of suffering, marginalization, hybridity, oppression, and/or tragedy; analyses of the (potentially) positive effects of the aesthetic response and/or the reading process; inquiries into the role of language use and its impact on well-being; and studies of positive experiences in narratives or positive traits and emotions in characters.

Please send 250-word proposals in MS Word format by January 20, 2011 to D.J. Moores at

**Completed essays required by the end of August 2011.