WHAT DOES SPIRITUALITY MEAN TO US?

What does it mean to be spiritual? And how does this animate our daily lives? These are the questions at the heart of Fetzer’s Study of Spirituality in America. Working with social scientists, theologians, and academic experts, we’ve designed a study to shine a light on unexplored questions about spirituality and civic life.

The study website is now live and the report What Does Spirituality Mean to Us? A Study of Spirituality in the U.S. is available for download at www.spiritualitystudy.org.

About the Study
In 2018, the Institute partnered with Hattaway Communications, a strategic research and communications firm, to conduct a study of spirituality in America with a stated purpose to “better understand what spirituality means in America today" by:

1) exploring how and why people (inside and outside of religious institutions, as well as those who do and do not consider themselves “spiritual,”) find meaning and purpose in their lives, and experience transcendent connection to others and to the world; and  

2) examining how spirituality relates to how we engage with fellow humans and the natural world.

Study Components

In-depth interviews. Through the University of Chicago NORC’s AmeriSpeak® Panel, we conducted 29 hour-long interviews in 2019 with individuals around the country.

Focus groups. A total of 16 focus groups were held in early 2019 in Birmingham, Alabama; Boston, Massachusetts; Des Moines, Iowa; Phoenix, Arizona; and Seattle, Washington.

Nationwide Survey. Sourced from the University of Chicago NORC’s AmeriSpeak® Panel, a survey was administered to 3,600 Americans (general population sample age 18+) in early 2020.

Advisors
To design a study that was rigorous and makes a meaningful contribution to the field of spirituality and religion research, we brought together an advisory group whose backgrounds in research, theology, activism, and practice could help us navigate this rich and complex field:

  • Dr. Ruth Braunstein, Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Connecticut
  • Dr. Omar M. McRoberts, Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Chicago
  • Dr. Tom W. Smith, Senior Fellow and Director at NORC at the University of Chicago, and director of the General Social Survey (GSS)
  • Adam Taylor, Executive Director of Sojourners and author of Mobilizing Hope: Faith-Inspired Activism for a Post-Civil Rights Generation
  • Rev. Sue Phillips, Partner at Sacred Design Lab and Harvard Divinity School innovation fellow
  • Dr. Lynn Underwood, Senior Research Associate at the Inamori International Center for Ethics at Case Western Reserve University and developer of the Daily Spiritual Experience Scale (DSES)
  • Dr. C. Vanessa White, Assistant Professor of Spirituality and Ministry, Director of Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies and Specialized Ministries, Chair of Spirituality and Pastoral Ministry Department at the Catholic Theological Union

Currently, our advisors and an additional group of reviewers are helping us review the data from the survey for top-level findings and significant correlations. A complete report of the Study will be available in late summer 2020, along with a website that will allow visitors to explore, engage, and reflect on the findings, and details on how researchers can access the data for their own uses.

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Interview: Omar McRoberts

Omar M. McRoberts, PhD, is an advisor to Fetzer’s Study of Spirituality in America. We caught up with him to find out more about his work and his thoughts on the Study.

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Introducing the Study of Spirituality in America

Recent research has led to a narrative that church attendance in the United States is decreasing, and that more and more people consider themselves “spiritual.” But what does this mean—and why does it matter?

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