Transcendence & Spirituality

Awareness of and connection to a source of invigorating love that inspires purpose.

Transcendence is Transformative.

We all seek meaning and yearn for something to orient and define our lives. For many this is God, while for others it is nature, science, beauty, or a sense of connection to humanity. Regardless of the source, experiencing transcendence is transformative. These moments engage our thoughts, emotions, and senses. They move us, stir us, and inspire us to become our best selves with and for others. Because of the defining nature of transcendence, a connection to a loving source is essential. Spirituality is our response to transcendence, and our connection to a loving source ensures that our transcendence nurtures our spirituality in our pursuit of a thriving life. Are you curious about how transcendence can deepen your spirituality?

A curated content list

Discover more about transcendence and spirituality

Life Worth Living: Faith, Flourishing, and What Matters Most with Dr. Miroslav Volf

Miroslav Volf (Yale University) wants to reorient theology around human flourishing. For too long, theology has left practical transformation and lived experience out of the picture. But when we draw together Christian faith and spirituality within a holistic framework of understanding who we are, why we’re here, what we’re called to, and how we should live—we’ll find a life that is truly worth living. (Includes a meditative spiritual exercise by Dr. Pam King, “Creating Space.”)…

Loved, Held, Guided, and Never Alone: The Science of Spirituality with Dr. Lisa Miller

Dr. Lisa Miller discusses the glorious complexity of the human spiritual brain, which reveals our innate capacity for transcendence. Drawing on research in psychology and neuroscience, Lisa helps people with practical, tangible, and evidence-backed interventions that lead to their thriving and spiritual health. She explains why spirituality is so transformative and challenges us to reimagine religion, faith, and spirituality as an experience of love from beyond us. “Loved, held, guided, and never alone. We are wired to be able to perceive that. And when we do, everything in our world is reordered. And in fact, of all the dimensions of lived spiritual life, that which most strengthens the awakened brain is love of neighbor—to one another. We are able to draw closer to God.” — Lisa Miller (Columbia University, author of The Awakened Brain) What does science have to say about spirituality? Dr. Lisa Miller, clinical psychologist and researcher, has made the…

Meaning Making (Part 2): What Does Spirituality Have to do with Meaning-Making?

In order to assign meaning we must believe in a bigger picture.

A Practice: Who’s at Your Table?

Connect to your spiritual source with this practice.

Have you ever experienced transcendence?

Chances are you have, maybe without even realizing it. Here are some questions to guide you towards an awakened, deepening transcendence practice in your life.

Adolescents and Spirituality: Do Mountaintop Spiritual Experiences Really Make a Difference?

A Thrive Scholars Fellow shares transcendent experiences along with caring adults can stimulate spirituality and virtue development in youth.

The Power of Positive Emotions: Pursuing Awe

Awe is a powerful positive emotion. Dr. Susan Mangan explains how pursuing awe can build resilience through difficulty.

Transcendence (Part 2): How Transcendence Can Lead the Way to an Open Heart

Believing in Something Greater Than Ourselves is an integral part of our spiritual health.

Transcendence (Part 1): The Beauty of Transcendence and How it Informs our Spirituality

Our minds are designed to receive loving transcendent experiences. Learn more in this post and try some practices.

What is transcendence?

Spiritual health includes experiencing transcendence.

Trailer: Welcome to With & For: Spiritual Health, Wholeness, and a Life of Thriving

Dr. Pam King introduces With & For—a podcast for growth seekers and people-focused leaders that plumbs the depths of psychological science and spiritual wisdom to offer practical guidance towards spiritual health, wholeness, and a life of thriving. Coming soon on January 8, 2024! Listen now and subscribe! Listen now and subscribe to With & For—a new podcast from The Thrive Center at Fuller Theological Seminary. Starting January 8, 2024 the show will explore insights from psychology to understand what it means to become spiritually healthy and thrive. Every Monday, Dr. Pam King will host expert guests whose work sheds light on practical steps toward growing fully alive, connected, purposeful, and whole. And don’t miss “Playing with Light”, for a weekly series of short reflections from Dr. Pam King, all in the With & For podcast feed.

