Spiritual Capital Research Program

What is spiritual capital?

The concept of spiritual capital builds on recent research on social capital, which shows that religion is a major factor in the formation of social networks and trust. In addition, the impetus for focusing specifically on spiritual capital draws on the growing recognition in economics and other social sciences that religion is not epiphenomenal, nor is it fading from public significance in the 21 st century, and the importance to social/economic dynamics of human economic intangibles. Recent developments in the social sciences suggest a growing openness to nonmaterial factors, such as the radius of trust, behavioral norms, and religion as having profound economic, political, and social consequences.

Scholars have already made important advances in the areas of human capital and social capital. Both concepts are associated with the pioneering work of the economist Gary Becker (University of Chicago and 1992 Nobel Laureate in Economics). The specific term “spiritual capital” has been used variously over the past decade by scholars such as Robert Fogel, an economist from the University of Chicago and 1993 Nobel Laureate in Economics, and University of Pennsylvania political scientist John DiIulio. Broadly, spiritual capital may be construed to refer to that aspect of social capital linked with religion and/or spirituality. In one sense, then, spiritual capital might be a subset of social capital. Given that Robert Putnam’s influential work on social capital found that religion is by far the largest generator of social capital in the United States, contributing to more than half of the social capital in the country, this is a major subset and thus an area of worthy study on its own.

Although the concept of spiritual capital remains relatively broad at the outset of this initiative, it will be important for the researchers’ to define the concept in a clear and compelling way that draws on existing research, can be measured, and points the way toward new findings. As a first step toward this greater conceptual clarity, Metanexus organized a strategic planning meeting on October 9 & 10, 2003 to assess the potential for a spiritual capital initiative The focus of this meeting was to identify key questions for research and assess the potential for interdisciplinary research on the positive “externalities” of religious and spiritual commitments. The working definition of spiritual capital developed for that meeting was:

The effects of spiritual and religious practices, beliefs, networks and institutions that have a measurable impact on individuals, communities and societies.

We have provided several papers and the beginnings of a literature review generated from that meeting, which discuss different conceptions and understandings of spiritual capital. We not only acknowledge the existence of different understandings of spiritual capital, but also seek proposals that reflect diverse methodologies in studying the topic. Both qualitative and quantitative approaches are necessary to gain a more accurate and comprehensive understanding of spiritual capital.

Metanexus Institute
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