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Our Vision

The Oxford Character Project: Cultivating wise thinkers and good leaders

Each year, Oxford and other world-class universities produce leaders and thinkers who go on to have significant influence and impact around the world, but these institutions devote far less attention to discerning whether they are developing wise thinkers and good leaders. The Oxford Character Project seeks to address this deficit by helping talented postgraduates develop key virtues of character which will prepare them to be the wise thinkers and good leaders the world so desperately needs. The Oxford Character Project is an initiative of the Oxford Pastorate, a Christian charity and historic Anglican chaplaincy that has been serving Oxford University students since 1893 and now focuses on the postgraduate student community.

In addition to a fostering good character and leadership, we are focusing on four particular virtues – a sense of vocation, an attitude of service, humility, and gratitude. We have selected these four virtues because:

  1. They are essential for effective and wise leadership, particularly for talented individuals expected to progress to the positions of power and influence for which their postgraduate education uniquely qualifies them.
  2. These virtues are particularly neglected in postgraduate education and cannot be assumed to develop naturally through rigorous postgraduate selection or study.
  3. These virtues help to move students beyond personalised moralities to think critically about the common good and the character required for significant impact and influence.

Practical Action for Character Development

The Oxford Character Project seeks to help postgraduates from various moral, cultural, and religious traditions think about the source and meaning of their deepest values, engage thoughtfully and respectfully with other participants, and discern how best to integrate their values into their vocations, all in a way that contributes to the common good. To cultivate wise thinkers and good leaders, the Oxford Character Project comprises of a number of different initiatives, giving postgraduates opportunities, tools, and support to develop their character and increase their potential to have a positive impact throughout their lives and careers.

Through a programme of events including conferences, guest lectures, and group discussions, the Oxford Character Project offers postgraduate students the opportunity to reflect on the importance of leadership and character. Each year 36 exceptional postgraduates are selected to join one of three small and intensive learning communities, where each participant receives:

  1. Personal mentoring with an experienced leader in their field
  2. One-to-one support from carefully recruited Character Project coordinators
  3. Meetings and retreats to discuss leadership and character
  4. Participation in a community of like-minded peers
  5. Continued support from and involvement with the Character Project beyond time in Oxford

The project aims to engage with hundreds of students over the next three years and, through their interactions and outreach, have a substantial impact on the whole postgraduate community in Oxford and beyond.


Researching Character

To inform this practical programme and advance knowledge in the area of character and leadership, the Oxford Character Project is conducting a multi-year research project on character and moral formation. Led by a new McDonald-Templeton Post-Doctoral Fellow, we are engaging in cutting-edge theoretical and empirical research on character and moral formation; investigating and formulating postgraduate-specific accounts of character development; using quantitative and qualitative tools to measure and iteratively improve practical programming; and developing a clearer understanding of the importance and effectiveness of postgraduate character development.

An Education in Virtues and Values

The Oxford Character Project is run by the Oxford Pastorate, a Christian charity which has been serving Oxford students since 1893, in conjunction with The McDonald Centre for Theology Ethics and Public Life, a research institute associated with the Faculty of Theology and Religion at the University of Oxford.

The project is divided into three formation streams:

  • The Oxford Global Leadership Initiative aims to help postgraduates from various disciplines, countries, cultures, and traditions think about the role of moral leadership in their professions. With over 120 nationalities represented in the Oxford postgraduate community, the Global Leadership Initiative seeks to enable diverse students to engage each other and exceptional guest speakers in an ongoing conversation about global leadership in the 21st century.
  • Christians in Academia is run in conjunction with Developing a Christian Mind, an initiative that helps postgraduate students think about the integration of their faith with their academic study. Through exploring vocation in the academy, participants seek to discover what place activities of learning and teaching have within their understanding of God’s purposes. The group also considers how character relates to academic work and life, with particular attention to humility, gratitude, and an attitude of service.
  • The Oxford Pastorate Associates stream of activity for Christian leaders aims to support postgraduates already active in leadership in the Christian community in Oxford (leading church groups, charities, the Veritas Forum, and the Graduate Christian Forum) to develop further a sense of vocation, an attitude of service, and the virtues of thankfulness and humility in ways that are particularly appropriate for Christian leadership. This stream has a particular emphasis on the importance of the study of Scripture and prayer in moral and religious formation.

