Research Initiatives

As Director of Assessment and Engaged Scholarship at the Center for Social Concerns, I work with colleagues within the Center, across campus, and nationally to examine a variety of research questions.


 The Notre Dame Study of Moral Purpose

This study, in collaboration with Dan Lapsley, Nick Bowman, Pat Hill, and others has explored the development of purpose among young adults, and documented that prosocial purpose is especially predictive 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 (2010).

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

As part of a collaboration with Duke University and Dartmouth College, we are exploring 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, have been presented at the annual meetings of the Association of American Colleges and Universities and the AERA (2017), and in print.


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 is developing a rubric, gathering oral histories, assessing 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. Recent 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 political orientations, and the relation between community engagement and political attitudes. This early Research Report provides sample findings. We now have four cohorts of data (over 2000 students each for the presidential elections of 2004, 2008, 2012, and 2016). This Report outlines voting trends at Notre Dame in the 2016 national election.


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: 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.


University Flourishing

How universities may flourish and contribute is a topic of special interest.

See 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


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)

Anonymous donors