A Practice: Observing the Body for Understanding

A daily spiritual practice focusing on embodied emotions provides insight into what matters most and informs purpose.

The Balm of Being Loved and Held

How does love contributing to thriving? The practice of the 5 B's of love is explained here.

A Practice: How might we access the transcendent?  

Accessing the transcendent can be pursued with tangible practices.

The Power of Transcendence and Spirituality in a Modern World

Pamela King reflects on the church of her youth and considers lessons from her current research findings about spirituality for the future.

A Practice: Moments of transcendence

Transcendent experiences are emotional responses that inform how individuals see themselves in relationship to God, others, and the world. Here's how to get more of these experiences.

Towards a Neuroscience of Spiritual Formation

Summary In this panel discussion hosted by the Thrive Center, Pamela Ebstyne King interviews neuroscientists, Mary Helen Immordino-Yang and Rodrigo Riveros on what their research reveals when people grow in the capacity to have transcendent thoughts and emotions that lead to thriving. They address the importance of having culturally grounded, safe, and close relationships and the importance of connecting daily activities, choices, observations, and experiences to bigger, systems-level, and transcendent narratives for meaning-making and spiritual formation. Psychologist and reverend, Brad Strawn joins the conversation to offer perspectives as a clinician and pastor on the importance of being embodied persons that are embedded in relationships, communities, and cultural narrative.

A Practice: The Five B’s of Thriving by Accessing God’s Love

Our research-based framework highlights the 5 modes in which we can actively develop and strengthen your thriving "muscles."

Woman enjoying alone time

Experiencing and Emitting God’s Love

How do we love our neighbor as ourself? Jilleen Westbrook shares a practice to access love for God, self, and others.

People holding hands

Moral Elevation (Part 2): Practices for Elevating Ourselves and Our World

Postdoctoral Researcher, Dr. Susan Mangan provides research-based activities to help us experience the positive emotion of elevation.

Person jumping over the hill

Moral Elevation (Part 1): The Snowball Effect of Small Inspirations

Dr. Susan Mangan explains the role and benefits of moral elevation in inspiring us to help our communities.

boy looking down on grey background

Embracing Self-Compassion During Times of Grief

Guest blogger, Stephanie Trudeau talks collective loss and how we can approach our feelings with compassion and grace.

The Three Religious and Spiritual Assets of Youth Thriving

Executive director, Pamela King shares the 3 dimensions of religion and spirituality that promote positive youth development.

23 Content Resources

A curated content list

Discover more about Thrive's research

Religion as Fertile Ground

Abstract An extensive body of research points toward spirituality and religiousness as resources for promoting human thriving. People with strong connections to the transcendent and religious meaning in life often view morals and values as central to their self-concepts. Although moral identity theory and contemporary views of virtue development emphasize the importance of narrative identity for habituated moral action, the two are often discussed in isolation of each other. In this chapter, the authors highlight how their commonality is particularly evident when examining the potential of religion to provide a transcendent self-narrative that leads to virtue formation and moral action within social contexts. This chapter describes how young people integrate religion and morality in their own lives, and it provides a broad overview of research linking religion to moral and virtue development through an ideological, social, and transcendent context.

Interrogating Ergodicity & Specificity in Youth Development Programs

The CI research team look at instances of commonality and specificity in Salvadoran youth enrolled in CI programs.

Measuring Spirituality Among Adolescents

Pamela King and team test the psychological viability of the MDAS scale among diverse youth.

Shades of Gratitude

Our team seeks to test and develop a theoretical framework to help guide future research on gratitude.

