With funding from the John Templeton Foundation, Upper House is spearheading the Higher Pursuits Project, a new endeavor to engage the history, ideals, and values that shape the pursuit of knowledge, wisdom, and human flourishing in the contemporary university.

Why explore spirituality and purpose in the contemporary university?

Today’s universities claim more knowledge and information about the world than any other institution at any point in history. Each year millions of students from around the world enroll in these institutions hoping to realize their highest potential and improve the quality of life for all. But human flourishing and quality of life are value-laden ideas. So we ask, how are prevailing values expressed and to what ends? How do universities leverage knowledge to advance their stated missions and the high aspirations of students and faculty? How do universities increase knowledge and wisdom?

Articulating these questions and cultivating good answers requires space to consider matters of mind and of soul. To accomplish this, Upper House is initiating a series of carefully conceived learning cohorts and events at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and, on the national level, is partnering with like-minded Christian study centers that serve some of our nation’s most outstanding universities.

Pursuing Our Goals

The goals of this project will be achieved by a multi-platform approach that includes learning cohorts, conferences, coaching, and publications in a variety of media.

At the University of Wisconsin-Madison

The Student Fellows Cohort

Building on Upper House’s existing student Fellows Program, a semester-long cohort will explore fresh ways to understand science as a vital area of Christian engagement.

Spiritual History Project

Although the University of Wisconsin-Madison is a public land grant institution, from the beginning it was shaped by faculty and administrators with deeply held religious convictions. Recorded oral histories paired with original research will add flesh to the bones of this robust spiritual history. Recovering this story will contribute to the renewal of vibrant spiritual inquiry and practice on campus.

The Faculty Learning Cohort

The Faculty Learning Cohort will gather faculty from a variety of disciplines to participate in a year-long conversation focused on the mission and purpose of the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the twenty-first century. What would a shared vision for a world-renowned research university look like? How might diverse academic and professional disciplines embrace this purpose?


Visiting Theologian

Functioning as a public university, the University of Wisconsin—Madison lacks a dedicated theological faculty. To aid us in considering deep currents of religious belief and spiritual practice, Upper House will invite a theologian to partner with us for the duration of this project.

Study Center Partners

The Higher Pursuits Project extends beyond the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus to include other vibrant Christian study centers at elite American universities. Pilot grants will be offered to as many as eight Christian study centers to raise academic and institutional consciousness of religious discourse and purpose in their unique settings.

National Conference and Looking toward the Future

Our Higher Pursuits Project and all of its dynamic components will culminate in a two-day conference at Upper House to share our key findings with the University of Wisconsin and Madison communities and to cast vision for future inquiries.


This project was made possible through the support of a grant from the John Templeton Foundation. The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the John Templeton Foundation.