The prickly relationship between spirituality and science is an enduring preoccupation for folks who claim fierce allegiance to either side of the marriage. But it’s a troubled one, too, given people’s inherent reluctance to share intimate details about their spiritual life and the challenge of social scientists to effectively gather such information in a way that it might be put to useful application.
The subject gets fresh life with SoulPulse.org, a spanking new website established to amass critical, experiential, real-time data on spirituality and understand how they intersect with people’s daily lives.
Individuals who sign up at the site receive two brief surveys every day for the first 14 days. These three-to-five-minute exercises are sent to their smartphone (you can get them by e-mail, but a smartphone’s recommended in a bid to capture people’s experiences as they happen). The surveys inquire after recipients’ state of mind, delving into particulars like the current level of their spiritual awareness, how much sleep they got, whether they’ve prayed in the last 24 hours, how thankful they feel and what they’re thinking of the people around them. The questions vary from day to day, and are predicated on whether the respondent indicated a belief in God when he signed up.
After the two-week launch period, the site produces an interactive report that takes the results you’ve submitted and correlates them with other factors to reveal patterns. It draws links between those daily activities in which you regularly engage and their influence on your sense of joy and contentedness, and plots your avowed emotional states against your experiences in pursuit of an association between the two. It might reveal, for example, at what points in your day you feel the most — and the least — in touch with your own spirituality.
The project is the result of a partnership between University of Connecticut associate sociology professor Bradley Wright, who served as SoulPulse’s lead researcher, and a California-based pastor called Reverend John Ortberg. They were mutually curious about whether it would be possible to build a survey that measures spirituality.
Ideally, say the sociologists and psychologists who created the ongoing research study, the project will enlighten participants about their spiritual lives in ways that will help them meaningfully capitalize on the positives. If you learn, for example, that the dog walk you take every morning with your basset hound invigorates your sense of purpose, or that your longstanding habit of eating a solo lunch in the staff room invariably leaves you feeling low, you will be in a position to make changes.
More than that, they hope the cumulative results will provide an unprecedented big-picture view of the role spirituality has to play in our workaday lives, including how it influences our character, sense of well-being and even long-term health.
Early results (some 160 surveys are in hand, which have yielded about 92,000 individual data points) have uncovered a few sketchy early trends. For example, people seem to feel most joyful when they are taking a walk or exercising and least joyful when they are working on their computer or watching television. And the correlation between a good night’s sleep and an overall sense of spiritual well-being is strong.