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Current Ongoing Projects

We are committed to examining various facets and naunces of human flourishing. On this page, you can read about our current ongoing projects that symbolize our dedication to human health and well-being across cultures, especially in Christian contexts.

Flourishing & The Church

What does it mean for the Church to flourish in the 21st Century? What does such a church community look like? What factors lead to its flourishing? These are questions on the minds and hearts of many amidst cultural shifts and changing patterns of affiliation and engagement. To explore these questions, we embark on a journey to empirically study Flourishing and the Church, with deep and sustained interdisciplinary and theological reflection. This collective effort—spanning across three institutions (Harvard University, Regent University, and Baylor University)—will build on the work of many existing programs and initiatives to explore multidimensional aspects of Flourishing and the Church with the aim to promote growth and flourishing of the Church in the 21st century and beyond.

We propose a framework of Flourishing and the Church can be envisioned through three interconnected dimensions: individual Christians, the congregations they form, and the communities they inhabit and influence. Each of these dimensions offers a unique perspective on what it means to thrive and flourish in a Christian context. Understanding the interplay between each domain is key to grasping the full picture of Flourishing and the Church as the Body of Christ.

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Human Flourishing and Spiritual Ties to Place

Despite its presumed ethereal nature, human spirituality has long been closely tied to physical places, a concept that finds resonance in both the Old and New Testaments. The importance of places such as Mount Sinai, Jerusalem, and Galilee underscores the role of ‘place’ as an interconnected context – physical, social, cultural, ecological, personal, and spiritual – that profoundly shapes the opportunities (e.g., personal, professional & financial, social & community), resources (e.g., psychological, economic, interpersonal, physical), and experiences (e.g., thoughts, emotions, and behaviors) that contribute to holistic growth, relationships, and flourishing. Christian theology presents a nuanced understanding of place, intertwining these views with an attachment to Jesus that transcends any particular geographical location. Even so, Christians still have profound ties to particular sacred spaces (as do adherents of many other religious and spiritual traditions), as demonstrated by the emotional response from believers towards church closures during the COVID-19 pandemic. But how do spiritual ties to place actually contribute to a flourishing life? Previous work has explored the role of explicitly sacred environments (e.g., churches, temples, pilgrimage sites) on religious expression and practice, but recent theorizing suggests that people develop spiritual connections with many different types of places in their pursuit of a flourishing life. Nevertheless, there is little empirical research investigating how this unique type of emotional bond to place might be measured and shape human functioning. This collaborative project will answer three questions: 1. What varieties of spiritual ties to place exist? We will seek to identify the types of places where individuals feel an emotional bond to the sacred. 2. Is the nature of spiritual ties to place consistent across different religions and cultures? Using a diverse sample of participants, we will assess whether the dimensions of place spirituality vary across belief systems. 3. To what extent do spiritual ties to place relate to flourishing? We will explore whether spiritual ties to place might shape well-being, religious beliefs, and other important life outcomes. Using a mixture of quantitative and qualitative methodology to investigate these questions, this project will create a more substantial definition of spiritual ties to place, synthesize and broaden existing empirical literature in both environmental psychology and the scientific study of religion, and provide an empirically rigorous and robust tool for measuring this construct in future research.

SELECTED PUBLICATIONS

Counted, V., Ramkissoon, H., Captari, L. E., & Cowden, R. G. (Eds.). (2023). Place, Spirituality, and Well-Being: A Global and Multidisciplinary Approach (Religion, Spirituality and Health: A Social Scientific Approach Vol. 7). Springer Nature. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-39582-6

Counted, V., Ramkissoon, H., Captari, L. E., & Cowden, R. G. (2023). Toward a Global and Multidisciplinary Understanding of Place, Religion/Spirituality, and Well-Being. In Counted, V., Ramkissoon, H., Captari, L. E., & Cowden, R. G. (eds.), Place, Spirituality, and Well-Being: A Global and Multidisciplinary Approach (pp. 1-18). Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-39582-6_1

Counted, V., Ramkissoon, H., Captari, L. E., & Cowden, R. G. (2023). Healing Systems of Well-Being and People-Place Interactions: Complexity, Context, and Connections. In Counted, V., Ramkissoon, H., Captari, L. E., & Cowden, R. G. (eds.), Place, Spirituality, and Well-Being: A Global and Multidisciplinary Approach (pp. 273-286). Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-39582-6_16

Counted, V. & Newheiser, D. (2023). How Place Shapes the Aspirations of Hope: The Allegory of the Privileged and the Underprivileged. The Journal of Positive Psychology. Online publication ahead of print. https://doi.org/10.1080/17439760.2023.2257654

Counted, V., Meagher, B., & Cowden, R. (2023). The Nature of Spiritual Ties to Place: A Conceptual Overview and Research Agenda.Ecopsychology. Ahead of print https://doi.org/10.1089/eco.2022.0078

Counted, V, Neff, M., Captari, L., Cowden, R. (2021). Transcending place attachment disruptions during a public health crisis: Spiritual struggles, resilience, and transformation. Journal of Psychology and Christianity 39(4), 276-286.

Health, Well-being, and Attachment to the Holy Spirit

Christianity emphasizes a close relationship with the Holy Spirit. This project examines how this spiritual attachment influences one’s psychological and emotional well-being. Through interviews, surveys, and case studies, we’re mapping out patterns and insights, bridging the gap between spirituality and mental health. Our objective is to provide Christians with tools and understanding to nurture this divine connection for improved life satisfaction.

