(Charleston, IL) – Last month, Eastern Illinois University launched a new project titled “Making Meaning in a Post-Religious America,” led by political science professor, Ryan Burge, and independent scholar Tony Jones. The Making Meaning Project will complete the largest-ever survey of Americans who are not religiously affiliated. The results of that survey will then guide Burge, Jones, and other team members in studying how these American ‘nones’ explore, identify, and embrace meaning, purpose, and transcendence in their daily and collective lives.

“We are excited to launch this project,” said Burge, assistant professor and graduate coordinator in Eastern Illinois University’s department of political science. “The ‘nones’ are the fastest growing group on the American religious landscape…[and] they may well be the future of American spirituality.”

“As a former pastor, I have watched each subsequent generation – GenXers, Millenials, and now GenZers – drift further from organized religion,” added Jones, a theologian and author based in Minnesota. “Yet in spite of this, many of them continue to seek spiritual experiences, even connection to the divine.”

Following the survey, Jones and Burge will convene meetings with experts in various fields to assess and categorize the ways in which self-identified ‘nones’ create meaning in their lives without the direct influence of major religions or scriptures. Results of their academic- and theological-based research will be communicated in books, at academic meetings, via webinars, and through media outlets. The survey results ultimately will be made available to other academicians and researchers as well, and are intended to further the study of the evolving spirituality of Americans.

The Making Meaning Project is funded by a three-year, $339,000 grant from the John Templeton Foundation’s “Spiritual Yearning Research Initiative.” The Foundation supports research and catalyzes conversations that inspire people with awe and wonder. Its aspiration is to help people create lives of meaning and purpose and to become a global catalyst for discoveries that contribute to human flourishing. More information about the Foundation is available at templeton.org.

EIU’s Burge has gained notoriety in America and internationally as a go-to expert for discussing the history, analyzing the impact, and predicting the future of organized religion in America. His commentary has been featured across several media platforms and agencies, including Politico, NPR, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, as well as in religious publications including Christianity Today and The Christian Science Monitor.

Jones has authored a dozen books, including The God of Wild Places (forthcoming, 2024), and scores of academic and popular articles. He was a founding leader of the emerging church movement of the early 2000s, giving him insight into how and why Americans move away from organized religion. He teaches at Fuller Theological Seminary and mentors young people in outdoors skills.

EIU prepares students to accomplish their life goals through a combination of quality academics, personal relationships, and both on-campus and online learning opportunities. For more information about Eastern Illinois University, including its broad array of academic and career readiness programs, or any of EIU’s other community-based services and opportunities, visit eiu.edu or call EIU’s public information office at (217) 581-7400.

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