Some might contend that exposure to science and the panoply of religious beliefs around the world undermines faith in God. However, inspired by Sir John’s writings, we propose that such information can also lead individuals to be awed by the vastness of the universe or the complexity of life. Awe, in turn, may inspire self-transcendence and an appreciation for the more abstract attributes of God – particularly for those who are humble. We propose to rigorously examine three different abstract representations of God as Transcendent (e.g., vast and infinite), Mystical (e.g., mysterious and celestial), and Ineffable (e.g., incomprehensible and unimaginable).

In five studies, we propose to: (1) develop survey measures of these three hypothesized abstract representations of God; (2) use priming and a reaction time task to differentiate among the three dimensions; (3) test a path model, hypothesizing that awe mediates the relation between exposure to science/world religions and self-transcendence; that humility amplifies this effect; and that self-transcendence leads to abstract God representations; and using both (4) experimental and (5) quasi-experimental designs, assess the effects of exposure to science and world religions on changes in abstract representations of God as Transcendent, Mystical, and Ineffable among undergraduates on two university campuses.

We plan to communicate our findings to scientists, clergy, and the laity. Ultimately, we hope that through the proposed research people will be moved to broaden their representations of God, by considering the more abstract characteristics of God’s divine nature, which is evident from the intricate workings of a single cell, the vastness of the universe, the majestic history of the earth, and the staggering complexity of world religions.