The John Templeton Foundation has announced a grant of $1.23 million for a series of studies aimed at examining the long-term links between spiritual practice and physical, mental, and social well-being.
Under the leadership of epidemiologist Tyler VanderWeele, co-director of Harvard's Initiative on Health, Religion, and Spirituality and director of the university's Program on Integrative Knowledge and Human Flourishing at the T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the three-year project will examine the potential effects of religion on happiness, life satisfaction, meaning and purpose, character, and social relationships. To that end, the project will draw on several long-term studies that have charted large amounts of data — including religious activity, mental health symptoms, life satisfaction, self-esteem, frequency of volunteering, and voter registration — collected from thousands of participants over the course of decades.
The depth of the data to be analyzed will allow VanderWeele's team to report on multiple outcomes in several different papers, mitigating the danger of biasing results by outcome. The analyses also will use a relatively new statistical metric, the E Value, that is designed to summarize and track the level of evidence for causality in a given correlation, making it easier to understand why certain associations are significant.
"This project directly addresses one of the core questions we want to address: Under what conditions might religion and spirituality contribute to human flourishing?" said Templeton Foundation vice president of programs Kimon Sargeant. "Tyler VanderWeele is an extraordinarily productive researcher and is skilled at engaging scholars in disciplines ranging from biomedical research to sociology and theology. His team will use cutting-edge statistical techniques to analyze the existing data and examine rigorously whether and where there are robust correlations — and even causal relationships — between religious practice and various aspects of a life well-lived."