How diverse beliefs shape the experience of transcendent gratitude

Author: Jeane Nelson, Susan Mangan, Rebecca Ann Baer, Jeff V. Ramdass, Pamela Ebstyne King   Abstract: As a novel contribution, this study considers transcendent gratitude (e.g. gratitude towards non-human benefactors such as God, Science, or Karma) across diverse belief systems. The sample included 619 participants (M age 37.5, 52.6% female) across the U.S. with beliefs across three distinct categories: a) Theistic; 38.4%), b) Spiritual but not theistic; 26.4%, and c) Non-theistic/Non-spiritual (Other); 35.2%. Across the three belief systems, we tested the associations between gratitude and theistic predictors (e.g. feeling comfort or anger towards God, fidelity, interaction with God, attachment to God, and transcendent indebtedness) and non-theistic predictors (e.g. life comprehension, primal beliefs, prosocial behavioral intentions, and interpersonal attachment). Interestingly, we found that participants from all belief categories experienced transcendent gratitude. Comfort, anger, transcendent indebtedness, life comprehension, and prosocial intentions were robust predictors of transcendent gratitude across belief categories.

Spiritual Formation in Theological Education: A Multi-case Exploration on Seminaries and Student Development

Author: Wang, D. C., Reed, A., Greggo, S., Bowersox, L., Drennan, A., Strawn, B., King, P., Porter, S. L., Hill, P. C. Abstract: In recent decades, theological schools have demonstrated increased interest in educational models that not only transmit knowledge and skill to students, but also prepare them to have the character and virtue dispositions needed to successfully navigate the moral challenges that await them in future ministry settings. This shift is reflected in the most recent 2020 accreditation standards of the Association of Theological Schools (ATS), which highlight the importance of “personal and spiritual formation” as a key facet to seminary programs. Research conducted by the ATS (2018) into how seminaries understood the terms “personal and spiritual formation” revealed that over 40% of seminaries do not have a formal or working institutional definition of personal and spiritual formation. While this finding may be understandable given the complexities…

Spirituality and meaning-making across contexts: Structural topic modeling of the Fetzer spirituality study in the United States

Author: Kim, S.-H., King, P. E., & Trudeau, S. M. Abstract: Given the significant shifts in religious affiliation and spiritual seeking over the last 20 years, a rigorous and updated understanding of how spirituality functions are essential to understand the impact of these changes on individuals and society. Drawing on an integrated view of spirituality informed by relational developmental systems (RDS) and meaning-making approaches, in the present study, we sought to identify commonalities within varied expressions of spirituality described within interviews of a religiously and spiritually diverse sample of adults. Structural topic modeling (STM) was applied to infer the latent themes inherent in the in-depth narratives of 16 participants from the Fetzer Institute’s (2020) Study of Spirituality in the United States. Following STM procedures, 1,298 terms were analyzed, resulting in a three-topic model as the best fit. We applied an RDS and contextual lens to…

Religion, Spirituality, and Youth Thriving: Investigating the Roles of the Developing Mind and Meaning-Making

Author: Pamela Ebstyne King, Susan Mangan, Rodrigo Riveros Abstract: In this chapter, we draw on positive developmental psychology, psychology of religion and spirituality, and developmental neuroscience to explore how youth religiousness and spirituality contribute to thriving through the process of meaning-making. Thriving involves the individual, relational, and aspirational development necessary to pursue a life purpose that is meaningful to the self and one’s surroundings. Meaning-making is the process of constructing and internalizing abstract beliefs (about oneself, the world, and one’s priorities) into salient values that contribute to the moral development necessary to thrive. When youth consider abstract ideas in the context of their actions, transcendent emotions, and the broader world, then their meaning-making can result in values-based goals and behaviors. Adolescents are naturally motivated to explore identity-related issues of meaning, values, roles, and belonging. In particular, meaning-making occurs when youth are given the opportunity to reflect in an enriching dialogue…

Agentic and Receptive Hope: Understanding Hope in the Context of Religiousness and Spirituality through the Narratives of Salvadoran Youth

