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Originally published Saturday, January 18, 2014 at 4:28 PM

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Gauging daily spirituality with a smartphone

University of Connecticut professor Bradley Wright is hoping to shed light on a range of issues, including whether people feel closer to God or more distant after they’re on Facebook and whether spirituality helps with social isolation.


The Associated Press

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NEW HAVEN, Conn. — University of Connecticut professor Bradley Wright has all types of questions for his research: Did you pray in the past 24 hours? To what extent are you feeling nurtured or angry with God? Do you feel a sense of purpose right now?

And he’d like the answers in real time, launching a website that sends texts to smartphones that it’s time for participants to take the twice-daily survey.

It’s part of an ambitious look by Wright and other researchers into the role of spirituality in the daily lives of Americans and its links to well-being.

Wright is hoping the effort will shed light on a wide range of issues: Do people feel closer to God or more distant after they’re on Facebook? How did attending church service affect them? Does spirituality help with social isolation? Does amount of sleep affect spiritual awareness?

“In general I think that over the coming years this will produce a number of findings that I think will help redefine how we understand day-to-day spirituality,” Wright said.

Wright, an associate professor of sociology who wrote the 2010 book, “Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites ... and Other Lies You’ve Been Told,” is overseeing www.soulPulse.org to gather data for researchers to study.

Participants fill out brief questionnaires for two weeks, answering a range of questions on health to volunteer work at church or a charity.

“It just opens a whole new category of data about spirituality, personal growth, personal characteristics that people value,” Wright said. “We’re giving people a chance to take a two-week snapshot of their life. This is just an interesting way for people to learn about themselves.”

Kyndria Brown, 50, a bookkeeper from Madison, Conn., who participated in the study, said she learned that she thought more about God when she was alone and feeling sad. “But when I was with other people I tended to not think in a spiritual way,” she said.

Many studies have been conducted of Americans’ religious and spiritual beliefs and their effects on health and other matters, but Wright said they mainly rely on one-time surveys, lab experiments and personal observations. He said SoulPulse is the first to use cellphones to measure spirituality as it unfolds over time in natural settings.

People are often categorized as believing in God or not, or being spiritual or not, “but it could be that people’s spiritual attitudes and beliefs vary from day to day,” Wright said.

Wright was raised Roman Catholic, then became involved in a charismatic church and now calls himself a Catholic-liturgical-charismatic evangelical.

While Wright is the principle investigator, a dozen other researchers and experts are involved in the initiative, ranging from Stanford Medical School to pastors and a psychologist. The study is privately funded and relies on volunteers, Wright said.



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