Development of a framework and book proposal for organizing research on religious and spiritual exercises
TWCF Number
Project Duration
July 1 / 2023
- June 30 / 2025
Core Funding Area
Big Questions
North America
Amount Awarded

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Kevin Ladd
Institution Indiana University

Spiritual exercises are long-standing practices in many global religious traditions. Templeton World Charity Foundation’s Science of Religious and Spiritual Exercises aims to draw attention to rigorous study and understanding of how spiritual exercises may impact on practitioners. In a consultation convened by the Foundation in 2020, Kevin Ladd, Daniel McIntosh, and Meleah Ladd noted the absence of a conceptual framework that can organize a range of religious and spiritual exercises for the purposes of systematic empirical investigation.

While popular visual representations of spiritual exercises are available on the internet (e.g., "Tree of Contemplative Practices"), these are not theoretically driven, nor do they take into account existing scholarly and empirical research on religious and spiritual exercises. While a few academic handbooks do collate religious and spiritual exercises, the field would benefit from a systematic framework. This framework would enable new empirical research and build upon prior research. 

Scientists interested in the study of religious and spiritual exercises are often not fully aware of the theological and philosophical underpinnings of these practices, sometimes missing important understanding of meanings and motivations that undergird practices. This can lead to limited (and sometimes erroneous) theoretical framings and operational definitions, which in turn affects the validity of interpretations about empirical findings.

This project, from a team led by Kevin Ladd at Indiana University aims to address these gaps. The team will consider a range of specific religious and spiritual exercises, in order to develop a framework that can be used to identify and organize religious and spiritual exercises for further research and development. Historical and contemporary sources will be surveyed to discern underlying principles, with a view to developing a practical guide for researchers and those wishing to innovate on religious and spiritual exercises.The team also aims to develop a book about the framework, as well as future directions, including application and innovation potential.

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