Spiritual Development

From 2003 to 2009, Search Institute received major support from the John Templeton Foundation to examine the place of spiritual development as a critical domain of positive youth development across traditions and cultures.


What Is Spiritual Development?

Our international research across traditions and cultures led to the following working definition: Spiritual development is, in part, a constant, ongoing, and dynamic interplay between one’s inward journey and one’s outward journey. It involves at least three core developmental processes (which are emphasized differently in different cultures and traditions):

  • Awareness or awakening—Being or becoming aware of or awakening to one’s self, others, and the universe (which may be understood as including the sacred or divine) in ways that cultivate identity, meaning, and purpose. This process can be subdivided into two themes:
    • Self-awareness: Awakening to one’s inherent strength.
    • World-awareness: Awakening to the beauty, majesty, and wonder of the universe.
  • Interconnecting and belonging—Seeking, accepting, or experiencing significance in
    relationships to and interdependence with others, the world, or one’s sense of the transcendent (often including an understanding of God or a higher power); and linking to narratives, beliefs,
    and traditions that give meaning to human experience across time.
  • Living an integrated life—Authentically expressing one’s strengths, identity, passions, values, and creativity through relationships, activities, and/or practices that shape bonds with oneself, family, community, humanity, the world, and/or that which one believes to be transcendent or sacred.

Research Briefs and Reports


With Their Own Voices: A Global Exploration of How Today’s Young People Experience and Think about Spiritual Development, Eugene C. Roehlkepartain, Peter L. Benson, Peter C. Scales, Lisa Kimball and Pamela E. King


Early Spirituality and Religious Participation Linked to Later Adolescent Well-Being, Peter C. Scales

Spirituality and Adolescent Well-Being: Selected New Statistics, Peter C. Scales


Benson, P. L., Roehlkepartain, E. C., and Hong, K. (Eds.). (2008). Spiritual development: New directions for youth development. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Roehlkepartain, E. C., King, P. E., Wagener, L. M., and Benson, P. L. (Eds.). (2006). The handbook of spiritual development in childhood and adolescence. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Yust, K. M., Johnson, A. N., Sasso, S. E., Roehlkepartain, E. C. (Eds.). (2006). Nurturing child and adolescent spirituality: Perspectives from the world’s religious traditions. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Peer-Reviewed Articles and Chapters

NOTE: Many of the periodicals listed here may be downloaded or purchased through links provided. Journal articles and book chapters are available through their publishers. Most can be accessed through databases or through the publisher’s websites (often with a fee).

Warren, M. T., Wray-Lake, L., Syvertsen, A. K. (2017). Becoming who they want to be : A cross-national examination of value-behavior concordance and mindfulness in adolescence. Journal of Positive Psychology, 9760(August), 1–12. http://doi.org/10.1080/17439760.2017.1350741

Scales, P. C, Syvertsen, A. K., Benson, P. L., Roehlkepartain, E. C., & Sesma, A., Jr. (2014). The relation of spiritual development to youth health and well-being: Evidence from a global study. In A. Ben-Arieh, F. Casas, I. Frones, & J. E. Korbin (Eds.) The handbook of child well-being (pp. 1101-1135). New York, NY: Springer.

Roehlkepartain, E. C., & Benson, P. L. (2013). Children, religion, and spiritual development: Reframing a research agenda. In A. Ben-Arieh, J. Cashmore, G. S. Goodman, J. Kampmann, & G. B. Melton (Eds.). Handbook of child research (pp. 81-99). London, UK: Sage.

Benson, P. L, Roehlkepartain, E. C., & Scales, P. C. (2012). Spirituality and positive youth development. In L. Miller (Ed.). The Oxford handbook of psychology and spirituality (pp. 468-485). New York: Oxford University Press.

Benson, P. L., Scales, P. C., Syvertsen, A. K., & Roehlkepartain E. C. (2012). Is spiritual development a universal process in the lives of youth? An international exploration. Journal of Positive Psychology, 7(6), 453–470. doi: 10.1080/17439760.2012.732102

Roehlkepartain, E. C., Benson, P. L., Scales, P. C. (2011). Spiritual identity: Contextual perspectives. In S. J. Schwartz, K. Luyckx, & V. L. Vignoles (Eds.). The handbook of identity theory and research: Vol. 2—Domains and categories (pp. 545- 562). New York, NY: Springer.

Kimball, E. M., Mannes, M., & Hackel, A. (2009). Voices of global youth on spirituality and spiritual development: Preliminary findings from a grounded theory study. In M. de Souza, L. J. Francis, J. O’Higgins-Norman, & D. Scott (Eds.), International handbook of education for spirituality, care, and wellbeing (pp. 329–348). Dordrecht, Netherlands: Springer.

Benson, P. L., Scales, P. C., Sesma, A., Jr., & Roehlkepartain, E. C. (2005). Adolescent spirituality. In K. A. Moore & L. Lippman (Eds.). What do children need to flourish? Conceptualizing and measuring indicators of positive development (pp. 25-40). New York, NY: Springer.

Benson, P. L., Roehlkepartain, E. C., & Rude, S. P. (2003). Spiritual development in childhood and adolescence: Toward a field of inquiry. Applied Developmental Science, 7(3), 204-212. doi: 10.1207/S1532480XADS0703_12