Positive Education in Christian Higher Education

With the modern shift towards positive education, we’re investigating how specific teaching methodologies can contribute to flourishing within Christian higher education. Collaborating with educators, psychologists, and students, we’re assessing curriculums, classroom environments, and pedagogical strategies. Our goal? To equip educators with tools and insights to craft learning experiences that not only educate but also promote student well-being and character formation.

Suffering, Hope, and Abundant Life

Life often throws curveballs. Our research here centers on the resilience and hope people summon during adversities. For Christian communities around the world, this interplay takes on a unique depth, given the faith’s teachings on redemption, resilience, and restoration. Our “Suffering, Hope, and Abundant Life” project investigates this dynamic, aiming to measure and understand these variables specifically within Christian settings. At the core of our exploration is a multi-methodological approach, ensuring that our insights are both wide-ranging and in-depth. We are also chronicling personal stories, analyzing coping mechanisms, and understanding the role of faith in order to offer insights on navigating hardships.

SELECTED PUBLICATIONS

Counted, V. & Newheiser, D. (2023). How Place Shapes the Aspirations of Hope: The Allegory of the Privileged and the Underprivileged. The Journal of Positive Psychology. Online publication ahead of print. https://doi.org/10.1080/17439760.2023.2257654

Kent, B. V., Cowden, R. G., Counted, V., Davis, E. B., Rueger, S. Y., & Worthington Jr, E. L. (2022). Do Religious/Spiritual Resources Moderate the Association Between Suffering and Religious/Spiritual Struggles? A Three‐Wave Longitudinal Study of US Adults with Chronic Illness. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 61(3-4)642-662 https://doi.org/10.1111/jssr.12808

Captari, L. E., Cowden, R. G., Sandage, S. J., Davis, E. B., Bechara, A. O., Joynt, S., & Counted, V. (2022). Religious/spiritual struggles and depression during COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns in the Global South: Evidence of moderation by positive religious coping and hope.Psychology of Religion and Spirituality 14(3), 325–337. https://doi.org/10.1037/rel0000474

Cowden, R. G., Rueger, S. Y., Davis, E. B., Counted, V., Kent, B. V., Chen, Y., VanderWeele, T. J., Rim, M., Lemke, A. W., & Worthington, E. L.(2022). Resource loss, positive religious coping, and suffering during the COVID-19 pandemic: A prospective cohort study of US adults with chronic illness.Mental Health, Religion & Culture25(3), 288-304. https://www.doi.org/10.1080/13674676.2021.1948000

Counted, V., Pargament, K. I., Bechara, A. O., Joynt, S., & Cowden, R. G. (2022). Hope and well-being in vulnerable contexts during the COVID-19 pandemic: Does religious coping matter?The Journal of Positive Psychology17(1), 70-81. https://doi.org/10.1080/17439760.2020.1832247

Cowden, R.G., Davis, E.B., Counted, V., Chen, Y., Rueger, S.Y., VanderWeele, T.J., Lemke, A.W., Glowiak, K.J., Worthington Jr., E.L. (2021). Suffering, Mental Health, and Psychological Well-being During the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Longitudinal Study of U.S. Adults with Chronic Health Conditions. Wellbeing, Space, and Society 2, 100048. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wss.2021.100048

Cross-Cultural Spiritual Care

Spiritual healthcare isn’t one-size-fits-all. Our initiative here examines how different cultures and Christian contexts approach spiritual care. By partnering with local communities, spiritual leaders, and healthcare practitioners, we’re studying practices, rituals, and beliefs that nurture well-being and spiritual healthcare across cultures. This research will foster cross-cultural understanding and provide tools for holistic spiritual care in multicultural settings.

Political Adversity and Flourishing

In an era of political turmoil, how can individuals flourish and maintain positive relationships? Our project seeks answers, exploring the interplay between political landscapes, personal beliefs, and well-being. We document stories, analyze global trends, and conduct extensive surveys that inform practices and policies that can help equip individuals with strategies to flourish even amid political adversities

Missional Psychotherapy

Therapy is evolving, and our project is at the forefront of integrating Christian character strengths and virtues into therapeutic practices. In response to the call for integrative Scriptural competence (Hathaway, 2021), missional psychotherapy offers a nuanced counseling approach that integrates the spiritual dimensions of missio Dei (the mission of God) with human experiences to promote spiritual growth, holistic well-being, and personal transformation. Anchored in a Christian worldview that portrays God’s redemptive work and the concept of missio Dei, this therapeutic approach acknowledges the individuals’ calling to participate in the mission of God. In this project, we examine the theoretical foundations, treatment interventions, practical applications, and potential benefits of missional psychotherapy as a therapeutic intervention, emphasizing its connection to missional hermeneutics. At the heart of this approach lies the integration of clients’ spiritual beliefs into the therapeutic process, validating their inherent worth and purpose as part of God’s grand narrative.

Christian Flourishing Summer School

Our Flourishing Summer School serves as a hub for Christian thought on human flourishing, expanding knowledge through a Christian lens. It is more than just a conference or retreat. It’s an immersive experience, offering continuous education for practitioners to lead innovative practices that facilitate an abundant life. The program provides a platform to disseminate and discuss current research, theories, and practices related to human flourishing, particularly within Christian communities. The Summer School encourages and supports student researchers and emerging early career scholars to develop and refine their own research projects in the field of human flourishing. It offers an opportunity for students, researchers, and practitioners to connect with each other and with established professionals in the field. This can lead to collaborations, mentorship, and a strengthened sense of community among those interested in human flourishing.

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