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Confronting life's ULTIMATE questions

By Maryanne George

The productions reflect the collaborative nature of filmmaking.

What makes life worth living? Is it something as simple as a sunrise or as grand as a symphony orchestra? This question has been central to philosophical, religious, and political thought for millennia and engagement with it is part of the foundation of education in the liberal arts.

This fall the University of Michigan’s College of Literature, Science, and the Arts theme semester “What Makes Life Worth Living?” will invite students and community members to explore this question and answers offered over the centuries and around the globe.

Because students’ college experiences often shape the trajectories of their lives, the theme semester encourages them to take advantage of U-M’s rich resources to explore questions fundamental to their individual and collective lives:

  • What is the good life?
  • What makes life meaningful?
  • How can one achieve a fulfilling balance between career, personal life and the obligations of citizenship?

The semester will offer courses, lectures, films and activities for all U-M students to connect with the theme and integrate their academic work with their co-curricular activities and off-campus experiences.

Click the image to see Christopher Peterson, one of the nation’s top experts in “positive psychology,” describe some of what his research has taught us about a life well lived.

Click the image to see Christopher Peterson, one of the nation’s top experts in “positive psychology,” describe some of what his research has taught us about a life well lived.

It has been organized by John Chamberlin, professor of political science in LSA, professor of public policy at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, and director of the Center for Ethics in Public Life and Christopher Peterson, professor of psychology in LSA and director of the Michigan Positive Psychology Center.

“This theme semester offers students a chance to explore this question within the rich intellectual and cultural environment of the University,” said Terrence J. McDonald, LSA dean. “Students can explore historical, political and cultural perspectives and hear from leading psychologists, social activists and academic leaders, who have examined this question.”

Students can submit essays, poems, videos and other contributions to a competition for reflections on the theme question. Students can also display their answer to the theme question on a special “What Makes Life Worth Living?” t-shirt.

“The theme semester offers students a chance to consider how their years at U-M will promote meaningfulness and well-being in their own lives and the lives of others,” Chamberlin said.

Theme semester highlights that are free and open to the public include:

  • The Tanner Lecture on Human Values at 4 p.m. Oct. 7 will feature Martin Seligman, co-founder of the positive psychology movement at Rackham Auditorium.
  • The 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps Oct. 13-14. Events will commemorate the 50th anniversary of Sen. John F. Kennedy’s Oct. 14, 1960 speech outside the Michigan Union that sparked the creation of the Peace Corps. Author Paul Theroux will discuss “How the Peace Corps Changed My Life” at 7 p.m. Oct. 13 in Room 100 at the Hatcher Library.
  • The Katz-Newcomb Lecture at 4 p.m. Oct. 28 by Dacher Keltner at the Campus Inn will examine the evolution of compassion.
  • John Hammock co-author of “Practical Idealists: Changing the World and Getting Paid,” will discuss how to combine personal values with a career at 7 p.m. Nov. 9 in Room 100 at the Hatcher Library.
  • Sister Helen Prejean, author of “Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States,” will discuss her work 7 p.m. Dec. 2 in Blau Auditorium at the Ross School of Business.

For a complete list of events and activities visit: