Research News

Limited Submission Opportunity: John Templeton Foundation Spiritual Yearning Research Initiative

Applications due July 18

Vanderbilt University may submit only one online funding inquiry (OFI) to the Spiritual Yearning Research Initiative from the John Templeton Foundation.

The John Templeton Foundation invites OFI submissions to the $2.2 million Spiritual Yearning Research Initiative (SYRI), which aims to address the spiritual yearnings, existential concerns and search for meaning of spiritually curious but nonreligious individuals and communities. SYRI’s overarching big question is: How can those who experience a deep yearning for a meaningful spiritual life, but find traditional religion unsatisfying, fulfill that yearning? This question involves empirical, conceptual and normative dimensions, calling for an approach that is cross-disciplinary in nature. The foundation’s aim in this funding competition is to arrive at a better understanding of spiritual yearning and flourishing among the spiritually curious but nonreligious by supporting research by scholars within philosophy, theology, religious studies and the psychological sciences.


One of the foundation’s current funding priorities is science-engaged theology, in which theologians—broadly construed to include scholars within philosophy and religious studies—closely engage the methods, concepts, literatures and research communities of the sciences in their research efforts. The foundation is particularly focused on funding projects that advance our understanding of the following themes at the intersection of theology and the psychological sciences: human nature in relation to divine realities; how humans conceive of and think about divine realities; the cultivation of intellectual and moral character virtues; and the relationship between religion and human flourishing.

SYRI’s purpose is to support science-engaged theological scholarship of this kind on the experiences, yearnings and possibilities for spiritual flourishing of those who either do not find themselves at home within traditional religious communities or do not find the belief systems of traditional religions compelling. Such people may describe themselves as “religious nones,” “spiritual but not religious,” agnostic or something else altogether. Regardless of the particular label such individuals might use to describe their spiritual orientations, the foundation is primarily interested in the phenomenon of spiritual yearning among the nonreligious as opposed to those who are either uninterested in questions of existential or ultimate concern or are otherwise unbothered by spiritual matters.

Thematic scope

The current funding competition focuses on the two broad themes of spiritual yearning and meaning-making for the nonreligious, with each of these themes covering a number of possible empirical and conceptual research questions. The foundation invites proposals that make use of a variety of research methods, including but not limited to qualitative research, theory-construction, conceptual clarification, surveys, experimental research and normative argument. While the foundation anticipates funding at least one project consisting primarily or exclusively of new empirical research (i.e., data collection, data analysis and/or experimental work), the majority of the successful proposals will include conceptual or cross-disciplinary dimensions.

The following topics illustrate (but do not exhaust) the thematic scope of this funding competition:

  • The nature of spiritual yearning
  • The value of spiritual yearning
  • The potential causes and effects of spiritual yearning
  • Addressing spiritual yearning
  • Spiritual yearning in practice

Award information: The foundation will award up to $2.2 million in grants in this competition and expects to fund between six and 10 projects. When determining the request amount, consider (a) the potential size of the project’s audience and scope of its outcomes; and (b) the cost of your activities and personnel. Generally speaking, a project that aims to engage a larger audience will require more complex activities and more funds. Your request amount should accurately reflect fair market rate costs for your proposed activities and should also respect any constraints or rules imposed by your organization. Oftentimes, applicants note that the number of activities is flexible, with more activities requiring more funds and fewer activities requiring less funds. There is no “right amount” to request, but the foundation will consider the anticipated “return on investment” as a key decision criterion.

Timeline: The selected nominee will submit a brief OFI by Aug. 19, 2022. Applicants will receive notification of a decision on their OFI by Oct. 14, 2022, from the foundation. Applicants who receive an invitation to submit a full proposal should expect to submit their full proposal by Jan. 20, 2023. Applicants will receive notification of a decision on their full proposal by July 14, 2023.

See the program page and details and instructions for more information.

Internal application instructions

Interested faculty should visit to apply for the internal LSO competition and to find additional information about the opportunity. The deadline for the internal competition is July 18, 2022.

Any questions about this opportunity may be directed to