Jesse Couenhoven is Professor of Moral Theology in the Humanities and Theology departments at Villanova University. His books Stricken by Sin, Cured by Christ (OUP, 2013) and Predestination: A Guide for the Perplexed (T&T Clark, 2018) offer historical and constructive perspectives on questions about free will raised by doctrines of fall and redemption. His work engages moral and medical perspectives on sin and disorders, and normative and therapeutic perspectives on freedom and forgiveness. He has held fellowships from the Center of Theological Inquiry, the Center for Public Justice, the Penn Humanities Forum, the University of Chicago, Florida State University, and the John Templeton Foundation.
Research on moral agency has focused on full-grown individuals in the prime of life. Such individuals are widely considered autonomous, self-aware, and in control. In contrast, children, the disabled, or non-human animals are often considered marginal agents. However, research in cognitive, social, developmental, and comparative psychology increasingly suggests both pictures may be flawed. The portrait emerging from this research resonates with ideas about agency implicit in Christian doctrines of original sin and redemption. Thus, empirical work may offer insights for understanding these doctrines, and vice versa. Couenhoven’s project explores: 1) What can we learn about children’s agency from developmental and comparative psychology? 2) What implications do such insights have for our understanding of adult agency? Probing these questions may enable a deeper understanding of the traditional theological image of humanity as childlike before the divine.