Hurricaine Katrina Debris

Templeton Research Project


The Earth as a School: How Does Adversity Foster Human Growth?

"Maybe from God’s perspective the sorrows and tribulations of this earth are the best way to educate our souls." – Sir John Templeton

"Earth as a School: Finding Meaning, Relating to God, and Experiencing Growth After a Natural Disaster" is a three-year research initiative led by a faculty team at the Humanitarian Disaster Institute (HDI) at Wheaton College. Researchers from Hope College, Georgia State University, and University of North Texas serve as co-investigators for this project, which seeks to examine the effects of natural disasters on people’s religious and spiritual lives. Though the impact of disasters on mental health has been widely studied, many unanswered questions remain regarding how extreme adversity affects the religious and spiritual lives of those who survive.

Through four core projects, and three secondary projects that include a series of yearly “opportunity” studies, we will explore answers to a few of these big questions such as how natural disasters affect the ways survivors find meaning, think about and relate to God, and ultimately grow and flourish amid adversity.

This research is intended to enhance our understanding as a society about the circumstances and contextual factors that contribute to human growth amid adversity, exploring John Templeton’s idea that this earth is a school where adversity builds the soul and catalyzes spiritual growth.

A few of our primary research questions will be:

  1. How does natural-disaster exposure affect the ways people view and relate to God?
  2. How do contextual factors influence or explain changes in the ways people view and relate to God and find meaning in life over time?
  3. Do certain types of God concepts and images not only buffer against negative post-disaster spiritual and psychological outcomes, but also promote post-disaster spiritual and psychological growth?  

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