Work, Leisure, and the Good Life

Yale University  |  June 6—June 12, 2020

Jacob Howland, University of Tulsa  |  James Murphy, Dartmouth College

What distinguishes work from leisure and what place does each have in a well-lived life?

Is work a burden or a blessing? Under what conditions do we experience work as meaningful and fulfilling?

Why has innovation not led to an increase in leisure as many predicted? What do we need in order to use our leisure well?

A seminar about the meaning and value of work and leisure in human life, with readings drawn from classic and contemporary sources, including Aristotle and Aquinas, Adam Smith and Karl Marx, Max Weber and Joseph Pieper.


A week-long seminar for sixteen students, jointly led by two expert faculty. The seminar meets for three 90-minute sessions each day. Participants also share meals and the opportunity to take part in a range of extra-curricular activities throughout the week. For more detailed information about the Elm summer seminar experience click here.


The seminar is designed for undergraduates, but pre-dissertation graduate students are also welcome to apply. 

How to Apply

Applicants should 1) complete the application form and 2) submit a sample of your academic work to To guarantee consideration, all application materials must be received by March 1.

Registration Fee

Accepted applicants will be required to pay a non-refundable registration fee of $250 to secure their place in the seminar. This covers tuition, lodging, food, and all reading materials for the seminar.


Participants will be provided with accommodation in one of Yale's undergraduate colleges. Accommodation is available from the night of Saturday June 6 through to the night of Friday June 12.

Applications Due March 1

Jacob Howland is McFarlin Professor of Philosophy at the University of Tulsa, where he has taught since 1988. He earned a B.A. from Swarthmore College in 1981, where he studied philosophy, history, and literature, and a Ph.D. from Penn State (1987). His research focuses on ancient Greek philosophy, history, epic, and tragedy; the Hebrew Bible and the Talmud; Kierkegaard; and literary and philosophical responses to the Holocaust and Soviet totalitarianism. He is the author of Plato and the Talmud (Cambridge University Press, 2011); Kierkegaard and Socrates: A Study in Philosophy and Faith (Cambridge University Press, 2006); The Paradox of Political Philosophy: Socrates’ Philosophic Trial (Rowman & Littlefield, 1998); and The Republic: The Odyssey of Philosophy (Twayne Publishers, 1993 and Paul Dry Books, 2004); the last three of these books have been translated into Chinese. He also edited A Long Way Home: The Story of a Jewish Youth, 1939-1948, by Bob Golan (University Press of America, 2005). His most recent book is Glaucon’s Fate: History, Myth, and Character in Plato’s Republic (Paul Dry Press, 2018).


James Murphy is Professor of Government at Dartmouth College, where he has taught since 1990. After being graduated from Yale College in 1980, he earned a Master’s in City Planning from M.I.T. and worked as a city planner in the City of New York. His Ph.D. in Philosophy and Political Science is from Yale University (1990). His research interests include: Aristotle, jurisprudence, semiotics, political economy, philosophy of education, and political theology. In 2008, Professor Murphy founded the Daniel Webster Project at Dartmouth College to provide greater structure and focus for the liberal arts experience. The Webster Project sponsors conferences and lectures as well as proposals for curricular reform. He is the author of The Moral Economy of Labor: Aristotelian Themes in Economic Theory (Yale University Press, 1993), The Philosophy of Positive Law (Yale University Press, 2005), The Philosophy of Customary Law (Oxford University Press, 2014), and A Genealogy of Violence and Religion: René Girard in Dialogue (Sussex Academic Press, 2018). His most recent book, co-authored with Graeme Garrard, is How to Think Politically (Bloomsbury, 2019).



“I had an incredible time at the Elm Institute. The professors were excellent: brilliant, engaging, but also kind and interested in my thoughts, experiences, and future plans. My peers were especially wonderful. At every break, lunch, activity, and even walks between classes, I had the most stimulating conversations I'd experienced all year. I learned every minute of my seminar, inside and outside the classroom. And I am so grateful for the people I met and the connections I met. I know that my Elm experience will continue to shape my academic journey for quite some time to come.”

— Joan O'Bryan, Swarthmore College '13, University of Cambridge (MPhil) '18 

“The ‘Work, Leisure, and the Good Life’ not only deeply informed me about critical philosophical and political ideas that influence our society, but attending this seminar also equipped me with practical knowledge which I am able to apply to my daily life as a student--knowledge which helps me to become a better version of myself.”

— Sylvia Kryszczuk, Yale University ‘21

“I recommend the ‘Work, Leisure, and the Good Life’ seminar to any student interested in philosophy, theology, or economics. Through the absorbing readings, fun activities, and lively discussions both inside and outside the classroom, students do not just learn about, but are able to participate in all three elements of the seminar's title.”

— Brendan McGlone, Wesleyan University ‘18