Jesse Couenhoven, PhD Receives $90,000 in Research Grants to Support His Research

Dr. Couenhoven will examine the ethical implications of the search for life on other planets 


Jesse Couenhoven

VILLANOVA, Pa.— Does life exist on other planets? The prospect raises significant philosophical and theological questions, including whether (and how) the possibility of meeting forms of life alien to our own should influence our thinking about morality and spirituality. Jesse Couenhoven, PhD, associate professor of Moral Theology in the Department of Humanities in Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, was recently awarded a $70,000 grant from the Center for Theological Inquiry to support his research on this topic.

Dr. Couenhoven’s research is part of the Center for Theological Inquiry’s two-year inquiry into the societal implications of astrobiology, made possible by the NASA Astrobiology Program and the John Templeton Foundation. The Center of Theological Inquiry is an ecumenical institute for interdisciplinary research in the field of religion.

“Reflection on the possible existence of creatures with natures different from our own raises fascinating questions about the relationship between nature and morality,” Dr. Couenhoven said. “We tend to think of moral obligations as being universal, but I am exploring the idea that at least some ethical norms are relative to the kind of life a being has. The norms that pertain to aliens might be very different from the norms that pertain to us.”

Dr. Couenhoven's teaching covers a wide range of issues in ethics, theology and philosophy. His research interests include the topics of free will, personal responsibility, theories of punishment, doctrines of grace, predestination, forgiveness, and ethical theory.    

In the past year he also received a $20,000 summer fellowship from the departments of Philosophy at Cornell University and the University of Notre Dame, on the topic of “Hope, Optimism and God.” 

Dr. Couenhoven holds a PhD in Religious Ethics from Yale University. He is the author of Stricken by Sin, Cured by Christ: Agency, Necessity, and Culpability in Augustinian Theology (Oxford University Press, 2013), as well as numerous publications in leading academic journals in his field.

About Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences: Since its founding in 1842, Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has cultivated knowledge, understanding and intellectual courage for a purposeful life in a challenged and changing world. With 39 majors across the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences, it is the oldest and largest of Villanova’s colleges, serving more than 4,500 undergraduate and graduate students each year. The College is committed to a teacher-scholar model, offering outstanding undergraduate and graduate research opportunities and a rigorous core curriculum that prepares students to become critical thinkers, strong communicators and ethical leaders with a truly global perspective.

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