Learn more about the Oxford Pastorate

Meet the Team

  • Bethan Willis profile image

    Bethan Willis

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    Dr Bethan Willis is involved in leading the Christians in Academia group. She completed her doctorate at Exeter University on Miroslav Volf and justice in the Balkans in 2013. Since then she has been researching and writing on social justice issues and now works for the Diocese of Oxford as a social responsibility adviser. In her spare time Bethan enjoys volunteering and embarking on mini adventures with her family – Sean, Huw(6) and Ben(4).

    Bethan Willis

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    Dr Bethan Willis is involved in leading the Christians in Academia group. She completed her doctorate at Exeter University on Miroslav Volf and justice in the Balkans in 2013. Since then she has been researching and writing on social justice issues and now works for the Diocese of Oxford as a social responsibility adviser. In her spare time Bethan enjoys volunteering and embarking on mini adventures with her family – Sean, Huw(6) and Ben(4).

  • Claire Shuttleworth profile image

    Claire Shuttleworth

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    Claire is administrator for the Oxford Character Project. She graduated from Oxford Brookes University with a degree in English literature and theology. She has worked in a variety of administrative roles including in academic publishing for Wiley-Blackwell.

    Claire Shuttleworth

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    Claire is administrator for the Oxford Character Project. She graduated from Oxford Brookes University with a degree in English literature and theology. She has worked in a variety of administrative roles including in academic publishing for Wiley-Blackwell.

  • Ed Brooks profile image

    Ed Brooks

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    Ed Brooks heads the Global Leadership Initiative, a programme to support postgraduate students from around the world, of any or no religious faith, as they explore how best to develop character for leadership. Ed came to Oxford to study history at Magdalen in 1999. He spent a few years living in Cape Town before returning to Oxford to lead the international and postgraduate student ministries at St Ebbe’s Church. He is currently studying for a DPhil in Theology at Oriel alongside his involvement in the Oxford Character Project. Much of Ed’s first Oxford life was spent on the rugby pitch; these days you are more likely to find him on a long training run in the hills around Oxford. He is married to Liubov and kept busy by Sophia (7), Felix (5) and baby Alexa.

    Ed Brooks

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    Ed Brooks heads the Global Leadership Initiative, a programme to support postgraduate students from around the world, of any or no religious faith, as they explore how best to develop character for leadership. Ed came to Oxford to study history at Magdalen in 1999. He spent a few years living in Cape Town before returning to Oxford to lead the international and postgraduate student ministries at St Ebbe’s Church. He is currently studying for a DPhil in Theology at Oriel alongside his involvement in the Oxford Character Project. Much of Ed’s first Oxford life was spent on the rugby pitch; these days you are more likely to find him on a long training run in the hills around Oxford. He is married to Liubov and kept busy by Sophia (7), Felix (5) and baby Alexa.

  • Jonathan Brant profile image

    Jonathan Brant

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    Dr Jonathan Brant is the Director of the Oxford Character Project, both leading the team and engaging in academic research as a member of Oxford University’s Theology Faculty. Jonathan is also head of the Oxford Pastorate with overall responsibility for leading a team serving in the postgraduate community. He wrote a DPhil in Theology at Trinity College, Oxford which drew upon systematic theology, film theory and qualitative research in considering the potential religious impact of contemporary Latin American cinema. The monograph has been published by Oxford University Press. Prior to coming to Oxford, Jonathan worked for Anglican churches in London and South America. Jonathan is the award-winning author of fiction and non-fiction books which introduce young people to the joys and the mysteries of the Christian faith. He is married to Tricia and has a fifteen year-old son, Isaac.

    Jonathan Brant

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    Dr Jonathan Brant is the Director of the Oxford Character Project, both leading the team and engaging in academic research as a member of Oxford University’s Theology Faculty. Jonathan is also head of the Oxford Pastorate with overall responsibility for leading a team serving in the postgraduate community. He wrote a DPhil in Theology at Trinity College, Oxford which drew upon systematic theology, film theory and qualitative research in considering the potential religious impact of contemporary Latin American cinema. The monograph has been published by Oxford University Press. Prior to coming to Oxford, Jonathan worked for Anglican churches in London and South America. Jonathan is the award-winning author of fiction and non-fiction books which introduce young people to the joys and the mysteries of the Christian faith. He is married to Tricia and has a fifteen year-old son, Isaac.

  • Luna Wang profile image

    Luna Wang

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    Luna Wang is involved in leading the Global Leadership Initiative. Luna studied Law and Economics at Beijing’s prestigious Peking University and worked in the Real Estate Industry for several years in China before coming to Oxford to study for an MSc in Sociology, which she completed in 2012. She has a broad interest and loves inter-disciplinary discussions. She is passionate about people and stories, enjoys travelling and watching movies. She loves experiencing new cultures, especially collecting jokes from different cultural backgrounds. You might want to count how many times she uses the word "exciting" every day, but that's because she is indeed excited about everything.

