Heroism Science

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What is Heroism Science?

Over the past two decades, psychological research on optimal human functioning has been burgeoning. Scholars have shown a new (or renewed) interest in topics such as morality, cooperation, altruism, wisdom, meaning, purpose, resilience, hope, flow, human growth, courage, empathy, spirituality, health, public service, self-control, emotional intelligence, and character strengths. The past decade especially has witnessed a surge in research on two types of exceptional individuals who best exemplify these positive qualities: heroes and heroic leaders (Allison, Goethals & Kramer, in preparation).

Heroism science is a nascent multiple disciplinary field which seeks to reconceptualise heroism, the hero’s journey and heroic leadership in the 21st century through a close examination of the origins, types and processes of these inter-related phenomena. With the use of a mix of traditional and cutting-edge epistemological and methodological frameworks, and their application in a wide variety of settings (e.g. pedagogy, crisis management, healthcare, counselling, workforce, community development, popular media, online activism, human rights, international relations, digital humanities), heroism science is part of a broader movement which aims to foster holistic well-being, promote heroic awareness and action, civic responsibility and engagement, and build resilient individuals and communities in the face of increasingly complex social landscapes (Efthimiou & Allison, 2016).

Heroism science seeks to understand heroes, heroism, and heroic behavior. Heroism science distinguishes between the subject of inquiry and the process of inquiry, as indicated below (Efthimiou & Allison, 2016):

Subject of Inquiry

Heroism science seeks to understand:

* the origins (formation, causes and antecedents) of heroism.

* the nature of heroism.

* the different types, categories and expressions of heroism, and their impact on individuals and society.

* the functions and consequences of heroism.

* the variety of processes associated with heroism, including biological, social, cultural, psychological and spiritual.

* heroism as a dynamic phenomenon.

Process of Inquiry

Heroism science draws upon all methods of inquiry in the sciences and the humanities. Illuminating the full range of phenomena associated with heroism science requires multidisciplinarity, interdisciplinarity, and transdisciplinarity, as defined by Choi and Pak (2006, p. 351). Specifically, heroism scientists may employ:

* A multidisciplinary approach, which “draws on knowledge from different disciplines but stays within their boundaries.”

* An interdisciplinary approach, which “synthesizes and harmonizes links between disciplines into a coordinated and coherent whole.”

* A transdisciplinary approach, which “integrates the natural, social and health sciences in a humanities context, and transcends their traditional boundaries.”

Heroism Science as Embodied Science

Heroism science is envisioned to be an open and participatory science; it is a prime candidate for promoting “science as enabler for improving the world (SEIW)”, using Hefner’s (2010, p. 251) concept of “embodied science” rooted in the tradition of critical science thinkers such as Donna Haraway and Jerome Ravetz (Efthimiou & Allison, 2016).

The emerging field’s agenda is outlined across SEIW’s five part framework (Efthimiou & Allison, 2016):

(1) Heroism science research as a baseline for shaping “the kind of world we want” (Hefner, 2010, p. 251), and an inquiry into creative and expansive possibilities for individuals, communities and the ecosphere;

(2) The emergence of the field as a fulfilment of Ravetz’s (1971) concept of a “liberating science” advancing holistic well-being, and a means of arriving at a more evolved symbiotic relationship with “technoscience” (Haraway, 1997) that transcends the legacy of industrialisation;

(3) The heroism science agenda is grounded in the centrality of “human action and ethics” (Hefner, 2010, p. 251). The diversity of opinions in defining the nature of heroism is reflective of “the altered nature of human action” (Jonas, 1984, p. 1). This agenda must therefore be met with an attitude of tolerance, in recognition of this ambiguity of human action, and by implication its ethical nature, in the changing face of 21st century human societies and new contexts of engagement with the world and each other;

(4) The necessary concordance of heroism science with the ‘big questions’ of the meaning of being human and the origins of the universe, “religion and the world’s possibilities” (Hefner, 2010, p. 251). This aligns with the core “transrational” properties of narratives of heroism and the hero’s journey (Rohr, 2011, as cited in Allison & Goethals, 2014, p. 170), as well as the original source of hero myths and saviour figures in creation myths and the world’s religious and spiritual traditions; and,

(5) Heroism science’s agenda as integral to the recovery of myth – the centrality of myth at the heart of the origins and nature of heroism necessitates revisiting the importance of myth in 21st century societies, and its interrelationship with science. Heroism science holds the possibility of realising Paul Ricoeur’s (1975, as cited in Hefner, 2010, p. 262) concept of “retrieving the power of myth” to achieve “a critical and reflective second naiveté”.

Given that we are still at the very early stages of the field, this allows researchers scope for creativity and flexibility in the frameworks that are yet to be developed (Efthimiou & Allison, 2016).


Allison, S. T., Goethals, G. R., & Kramer, R. M. (Eds.) (in preparation). Handbook of heroism and heroic leadership. New York: Routledge.

Choi, B. C., & Pak, A. W. (2006). Multidisciplinarity, interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity in health research, services, education and policy: 1. Definitions, objectives, and evidence of effectiveness. Clinical and investigative medicine. Medecine clinique et experimentale, 29(6), 351-364.

Efthimiou, O., & Allison, S. T. (2016). Heroism science: Frameworks for an emerging field. Journal article in preparation, Murdoch University.

Efthimiou, O. (in preparation). Understanding Heroism: Transdisciplinary Perspectives. PhD Thesis. School of Arts, Murdoch University, Perth, Western Australia.

Haraway, D. (1997). Modest_Witness@Second_Millenium. New York: Routledge.

Hefner, P. (2010). Embodied science: recentering religion‐and‐science. Zygon, 45(1), 251-263.

Ravetz, J. R. (1971). Scientific knowledge and its social problems. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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