Author:  Jennifer Medina Vaughn, Pamela Ebstyne King, Susan Mangan, Seaon Noe, Samuel Hay, Bridget O’Neil, Jonathan M. Tirrell, Elizabeth M. Dowling, Guillermo Alfredo, Iraheta Majano, Alistair Thomas Rigg Sim   Abstract Hope contributes to positive development in adolescents, and religious and spiritual contexts may be particularly important for developing and supporting hope. However, extant literature on hope, religion, and spirituality neglects their synergistic relation, leaving questions about how they work together to support development. In this study, we explore how religiousness and spirituality (R/S) inform hope by identifying unique synergies that might be particularly useful in difficult contexts. Multilevel qualitative content analyses of interviews conducted with 18 thriving Salvadoran adolescents (50% female, Mage = 16.39 years, SD = 1.83) involved in a faith-based program provided evidence that the ideological and relational resources associated with R/S informed these adolescents’ agentic and receptive hopes. Agentic hopes, identified through expressed hopeful future expectations, revealed…

La spiritualité comme boussole : accompagner les jeunes vers l’épanouissement

Author: Pamela Ebstyne King, Translated by Franck Tiret Abstract: As our world and cultures change radically, many conventional civil, social and religious institutions that served to forge social bonds in the Western world are eroding. Digital platforms such as Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram are poised to represent the authority figure, a role previously reserved for embodied organizations. Due to this development, young people grow up with networks where honesty, convictions, respect for privacy, responsibility and support are often lacking. Consequently, many young people build themselves through contradictory narratives, without a clear vision of the world or a secure sense of belonging. This lack of anchoring and connection poses many challenges in constructing identity, meaning and life goals–which are among the important elements of adolescent development. This is why many youth professionals are not surprised to see that rates of anxiety and depression among adolescents have never been as high as…

Developmental Perspectives on Adolescent Religious and Spiritual Development

Authors: Pamela Ebstyne King, Sam A. Hardy, and Sean Noe Abstract: Despite the prevalence of religiousness and spirituality among adolescents, little is known about the psychology of adolescent religious and spiritual development. The purpose of this article is to explain how scholars within the discipline of developmental psychology have begun to approach the topic. Specifically, the article details how developmental theory advances understanding of religious and spiritual development and overviews developmental methods that enable rigorous examination of the structure and function of adolescent religious and spiritual development. A Relational Developmental Systems metatheoretical approach, emphasizing longitudinal methods, is utilized to highlight ideographic and nomothetic aspects of adolescent religiousness and spirituality. Examples of theoretically and methodologically cutting-edge developmental research provide illustration. In conclusion, the article shows that developmental psychology provides insight toward a comprehensive approach to the study of religious and spiritual development and broadens the perspectives of other disciplines, while relying…

Finding the Extraordinary in the Ordinary: Case Studies of Spiritual Exemplars

Authors: Mona M.Abo-Zena, Pamela Ebstyne King   Abstract: The constellation of social influences on the development of exemplary spiritual youth includes caregivers, spiritual mentors, and peers, but existing research inadequately captures the cultural and religious meanings of these social influences from the perspectives of young people. From a holistic perspective, this study seeks to understand how youth spiritual exemplars incorporate social influences in their own spiritual developmental trajectories and toward a humanistic psychology. Drawing on three narrative-based case studies of spiritual exemplars identified through a culturally embedded nomination process, this study provides illustrative person-centered examples of how youth recognized for being spiritual draw on social influences and excavate cultural and religious beliefs and values as part of their religious and spiritual development. We found that diverse youth’s narratives prominently featured multiple social influences and reflection about them that revealed the reciprocal manner in which religious, spiritual, and cultural beliefs and…

Evaluating the measure of diverse adolescent spirituality in samples of Mexican and Salvadoran youth

