Our Founder

Image of Mr. Fetzer with friends and family at a baseball game.

John Earl Fetzer (1901-1991), was familiar with the call of the sacred within the secular. Trained as an electrical engineer, he began his career in 1931 by designing, building, and operating his own radio station that he then expanded into a Michigan-based, multistate broadcasting empire including radio, television, cable, and closed-circuit music transmission.

In his private life, John Fetzer had an intense intellectual curiosity about the “unseen elements” of life. He studied various forms of meditation, prayer, philosophy, and positive thinking, and explored various healing modalities. From a young age he also had a passion for baseball, an enthusiasm that led him to purchase the Detroit Tigers baseball club. In his later years, he established an endowment for the Fetzer Institute through the sale of the team and his media holdings.

The interests that shaped John Fetzer’s life are the seedbed for the questions that define the work of the Fetzer Institute: How can the secular and sacred elements of life be better integrated? How can the insights of science and the power of technological innovation be utilized to explore the capacities of the mind and spirit? How can the wisdom and insight gained through inner exploration be used to better our individual and collective wellbeing? And how can the entrepreneurial spirit and financial resources gained from the American business sector be used in the service of creating a better world?

Image of the inside of the Fetzer Institute.

Fetzer Program History

We share our gratitude with the many talented and caring people who have worked with us through the years. Below is a sampling of our efforts.

2014-2022 Helping Build the Spiritual Foundation for a Loving World
  • Elevating civic discourse through work with the Faith In/And Democracy project, Braver Angels, Interfaith Youth Core (now Interfaith America), New Pluralists, and BridgeUSA.
  • Supporting storytelling that uplifts the human condition through underwriting the OnBeing Project, the film Mission Joy, and the Biologos podcast.
  • Exploring the spiritual dimension of existence through supporting a Global Longitudinal Study on Human Flourishing; creating a Study of Spirituality in the United States; and supporting the development of the Healthy Minds Program, named one of the best four meditation apps by the New York Times.
  • Enhancing the learning experience through projects with the Collaborative for Spirituality in Education at Teachers College, Columbia University; the QUESTion Project; and the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning.
2001-2013 Fostering Awareness of the Power of Love and Forgiveness
  • Campaign for Love and Forgiveness, a multi-year demonstration project in seven cities nationwide, focuses on creating space for love and forgiveness in everyday life. Partners include PBS affiliates, the American Library Association, and StoryCorps.

  • Survey of Love and Forgiveness in American Society gathers insights about how people feel about their own lives, their communities, and the world.

  • Fetzer Forgiveness Research Working Group, chaired by pioneering forgiveness researcher Dr. Ev Worthington adds to the public discourse on the science of forgiveness and engages top researchers and advisors on the potential of forgiveness.

  • The Shamatha Project, led by Dr. Clifford Saron, is one of the most ambitious and comprehensive longitudinal studies of meditation ever conducted. This work at the Center for Mind and Brain at the University of California, Davis studies how intensive contemplative training benefits mental and physical health.

1994-2001 Integrating Inner Life of Mind and Spirit with Action and Service in the World
  • The Courage to Teach, a pilot program on the vocation of teaching with educator Parker Palmer, informs the establishment of the Center for Courage and Renewal.
  • Support of Dan Goleman on early stage of what has become known as emotional intelligence. This work also helps establish the Collaborative for the Advancement of Social and Emotional Learning at Yale Child Study Center.
  • Work with the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society brings awareness to the use and effects of meditation and contemplative practice in everyday life.
  • “Brief Multidimensional Measurement of Religiousness/Spirituality for Use in Health Research” is developed with Dr. Lynn G. Underwood. Its Daily Spiritual Experience Scale has since been translated into more than 40 languages and is prized for its relevance across cultures.
1986-1993 Mind-Body Health
  • Healing and the Mind with Bill Moyers, a five-part Emmy Award-winning PBS series.

  • “Unconventional Medicine in the United States—Prevalence, Costs, and Patterns of Use,” a study by David Eisenberg in the New England Journal of Medicine reveals a growing nationwide interest in approaches to health and healing that fell, at the time, outside of mainstream medicine.

  • Support of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s pioneering research at University of Massachusetts Medical School on what is now called mindfulness-based stress reduction.
  • “Health Professions Education and Relationship Centered Care,” a report of the Pew-Fetzer Task Force on Advancing Psychosocial Health Education.