USC Dornsife College Of Letters Arts and Sciences

University of Southern California

Engaged Spirituality: 100 Stories of Inspiration and Resilience

Engaged Spirituality: 100 Stories of Inspiration and Resilience

Around the world, humanitarians care for AIDS orphans, fight oil companies in the arctic, perform surgery in the middle of wars, save migrants from certain death in the desert or the sea, and give love and jobs to gang members. They work on intractable issues, often in the face of great challenges.

In November 2018, the Center for Religion and Civic Culture (CRCC) at the University of Southern California launched a five-year project focused on people who dedicate their lives to human flourishing. The joint academic-journalistic project resulted in the publication of more than 100 stories of “engaged spirituality”—stories about how religious values and spiritual practices inspire and sustain social action. Through “Spiritual Exemplars: A Global Project on Engaged Spirituality,” CRCC gained insights into how spiritually engaged humanitarians understand their lives and their work, as well as how their social action affects their beliefs and practices. This booklet presents an introduction to the project as a whole, as well as to these extraordinary individuals.

While there is a long tradition of research on “saints” from times past, CRCC’s project focused on living individuals—people from all over the world who are confronting issues ranging from climate change to human rights, poverty and gender equity. Moreover, it sought to bring these individuals’ stories to the public with the help of journalists as data collectors and storytellers. Stories of religious actors working for positive social change were told in major newspapers, magazines, an award-winning podcast and online videos.

As journalist Judy Silber describes in the trailer for The Spiritual Edge podcast, which produced 18 episodes from the project: “These are stories of struggle, often without resolution. They’re also stories of hope.”


We are grateful for the generous support of the John Templeton Foundation and Templeton Religion Trust, who took a risk on an innovative project that brought together scholars and journalists to reveal hope in the time of global uncertainty.

Explore the full directory of “Spiritual Exemplars”