The Mission of the Center

Why Study Transformative Lives?

The Center for the Study of Transformative Lives at New York University fosters research, teaching, and education centering on the lives of exemplary individuals whose dedication, genius, and moral vision helped shape the course of human events. The work of the Center is motivated by the conviction that the example of a great and good life, studied in depth and at length, can become a guiding influence on people’s lives today as they confront their own choices, decisions, and opportunities. Focusing on well-known and less-well-known figures from the present and the past, students and researchers study inspiring individuals in the context of their times and the circles in which they moved, using them as powerful lenses through which to view history and understand societal change.

Central to history are the stories of men and women who have directed their passion, energy, and courage to make a difference. Abraham Lincoln, Eleanor Roosevelt, Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., these are names of historical importance, but they were also humans beings, with personal struggles and flaws as well as moments of transcendence and capacities for growth. Their accomplishments were singular, yet the possibility to achieve great impact is universal. A focus on the individual and his or her capacities is part of a democratic philosophical stance which affirms that all lives matter, and that each person can rise to become more true to their own uniqueness and capacity to influence the world around them for the good.