Human cultural capacities are uniquely expressed in spiritual yearning–the drive to find transcendent meaning beyond the material world. Our project explores how such yearning manifests in the spiritual but not religious (SBNR) via their seeking and building of spiritual community, and how communities shape the learning of new beliefs. We ask: 1) What is the nature of spiritual yearning? 2) What are the individual and social sources of spiritual yearning? 3) How do yearners build transcendent meaning, both independently and collaboratively, within communities?
Our project combines robust quantitative methods with context-rich observations and interviews, while engaging with participants and community groups to hear what our findings mean to them. We will test predictions derived from cultural evolutionary theory via a case study in the town of Glastonbury, England–a nexus of spirituality, home to diverse SBNR communities, and a destination for thousands of spiritual pilgrims annually. Our research objectives are: O1) explain how yearners understand and experience yearning; O2) investigate the life-course origins of yearning via personal belief histories; O3) explain what solitary, communal, or institutional roles SBNR practices fulfill; O4) show how social learning heuristics can shape what yearners learn, and from whom; and O5) assess how our findings fit with the lived experiences of spiritual yearners.
Academic outputs include journal articles (3), a book proposal and manuscript, PhD theses (3), and academic talks (8). Open research outputs include: an online database of individual belief journeys, a podcast curated from these recordings, and an open research notebook sharing project activities in real time. Ultimately, this project will address a host of outstanding questions about spiritual yearning and belief change, foster mutual understanding between scientific and spiritual inquiry, and advance community-engaged methods for studying belief.