Jennifer A. Herdt is Gilbert L. Stark Professor of Christian Ethics at Yale University. She has published widely on early modern and modern moral thought with an emphasis on virtue ethics; her latest book, Forming Humanity: Redeeming the German Bildung Tradition, was supported by a research fellowship from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. She is serving as the 2020 President of the Society of Christian Ethics.
For traditional theological anthropologies, humankind represents the pinnacle of terrestrial life. Human beings are characterized by personhood, moral agency, dignity, creation in the image of God, and capacity for eternal happiness. The concurrence of this traditional cluster of judgments, and the general sense that human beings have a particularly elevated status within creation, are being brought into question by research in the fields of ethology, evolutionary biology, comparative social psychology, and evolutionary psychology. Herdt’s project will ask whether and how traditional theological understandings of human dignity, agency, and moral standing should be revised in light of these findings. It seeks to advance a revised Thomistic Aristotelianism that can avoid elements of human chauvinism and hyper-rationalism that sometimes mar traditional stances while continuing to articulate the ethical distinctiveness of humankind.