The USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture proposes to explore the proposition that competition between religious groups stimulates creative innovation, contributing to religious change and development, and potentially what Sir John has called, “spiritual progress.” The project seeks to answer three primary questions, and one exploratory question, in Southern California and in Seoul, South Korea:

1. Is competition the primary source of religious creativity and innovation, or are other personal, social, and cultural factors more important, with competition being an expression of these other elements?

2. How does “place” (geographic location and social context) matter for religious groups, and in what ways does it contribute to competition and creative innovation in religion?

3. Given the number of options within a vibrant religious marketplace, how can we account for an increasing number of people who are disaffiliating from religious institutions?

And in a more exploratory vein:

4. What constitutes “spiritual progress,” what are its constitutive elements, and under what conditions does it take place?

Researchers will examine these questions within the context of the geographic “place” in which groups are active. The proposed project will involve case studies within six traditions (Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, new religious movements, as well as the “religiously disaffiliated”), interviews, and focus groups with religious leaders.

Project outcomes include new methodological tools that will be exported to scholars in other global cities, a web map with GIS mapped congregations and associated social and demographic data, a smart phone app, case studies of congregations, blog posts, scholarly and non-scholarly books and articles, and opinion pieces. Finally, a summary report will be published at the project’s end.