    Luna Wang

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    Luna Wang is involved in leading the Global Leadership Initiative. Luna studied Law and Economics at Beijing’s prestigious Peking University and worked in the Real Estate Industry for several years in China before coming to Oxford to study for an MSc in Sociology, which she completed in 2012. She has a broad interest and loves inter-disciplinary discussions. She is passionate about people and stories, enjoys travelling and watching movies. She loves experiencing new cultures, especially collecting jokes from different cultural backgrounds. You might want to count how many times she uses the word "exciting" every day, but that's because she is indeed excited about everything.

  • Michael Lamb profile image

    Michael Lamb

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    Dr Michael Lamb is the McDonald-Templeton Postdoctoral Fellow with the McDonald Centre at the University of Oxford and a Research Fellow at Harris Manchester College. He is the lead academic researcher on the Oxford Character Project and also teaches and participates in the Global Leadership Initiative and the Ethics through Fiction and Film Reading Group. Michael holds a Ph.D. in Politics from Princeton University, a B.A. in Political Science from Rhodes College, and a second B.A. in Philosophy and Theology from the University of Oxford, where he studied as a Rhodes Scholar. His research focuses on the ethics of citizenship and the role of virtues in public life. In addition to studying political theory, he also has practical experience in American politics and international development. He has co-founded a non-profit working on sustainable development in Uganda and served as chief of staff for campaigns for state senate, Governor, and U.S. Congress in his home state of Tennessee.

    Michael Lamb

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    Dr Michael Lamb is the McDonald-Templeton Postdoctoral Fellow with the McDonald Centre at the University of Oxford and a Research Fellow at Harris Manchester College. He is the lead academic researcher on the Oxford Character Project and also teaches and participates in the Global Leadership Initiative and the Ethics through Fiction and Film Reading Group. Michael holds a Ph.D. in Politics from Princeton University, a B.A. in Political Science from Rhodes College, and a second B.A. in Philosophy and Theology from the University of Oxford, where he studied as a Rhodes Scholar. His research focuses on the ethics of citizenship and the role of virtues in public life. In addition to studying political theory, he also has practical experience in American politics and international development. He has co-founded a non-profit working on sustainable development in Uganda and served as chief of staff for campaigns for state senate, Governor, and U.S. Congress in his home state of Tennessee.

  • Rob Heimburger profile image

    Rob Heimburger

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    Robert W. Heimburger is Associate Chaplain to graduate students with the Oxford Pastorate and leads a formation group called Christians in Academia with the Oxford Character Project. He is Coordinator of the Developing a Christian Mind course. With IFES, he is Founding Editor of Word & World and chair of the Theological Advisory Group. Within a project on the flourishing of people displaced by conflict within Colombia based at the Biblical Seminary of Colombia (FUSBC) in Medellin, he is researching forgiveness after conflict. He studied philosophy and music at Davidson College, North Carolina, theology at Regent College, Vancouver, and theology and Christian ethics at the University of Oxford, where he completed his doctorate. His forthcoming book from Cambridge University Press is entitled God and the Illegal Alien: Federal United States Immigration Law and a Theology of Politics. He lives in Oxford with his wife and two children.

    Rob Heimburger

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    Robert W. Heimburger is Associate Chaplain to graduate students with the Oxford Pastorate and leads a formation group called Christians in Academia with the Oxford Character Project. He is Coordinator of the Developing a Christian Mind course. With IFES, he is Founding Editor of Word & World and chair of the Theological Advisory Group. Within a project on the flourishing of people displaced by conflict within Colombia based at the Biblical Seminary of Colombia (FUSBC) in Medellin, he is researching forgiveness after conflict. He studied philosophy and music at Davidson College, North Carolina, theology at Regent College, Vancouver, and theology and Christian ethics at the University of Oxford, where he completed his doctorate. His forthcoming book from Cambridge University Press is entitled God and the Illegal Alien: Federal United States Immigration Law and a Theology of Politics. He lives in Oxford with his wife and two children.

Our Partners

The Oxford Character Project is funded by the Templeton World Charity Foundation. Other charities are involved in specific streams of activity. Developing a Christian Mind, led by Donald Hay and Ard Louis, partners in the Christians in Academia stream. The Trinity Forum organises exceptional speaker and discussion events in Oxford which complement the work of the Oxford Character Project.