Monthly Archives: August 2023

BABLab Receives Joint Grant Funding to Investigate the Spiritual Yearning of Those Who Left Religion!

Congratulations to Dr. Van Cappellen for receiving this grant funding from the John Templeton Foundation! In collaboration with Dr. Daryl Van Tongeren of Hope College (Principal Investigator), Dr. Julie Exline and Dr. Joshua Wilt of Case Western University (Co-Investigators), Dr. Van Cappellen serves as Co-Investigator on this grant ($509,623). It is titled “Spiritual yearning as a psychological construct: Associations with spiritual struggles and existential growth”, a three-year project spanning September 2023 to 2026.

Increasingly, more people are seeking transcendent and spiritual connection outside of traditional religion. Research should thus address how those not served by traditional religion – including religious dones, nones, and the spiritual but not religious – find meaning and address existential concerns. Here, spiritual yearning is defined as the motivation for deeper existential meaning and security through a connection with something greater than oneself. This yearning may manifest in a desire for belief in something greater, transcendent connection, moral guidance, or belonging to a broader community.  The co-presence of these motives, in the absence of religion as the answer, makes spiritual yearning unique compared to religious quest, search for meaning, and openness to experience. The aim is to collect data through 10 studies to (a) develop a reliable assessment of spiritual yearning that will permit the (b) clarification of the psychological nature of spiritual yearning, and (c) better understand of those who are underserved by traditional religion and situate the trajectory of such individuals over time. The proposed research will establish and catalyze an empirical science of spiritual yearning, breaking new ground in this frontier of spirituality, through strong collaborative relationships, presentations at national and international conferences, and publications in high-visibility outlets.

New Publication by Former BABLab Research Assistant!

Based on her honors thesis with advisor Dr. Van Cappellen during her undergraduate years at Duke University, Gwyn Reece has published her first paper!

Reece, G. A., Van Tongeren, D. R., & Van Cappellen, P. (In press). Eternal outgroups: Afterlife beliefs predict prejudice. Personality and Individual Differences, 214.


Both religious and nonreligious people hold beliefs about what happens after death. The eternal criteria embedded in afterlife beliefs – for example, what happens for the morally good versus the morally bad — may implicate intergroup attitudes and behavior in the present.


The set of 4 studies aimed to investigate whether and how afterlife beliefs have direct implications for real-life intergroup prejudice.


In Study 1, religious afterlife beliefs were associated with more prejudice towards nonreligious people. In extension, Study 2 used nationally representative archival data and found that among religious people, specific beliefs in hell and heaven mediated the association between religiosity and prejudice towards atheists. In Study 3, religious afterlife beliefs continued to be associated with prejudice towards value-threatening outgroup members, even when controlling for religiosity. This was shown in a specific context in Study 4: Christians with exclusionary views of heaven expressed more prejudice towards atheists than those with inclusionary views.


Together, these studies show that both religious and secular afterlife beliefs relate to prejudice towards value-incongruent outgroup members, consistent with the group exclusionary hypothesis. Specific religious afterlife beliefs, such as hell or heaven, explain some of the association between religiosity and prejudice against ideologically dissimilar groups.