Spiritual Capital Research Program


The following are a series of questions designed to provide a guide to further investigation into spiritual capital. We welcome other kinds of innovative questions and insights that may stem from these and/or related questions that various applicants may propose for further investigation.

  • What is spiritual capital? How can research on spiritual capital both draw upon and be distinguished from social capital?
  • How best can issues of central interest to economists (economic efficiency, entrepreneurialism, economic growth) be illuminated by developing a nuanced and rigorous basis of understanding the relationships between religion and aspects of economic performance?
  • How does religion affect economic behavior at both the macro and micro levels? Might spiritual capital be the missing leg in the stool of economic development, which already includes social and human capital?
  • Can spiritual capital provide a perspective that draws together both the economic and sociological debates about the role of institutions, focusing on the role of religious meaning systems in creating trust and binding norms?
  • What aspects of the empirical study of phenomena will be most productive for building the long-term health and vigor of a research arena focused on spiritual capital? Some issue areas might include: spirituality and health, development, expanding the radius of trust, impediments of corruption on development, the role of religious markets, and more.
  • How might religion and spirituality influence beliefs, norms, and networks—particularly those that emphasize behavior and values that do not mesh with the neoclassical economics assumption of a completely rational, utility maximizing, fully informed homo economicus—and thereby shape the institutions that pattern social life?
  • How can new approaches to economic modeling avoid the pitfalls of reductionism and instead incorporate an appropriate complexity in the understanding and measurement of religious and spiritual influences, behaviors and institutions as they relate to questions normally raised within the field of economics?

The long-term aim of Spiritual Capital is not only to support empirically rigorous research but also to catalyze the formation of an innovative, productive and highly regarded field of spiritual capital research that will build productive bridges between economics, sociology, religious studies, and other social sciences. Case studies and ethnographic research, for example, provide very rich qualitative data and key theoretical insights to processes that are often not amenable to study through more standard survey and quantitative research. At the same time, experimental and quasi-experimental designs as well as a full range of other innovative methodologies (e.g. multilevel modeling, accelerated longitudinal, etc.) to studying spiritual capital are strongly encouraged.

The challenge then is to combine methodological rigor with a sophisticated understanding of religion on the ground that disciplines such as religious studies , political science, sociology and others have developed in order to create a vibrant, interdisciplinary and productive new field of spiritual capital. This new research will need to examine the contributions of spiritual capital while remaining faithful to the phenomena. Genuine progress requires more than powerful models and equations that produce statistically significant results yet reduce religion to a vague category unrecognizable to those who practice it or that is incapable of distinguishing between the contributions of a Mother Theresa and a Jim Jones. Religion and spirituality are rich, varied and highly complicated sources of action and motivation, both for good and for ill. The challenges of studying spiritual capital then are significant but the knowledge generated by top-notch research could lead to a major increase in our understanding of the economic, social and political significance of spiritual capital.

Metanexus Institute
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