Psychology

Sewanee: The University of the South

Hamby to study the Laws of Life essay contest

September 4, 2012

Research Associate Professor Sherry Hamby is the principal investigator of a $1.1 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation to conduct a comprehensive, mixed-methods evaluation of the Laws of Life essay contest.  Her co-investigators are Victoria Banyard [Professor of Psychology at the University of New Hampshire, affiliated with the Justice Studies Program and Prevention Innovations;  and Senior Fellow of The Carsey Institute] and John Grych [Professor of Psychology at Marquette University, Director of the Center for Psychological Services].

The project abstract:

  • The Laws of Life Essay Contest:   An Evaluation of the Longest-Running and Original Character Writing Program
  • The goal of this project is to conduct a comprehensive, definitive mixed-methods evaluation of the Laws of Life Essay contest.  Using research on “turning points” and expressive writing as a basis for the evaluation, we will interview participants from across the 25-year history of the Laws of Life contest in Franklin County, Tennessee, and compare them to a group of similar nonparticipants from the surrounding area.  We will use structured surveys, in-depth interviews, and content analysis of available essays.  We will determine whether there is an overall positive benefit to program participation in terms of (a) character development, (b) spiritual and emotional well-being and (c) ability to cope with adversities when they arise.  We will also examine the developmental trajectory of these outcomes, including whether short-term outcomes differ from long-term outcomes and whether those participants who are now in middle adulthood reflect on the experience differently from more recent participants.

The Laws of Life Essay Contest, which originated here in Franklin County, Tennessee, to show Templeton’s appreciation for the sound training it gave him as a boy, has celebrated its 25th anniversary this past June;  it is now world-wide [click view a map at bottom of page].  The origin just off the plateau makes it particularly appropriate that Sewanee received this grant to assess the short- and long-term impact of writing the essay.  The project is designed to provide a wide variety of data on Templeton’s effort to promote positive character development among young people.

John M. Templeton was born on November 29, 1912 in Winchester, Tennessee.  During The Great Depression, he supported himself while a student at Yale [1934, President of Phi Beta Kappa];  he was a Rhodes Scholar at Balliol College, Oxford [1936 law degree].  Established in 1972, The Templeton Prize honors a living person who has made an exemplary contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension;  the inaugural Laureate was Mother Teresa, the most recent, Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama.  In 1987 Templeton was created a Knight Bachelor by Queen Elizabeth II for his philanthropy, the same year the Foundation was created.  Sir John Templeton died July 8, 2008 in Nassau, The Bahamas, where he had moved in the late 1960’s and became a naturalized British citizen.

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