Exemplars of Love Studied in L’Arche Communities

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L’Arche communities, founded by the 2015 Templeton Prize Laureate Jean Vanier, have become the focus of a project funded by the John Templeton Foundation to study exemplars of the virtues of care and compassion.

Love, Compassion, and Care: Virtue Science and Exemplarity in Real Life and in the Laboratory” is a joint project between The Travis Research Institute at Fuller Theological Seminary’s Graduate School of Psychology and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). “As scientists, we need to go to the communities where these loving people are, to ask them if they could work with us,” explains Warren Brown, Fuller Professor of Psychology and a principal investigator on the project. The L’Arche organization generously responded to the request for help, and is now providing the kind of data that will, in turn, help scientists, educators, religious leaders, and the public learn more about how love, compassion, and care take root and grow within people and communities.

L’Arche caregivers show extraordinary levels of love while living with those who are disabled. They demonstrate compassion over an extended period of time and at significant personal cost. It seems that such exemplars are motivated by their habitual attitudes towards others, as opposed to any possible benefits for themselves or compliance to moral rules. The early results of the study suggest that exemplars make primary, self-relevant judgments on the basis of others. In other words, L’Arche caregivers manifest as “self for others.” This orientation to others is most remarkable in being grounded in justice and religiousness rather than in sentiments.

Says Brown, “We anticipate that the beliefs, values, and brain patterns of the L’Arche group will help change our scientific understanding of how love creates positive change in and for real people.”