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Health, Wealth or Wisdom? Religion and the Paradox of Prosperity

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image of International Journal of Public Theology

The so-called 'happiness hypothesis', associated with the work of the economist Richard Layard, has attracted much public debate over recent years. Its main contention is that despite rising levels of material prosperity in the west, incidence of recorded happiness and greater quality of life has not increased accordingly. In considering the major contributory factors to happiness and well-being, however, Layard is not alone in identifying the significance of religious values and participation in religion for positive and enduring levels of happiness. In response, this article critiques some of the evidence correlating religion and well-being, as well as considering the broader and much more vexed question of how far public policy is capable of incorporating questions of belief and value into its indicators of happiness and the good life. Drawing on traditions of virtue ethics as the cultivation of 'the life well-lived', I ask whether specifically Christian accounts of human flourishing and the good life still have any bearing in the wider public domain, and what 'rules of engagement' might need to be articulated in any dialogue between Christian values and the discourse of theology and a pluralist society.

Affiliations: 1: University of Manchester, UK


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