Jan 21, 2022

Religion Remixed: Spirituality, Science and Innovation for a Changing World (video)

How the science behind the practice of spiritual exercises relates to human flourishing.

By Templeton Staff

As part of its five-year strategy focused on human flourishing, Templeton World Charity Foundation is eager to expand scientific understanding of how the practice and benefits of religious and spiritual exercises are linked to outcomes associated with flourishing. This installment of the Stories of Impact video series features clips with researchers in this area. 

Co-founders of Sacred Design LabReverend Sue Phillips and Casper ter Kuile; and Kenneth Pargament, Professor emeritus of psychology, Bowling Green State University share their thoughts and observations with journalist Richard Sergay. Some of the highlights touch upon these topics and questions:

  • Traditional indicators of religious belonging have been declining over the past 20 years. There's a ‟rising group in the United States of people who call themselves spiritual,” notes ter Kuile. To Prof. Pargament, spirituality is ‟a yearning for something sacred. We can think of the sacred including things like nature, virtues— love, compassion, gratitude. We can think of the sacred in terms of work. Our work may take on the quality and character of a vocation that offers a deep meaning to our lives. Anything from music, to the arts... can take on sacred power and meaning. That process of searching for, discovering, and sometimes transforming that relationship with the sacred is the heart and soul of spirituality.” 
  • How are boundaries between secular and sacred communities and activities changing? ‟We noticed that more and more people were engaging in communities that were ostensibly secular whether it was fitness communities, justice groups, or art and creative groups, but when you looked closely it actually looked quite religious in terms of what was happening there— people were getting married, they were looking after one another through the biggest transitions of their lives, and so we started to look at it really as much less a decline of religion and more as a transformation of religion,” ter Kuile shares.
  • What are the challenges and benefits of scientifically studying religious and spiritual exercises? Rev. Phillips feels ‟it does a great disservice to spiritual exercises to think of them just in terms of their functional value because most spiritual and religious exercises take place in a vast cosmology of ideas. This is one of the challenges in the science of spiritual flourishing actually— how to study the mechanics of why certain spiritual exercises work without decontextualizing those practices so much that they become unrecognizable parts of that much larger thing.” It’s vital to ‟move beyond just personal intuition about it to scientific study,” says Pargament, ‟because religion and spirituality do contain, I believe, gold nuggets that that can be mined more efficiently and effectively and brought to bear on on people in their lives.”

Learn more about the Templeton World Charity Foundation priority related to this video.

Listen to a Stories of Impact podcast with Reverend Sue Phillips and Casper ter Kuile.

Read the transcripts from the full interviews conducted by journalist Richard Sergay with: Reverend Sue PhillipsColgate University and the Episcopal Divinity School, and Ministry Innovation Fellow at Harvard Divinity SchoolCasper ter Kuile, Masters of Divinity and Public Policy, Harvard University. Ter Kuile's book The Power of Ritual was published in 2020.

Templeton World Charity Foundation’s “Stories of Impact” videos by journalist and senior media executive Richard Sergay feature human stories and critical perspectives on breakthroughs about the universe’s big questions. The inspiring narratives and observations in these award-winning videos portray the individual and societal impacts of the projects that bring to life TWCF-supported research.