Wake Forest University study will spend three years trying to define what makes someone 'morally exceptional'

'At the heart of this project is figuring out what makes people good'

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A group of researchers at Wake Forest University has been awarded a $3.9 million grant to look for "moral superstars".

According to the university, the money will fund a three-year initiative called "The Beacon Project" to find and define the "morally exceptional".

This includes competitions for psychology, philosophy and theology scholars around the world, conferences and a summer seminar.

As well as those publicly recognised for "moral virtue", the team will look at "next-door neighbour" moral heroes who they feel have not received enough widespread attention.

William F. Fleeson, the Wake Forest psychology professor leading the team, said: "A lot of attention has been paid to intellectual genius, but the morally exceptional represent a form of ‘genius’ that also deserves attention."

He denied the study would push any kind of "agenda", saying the team of researchers includes “liberals, conservatives, Christians and non-Christians".

"At the heart of this project is figuring out what makes people good,"professor of psychology R. Michael Furr said.

"What are the psychological, cultural and spiritual factors that make people morally excellent? We are hoping what we do can lay the foundation for how we can foster these attributes."