People packing boxes at a food panty
By Gillian Gonda

Findings from the 2020 launch of our Study of Spirituality in the United States revealed a stunning fifty percent of respondents said that they desire to be more spiritual. Respondents also identified peace and love as the top two benefits of a spiritual life. This narrative—that people are open to, and yearning for, a more spiritual way of being that is grounded in love and care for one another—is far different than what is in the headlines. These insights and new findings from the study provide a powerful counter-narrative of hope.

The study’s initial findings also revealed

  • Our spiritual life helps us develop resilience, thoughtful engagement, and connection to something larger than ourselves.
  • There is a correlation between an individual’s spirituality and prosocial or civic behaviors: the more a person’s spirituality is a part of their life, the more they may exhibit prosocial behaviors, such as civic engagement and community involvement.

This research has added to the robust academic, social, and political discourse about spirituality and civic life. And anticipating there would be more to learn, we supported additional scholarship using the study’s data. We are excited to see new findings and insights come in from these esteemed scholars, with various publications and presentations resulting from their work, including these highlights:

  • Spirituality is a resource for civic life. Researchers Brian Steensland and David King from Indiana University and the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy explored the differences between spirituality and religion as motivators for civic engagement. One major insight was that “spirituality, when compared to religion, is a more common referent for internal motivation and should be seen as a resource for civic life.” Read their summary here.
  • Accountability to a higher power impacts civic engagement. Charlotte vanOyen-Witvliet and Sung Joon Jang of Hope College examined the intersection of spirituality and accountability and how this connection is associated with greater spiritual and religious engagement, as well as prosocial civic attitudes, civic engagement, and political action. Their research revealed that after controlling for demographic variables, accountability to a higher power was a reliable connection to participants’ perceived importance of the influence of spirituality and religion to their overall civic engagement. Read their summary here.

In addition, researchers Tom Smith and Benjamin Schapiro at NORC of the University of Chicago reviewed time trends and cross-national comparisons of spirituality; Roman Williams, a visual sociologist, took a deeper look how we draw images of our spirituality and why this was an important research method; and Pam E. King and Sung H. Kim, Fuller Theological Seminary School of Psychology used topic modeling analysis to infer the latent themes in the qualitative data. Review their insights and more at spiritualitystudy.org.

With this new accumulation of findings, the Fetzer Institute sees a ripe opportunity for spirituality to come to the forefront to promote healing, unity, and interconnectedness in our broken world. Instead of imminent disaster, we see hope and a ripe opportunity for change. For more information on the study and these recent updates, visit spiritualitystudy.org where you can download the original report and our study guide to reflect on the role spirituality plays in your civic life.

Gillian Gonda is a program director at the Fetzer Institute.