Authors King, P. E., Yoo, Y., Vaughn, J. M., Tirrell, J. M., Geldhof, G. J., Iraheta, G., Williams, K., Sim, A., Stephenson, P., Dowling, E., Lerner, R. M., & Lerner, J. V. Abstract This study examines the psychometric properties and applicability of the Measure of Diverse Adolescent Spirituality (MDAS), including the factors of transcendence and fidelity, across 2 samples of adolescent youth from low- and middle-income countries (Mexico and El Salvador). Drawing on relational developmental systems metatheory, spirituality is conceptualized as experience of and response to one’s perception of transcendence. Although an increasing number of spirituality measures exist, few are theoretically predicated and developed for use with adolescents with various spiritual orientations. We present data testing the MDAS across 2 youth samples, aged 12 to 15 years, derived from previous studies conducted in Mexico (n = 365; Mage = 13.65 years) and in El Salvador (n = 220; Mage = 12.98 years). We confirmed the measurement structure of the MDAS and tested for between-groups measurement invariance across the two samples. Invariance was established across the Mexico and El Salvador samples, providing initial evidence regarding the usefulness and applicability of the transcendence and fidelity components of the MDAS across these samples. Implications are discussed regarding the use of a multidimensional measure of spirituality that assesses both spiritual experience and commitment among adolescents. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved)

The Measure of Diverse Adolescent Spirituality (MDAS) and Refined Findings from Mexican and Salvadoran Youth

Authors: Pamela E.King, Yeonsoo Yoo, Jennifer Medina Vaughn, jonathan M.Tirrell, G. John Geldhof, and Elizabeth Dowling   Abstract: The Measurement of Diverse Adolescent Spirituality (MDAS) was developed to assess adolescent spirituality and religiosity for use with diverse youth. Researchers have emphasized the multifaceted nature of spirituality and suggested the need for robust measures to chart patterns of spiritual development in a culturally and developmentally valid manner. The MDAS was developed as a theory-based measure, grounded in a relational developmental systems metatheory (RDS), that views spiritual development as resulting from the coactions between an individual and the diverse systems in which he or she lives, especially as they pertain to the individual’s perceptions and responses to transcendence. The original MDAS was a 27-item self-report multidimensional measure of adolescent spirituality including three subscales of transcendence, fidelity, and contribution. This chapter reviews the ongoing process of developing the MDAS and applicability across two…

Study of Spirituality in America – Structural Topic Modeling

Our team uses cutting-edge structural model analysis to understand diverse spirituality in the U.S.

Dimensions of Religion and Spirituality: A Longitudinal Topic Modeling Approach

Authors Seong-Hyeon Kim, Narae Lee, Pamela Ebstyne King Abstract In lieu of the traditional text data analysis methods, structural topic modeling was utilized to analyze the text contents of 255 self-report inventories of religion and spirituality (R/S) published from 1929 to 2017. The study had two objectives: (a) to clarify and identify the latent dimensions of R/S inherent in the items of the measures; and (b) to examine and demonstrate the usefulness of a longitudinal topic modeling in the study of R/S. We identified 5,617 unique text terms from the measures and fitted topic models on those terms to extract latent dimensions called topics. We also simultaneously analyzed the longitudinal effect of publication decade (i.e., 1950s–2010s) on the topics. A topic model with three topics was chosen to best support the data: Experience of Transcendence (Topic 1), Engagement in Transcendence (Topic 2), and Essence of Transcendence (Topic 3). In addition, the longitudinal analysis revealed that Topic 1 showed a continual increase over the decades, while Topics 2 and 3 both demonstrated a gradual decrease, in effect matching the general trend of Topic 1's increasing popularity in society and the academia.

Spiritual Exemplars: The Emerging Adult Years

A continuation study, Pamela King follows up on the spiritual journeys of elected youth exemplars.

CI Study of Positive Youth Development

Pamela King and partners study the impact of Compassion International's programs on youth.

Effects of Mentorship and Spirituality on Youth Thriving

Pamela King evaluates a high school mentorship program to see how mentors help youth thrive - Evaluating the Village Christian 1:5® Circles of Care Program.

Evolutionary Psychology and Christian Views on Human Thriving

Thrive faculty and students engage scholars on evolutionary psychology, spirituality, and thriving.

Is Religion Natural? The Chinese Challenge

Justin Barrett leads scholars in exploring cognitive mechanisms that inspire religious thought and action.

Spiritual Transformation and Virtue Development in Adolescents in Young Life

Research by Sarah Schnitker and Justin Barrett indicates when and why camp experiences bring spiritual transformation.

22 Content Resources

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What is transcendence?

Spiritual health includes experiencing transcendence.

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