Wheaton College’s Humanitarian Disaster Institute (HDI) launched a $2.4 million research project, supported by a $1.9 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation, to explore how adversity fosters human resilience and growth.
HDI’s multi-year research project, “Earth as a School: Finding Meaning, Relating to God, and Experiencing Growth After a Natural Disaster,” will focus on the effects of natural disasters on people’s spiritual and psychological lives. It will further examine Sir John Templeton’s idea that adversity is one of the primary teachers for promoting spiritual development.
“By studying people going through the significant trauma of natural disasters, we hope to learn how people can navigate the difficulties and struggles in a way that leads to positive psychological and spiritual growth,” says Dr. Jamie Aten, HDI founder and co-director, and Dr. Arthur P. Rech and Mrs. Jean May Rech Associate Professor of Psychology.
The $1.9 million grant is one of the largest competitive research grants ever received by Wheaton College.
“Within a few short years of its launch at Wheaton College, the Humanitarian Disaster Institute has already become a global leader in helping the church respond to natural disasters,” says Wheaton College President Dr. Philip Ryken. “The John Templeton Foundation’s generous grant will enable HDI to do more of what it does best: conduct research and provide resources that give genuine hope in the aftermath of the world’s greatest calamities.”
Additional funding for the project comes from Wheaton College, Georgia State University, Hope College, and other HDI projects.
“This project’s unique combination of research rigor, sensitivity to the depth of human need in response to humanitarian disasters, and attention to the complex role of religious faith in supporting human resilience under such conditions promises together to offer a truly great contribution to our understanding of the human experience,” says Provost Stan Jones.
Over the course of three years, the research team plans to conduct a series of projects examining how natural disasters and other traumatic events affect the ways survivors find meaning, think about and relate to God, and ultimately grow and flourish amid adversity.
“This initiative isn’t just about conducting ‘research for research’s sake.’ We hope to give back to the disaster survivors we encounter by making our findings, resources, and trainings available for use in their communities. Ultimately, we hope that our research will help disaster survivors live more resiliently, and will inform future disaster preparedness and response efforts,” Aten says.
The grant’s many benefits extend to Wheaton College students as well, affording “remarkable opportunities for developing the next generation of scholars and practitioners,” says Dr. Edward Davis, HDI fellow and assistant professor of psychology.
The project will provide funds for numerous graduate and undergraduate research assistants, two postdoctoral research fellows and a project manager, several dissertation research grants for doctoral psychology students, students’ conference travel and participation costs, and additional HDI staff.
A team of six scholars will guide the research. This team includes Wheaton College’s co-primary investigators, Drs. Aten and Davis, and four co-investigators: Dr. David Boan, HDI co-director and associate professor of psychology at Wheaton College; Dr. Don Davis, assistant professor of counseling and psychological services at Georgia State University; Dr. Joshua Hook, assistant professor of psychology at the University of North Texas; and Dr. Daryl R. Van Tongeren, assistant professor of psychology at Hope College.
“Thanks to this generous support from the John Templeton Foundation, we will also be able to give our graduate and undergraduate students hands-on experience living out our College, departmental, and Psy.D. program mission of serving the Church and society, including vulnerable disaster survivors,” says Davis.
The Humanitarian Disaster Institute is a faith-based academic research center, focused on disasters and humanitarian crises. HDI is housed in the clinical psychology doctoral program at Wheaton College. More information about the Humanitarian Disaster Institute is available at wheaton.edu/HDI.