Research Initiatives

I work with colleagues within the Center for Social Concerns, across campus, and nationally to examine a variety of research questions germane to ethics, justice, higher education and public life. A sample of research initiatives is below.


 The Notre Dame Study of Moral Purpose

This ongoing study, in collaboration with Dan Lapsley, Nick Bowman, Pat Hill, Anthony Buyrrow and others explores the development of purpose among young adults, and indicates that prosocial purpose is a strong predictor of positive outcomes later in life.

The following publication documents student trajectories at three points: college entry, graduation, and 13 years later: Serving in College, Flourishing in Adulthood .

The College and Beyond Project — Thanks to a grant from the Bringing Theory to Practice initiative, we examined the impact of civic engagement and diversity experiences on students’ long-term well being and sense of purpose. This research, involving the classes of 2001 and 2003, was presented at the AAC&U Centennial national meeting in January, 2015. See session description.


Education for Civic and Moral Responsibility

In collaboration with Duke University, we explored the impact of various higher education initiatives on moral/ethical development and civic responsibility. Results of this three year study, funded by the Teagle Foundation, were presented at the annual meetings of the Association of American Colleges and Universities and the AERA (2017), and in a forthcoming article in the Journal of Experiential Education (with Tara Hudson, 2022).


Catholic Social Teaching Research

The principles inherent to Catholic Social Teaching are rich in scope and application. This ongoing research initiative explores how individuals understand conceptions of justice and apply principles such as commitment to the common good, respect for human dignity, and environmental stewardship in their lives. A collaboration of twelve colleges and universities, the project has fostered the development of a rubric, gathered oral histories, examined means to assess student development, and more.


Prosocial Development, Faith, and Higher Education

Through a variety of studies, we are exploring how students develop ethically during higher education, and examining the impacts of community-based learning and research on student development. Sample publications include:

Sustained Immersion Courses and Student Orientations to Equality, Justice, and Social Responsibility (2010)

From Faith to Compassion? Reciprocal Influences of Spirituality, Religious Commitment, and Prosocial Development During College (2012)

Prosocial Growth During College: Results of a National Study (Journal of Moral Education, 2015).


Political Attitudes and Community Engagement

Since 2004 my colleagues and I have tracked Notre Dame students civic/political orientations, and the relation between community engagement and political attitudes. This early Research Report provides historical context. We now have four cohorts of data (over 1200 students each for the elections of 2004, 2008, 2012, 2016 and 2020). Recent Reports outline voting trends at Notre Dame in the 2016 and 2020 national elections.


Practical Wisdom, Engaged Learning, and Neuroscience

Practical wisdom (phronesis) is a complex aspirational virtue that has the power to unify many aspects of the moral life. Yet little is known about how young adults develop the capacities for such applied wisdom. What prompts maturity in moral reasoning, empathy, identity and related components? What might we learn from neuroscience? How can we frame learning experiences that engage young adults toward the goal of practical wisdom? This paper, presented at the Jubilee Conference in Oxford, explores such questions and examines implications for higher education. See also the following writings.

Brandenberger, J. W. (2019). Practical wisdom as an ethical framework for engaged learning and scholarship, in J. A. Hatcher, R. G. Bringle, & T. W. Hahn (Eds.), Practical wisdom for conducting research on service learning: Pursuing quality and purpose. (Volume 4 in the IUPUI Series on Service Learning Research). Stylus Publishing.

Brandenberger, J. W. (2021, September). Can virtue be taught? — Practical wisdom and engaged learning. Essay for the Good Thought series of the Virtues and Vocations initiative @ Duke University, Keenan Institute for Ethics.


University Engagement and Flourishing

How universities may contribute, even flourish, is a topic of interest, as in the following:

Brandenberger, J. W. (2020, January). What might a flourishing university look like?: Integrating epistemic and public virtues in higher education. Paper presented at the Annual Conference of the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues, Oriel College, Oxford, UK.  Link

Brandenberger, J. W., & Frabutt, J. M. (in press for 2023). As Learning Becomes Service to Justice: A Reflection on University of Notre Dame Efforts to Institutionalize Service-Learning and Academic Community Engagement. In Jouannet, C. and Arocha, L (Eds.), Service-learning Institutionalization in Catholic Higher Education. Uniservitate: Autónoma de Buenos Aires: CLAYSS


Thanks to those who have supported my work and research at the Center, including:

The Teagle Foundation

Spirituality in Higher Education (Templeton Foundation)

Bringing Theory to Practice and the Association of American Colleges and Universities

Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts (University of Notre Dame)


Various donors