The University of the South 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 local residents who either participated as Franklin County students or have children who participated in the contest. The contest originated here in Franklin County, Tenn., 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 and surrounding 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. Read the project abstract here.
Hamby (left) sees benefits to the university and the broader community. She expects the project’s data collection to provide opportunities for some Sewanee alumni and students to participate in interviews, independent study projects, and conference presentations. Students will be able to learn how large-scale program evaluation works. “Most importantly,” she says, “we hope that the results of the project will provide new insight and impetus to efforts promoting positive character development among young people in Franklin County and beyond.”