Current Projects

Religious, Spiritual, and Secular Lives of American Young Adults

This project was first conceived by the late Dean Hoge (Catholic University of America). With a generous grant from the Lilly Endowment, co-investigators Tim Clydesdale, Anthony Pogerelc, and I began this project in 2009 by soliciting articles from leading scholars on major issues pertinent to understanding young adults. These articles are available for free download from the CUA archives: The Changing Spirituality of Emerging Adults Project. The second phase of the project focused on intensive ethnographic case studies of churches that are successfully attracting young adults from the Catholic, Mainline Protestant and Conservative Protestant traditions. Summaries of the case studies are also posted in the CUA archives: The Changing Spirituality of Emerging Adults Project. The last phase of data collection was a national survey of young adults completed in Summer 2013. The co-authored book was published by Oxford in 2019 and received a starred review in Publisher's Weekly: The Twentysomething Soul: Understanding the Religious and Secular Lives of American Young Adults.

Religiously-Unaffiliated Americans

The number of Americans who have no religious affiliation has grown to almost 20% according to the Pew Survey Report "'Nones' on the Rise" (2012). Though many associate the "Nones" with atheism, the majority of the religiously unaffiliated consider themselves to be religious or spiritual or both. What does it look like to be religious or spiritual outside of a religious tradition? This is new territory for scholars and there is a lot that we do not know. My own interest in the unaffiliated began over ten years ago when I was studying funeral services and wondered how an unaffiliated family creates a funeral service. I did a small study of unaffiliated funerals that was published in Omega--The Journal of Death and Dying in 2002. In spring 2013 Marymount Honors student Lilly Catts ('15) and I took a different approach by piloting an interview protocol and web survey of undergraduate students at Marymount University who are unaffiliated. Since then I expanded the data collection with assistance of student researchers at Marymount. I presented on the theme of "Participation and Belonging" at the Third Biennial Conference on Religion and American Culture in June 2013 and the proceedings are available to the public. This data informed the book The Twentysomething Soul: Understanding the Religious and Secular Lives of American Young Adults.

Spiritual Companions, Vigilers, and Doulas for the Actively Dying

I am interested in the growing number of organizations providing companions/vigilers/doulas for patients nearing death and the experience of actual companions/vigilers/death doulas. The work of the spiritual companion, vigiler and death doula are closely related and these terms are sometimes used interchangeably along with 'end-of-life doulas,' 'death midwives,' '11-hour volunteers,' and 'thanadoulas." I use 'spiritual companion' or the short version "companion" as the most general category for all these roles. The companion's role is distinct from that of other healthcare workers and religious ministers including healthcare chaplains. Companions are expected to be a comforting presence for those who are actively dying and this comforting presence is the 'spiritual' aspect of their role. Most, but not all, companion programs see 'companioning' as a spiritual practice. Most, but not all, companions, understand what they do as a spiritual practice. What exactly companioning looks likes varies considerably among organizations. The companion roles are being developed simultaneously by multiple organizations including hospitals, hospices, congregations, and nursing homes. How they recruit, train and manage companions varies widely. Some companions are independent professionals who claim credentials and charge for their services or offer them on a donation basis. Professionals most often call themselves doulas as they try to establish a professional identity parallel to the already semi-established profession of birth doulas. Hospitals, nursing homes and community health organizations organize volunteer companions to patients who are dying.

In January of 2013 I began an ethnographic study of companioning programs in hospitals and hospices as well as professional death doulas with the assistance of Jennyfer Fredette ('14), a Marymount graduate student in the Pastoral Counseling program. Marymount Honors student Elizabeth Jahr ('14) also conducted interviews. This research project is exploratory as we seek to identify organizations developing companion programs around the country, trace the history of these roles, and interview individuals involved in their development including trainers and supervisors of companions. We are interested in this growing phenomenon because it represents a new effort to improve end-of-life care in the USA by bringing 'spiritual presence' to the dying. Like other forms of spiritual care, companioning raises many questions about the relationship between religion and secular healthcare systems and the shift from a focus on religion to spirituality in the healthcare field. I presented findings from this study at the AAR Annual Conference in November 2014.

Racial and Cultural Diversity in American Churches

In 2007, with a grant from the Louisville Institute, I began a comparative study of Catholic, Mainline Protestant and Conservative Protestant efforts to diversify churches in terms of race, ethnicity and culture. This project is based on interviews with church leaders, field observations of diverse churches and extensive archival research. The book project in progress is tentatively titled, Diversifying American Churches: Catholics, Protestants and the Changing Racial Landscape. Diversifying American Churches investigates the growth of multiracial churches in the 21st century. It explains why Catholics, Mainline Protestants, and Conservative Protestants are pursuing a common goal of church diversity and how their efforts are shaped by their distinct religious histories in the United States.

Spiritual Care in Multifaith Hospice Services

Though spiritual care is an integral part of the holistic care hospices provide, the provision of spiritual care is not well-documented or understood. The Joint Commission for Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) requires that hospices assess and provide spiritual care, but it does not mandate how it is provided or by whom. We do not know, for example, how many hospices in the United States employ chaplains (sometimes called spiritual counselors), rely on volunteer chaplains, or a combination of both. We also do not know the educational and training background of the chaplains working for hospices. Individual hospices are free to create their own qualifications for chaplains that may be far below the national standards for board certified chaplains. Most important of all, we do not have a clear sense of what spiritual care looks like in the day-to-day work of the hospice team.

Through interviews with and observation of interactions among hospice team members, patients and their family members, this study will identify the many forms and expressions that spiritual care takes within hospice care. Although hospice chaplains will naturally be central to this study, spiritual care is not solely the purview of the chaplain. All members of the hospice team, including volunteers, may engage in activities that would fall into the loosely demarcated arena of spiritual care. Beyond documenting spiritual care, the second goal is to analyze how spiritual care is provided across religious/spiritual divides. Given the religious diversity of the United States, hospices serve patients with a variety of faith commitments and no faith commitments. How do members of the hospice team negotiate religious differences in their efforts to provide spiritual care that is interfaith by nature? How does the understanding of ‘spiritual care’ among hospice workers facilitate or impede their efforts? Are they successful in serving patients/families outside of familiar Christian and Jewish faith traditions? This analysis of inter-religious negotiation will lead to the final goal of the study: identifying best practices in providing spiritual care for religiously diverse patient populations.

For a complete list of scholarly activities see my curriculum vitae posted under About Me.