Travis Research Institute
The Thrive Lab researches how diverse people thrive. The empirical research focuses on spirituality, religion, virtue development, and purpose. Our interdisciplinary scholarship integrates philosophical, theological, and psychological perspectives to further understand thriving and spirituality.
Shades of Gratitude: Exploring Divine, Cosmic, and Personal Sources of Gratitude
Research Team: Drs. Pam King (Principal Investigator), Dr. Stephanie Trudeau, Dr. Susan Mangan, Dr. Sung Kim, and Rebecca Baer*
Research demonstrates that gratitude has a great effect on our emotional and social well-being. However, until now, gratitude has been studied as an interpersonal construct—meaning researchers conceptualize and measure gratitude based on one person’s experience of gratitude for a gift or benefit originating from another person (e.g., I’m grateful to my parents for their kindness). But what about gratitude to God or other cosmic sources? We aim to investigate and test the role of transcendent beliefs, meanings, and the potential psychological tendencies involved in experiencing gratitude to God and other “cosmic” sources of gratitude. Through a mixed-methods design, we are exploring the role of beliefs about transcendence and individual psychological differences to gain insight into people’s experience, understanding, and practice of gratitude to God.
Study of Spirituality in America: Structural Topic Modeling
Research Team: Drs. Sung Kim (Principal Investigator), Pam King, and Stephanie Trudeau
Applying cutting edge structural modeling analysis to the rich qualitative data garnered by the Fetzer Institute’s Study of Spirituality in America, the research team seeks to understand a more nuanced and updated understanding of spirituality inside and outside of conventional religious traditions. Building on our expertise, the study applies the research team’s background in spiritual and religious development, civic engagement, thriving, meaning-making, spiritual coping, and structural topic modeling for further analyses of the interviews and focus groups in order to present findings at academic conferences, publish the study in top tier academic journals (i.e., Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Psychology of Religion and Spirituality), and to produce blogs and digital resources for distribution through the Thrive Center and FULLER Studio (see An Invitation to Thrive and Pamela Ebstyne King on Thriving on FULLER Studio).
Compassion International Study of Positive Youth Development
Research Team: Dr. Pam King, Dr. Susan Mangan, Dr. Stephanie Trudeau, Jennifer Vaughn*, Sean Noe*, and Casey Taylor*
External Collaborators: Drs. Richard Lerner (Principal Investigator, Tufts University), Jacqueline Lerner (Boston College), Alistair Sim (Compassion International), Elizabeth Dowling (Tufts University), and Jonathan Tirrell (Tufts University)
The CI Study of PYD is a collaborative, multi-nation, comparative longitudinal study of positive youth development among youth in poverty. Drawing on the expertise of the research team, the project draws on cutting edge, theoretically predicated research. Using a mixed methods design , this research examines the relationships between youth strengths and ecological assets to gain an understanding of how youth can thrive and become fulfilled and responsible adults in their communities. Based on the Lerner and Lerner PYD Model, the study considers youth spirituality, hope, internal self-regulation, the 5 C’s of PYD (connection, caring, confidence, competence, and character), and contribution. In addition, contextual resources are assessed through safety, activity participation, religious involvement, and the Big 3 of Youth Development Programs (e.g., caring adult relationships, the development of life skills, and opportunities for leadership). Currently, in the context of faith-based CI youth development programs in El Salvador and Rwanda, the research team compares the development of participants in the CI program to youth who are not participating in CI’s programs to identify what works, with what children, in what context, over what time period.
The study is one of the first longitudinal studies on youth development that does not focus on a deficit or epidemiological model, but is based on the optimistic notions of human plasticity, youth agency, and optimizing the fit between a young person and their context so they can thrive and become citizens who contribute to the world around them. The PYD framework not only emphasizes what can go right with young people, but also considers the role of religion and spirituality as important motivational and moral resources accessible to many youth in international settings that promote prosocial and civic engagement. Results from this study will be used to enhance the work of CI and improve the global child-sponsorship sector through never-before available theory-predicated developmental data.
Spiritual Exemplars Follow-Up: The Emerging Adult Years
Research Team: Drs. Pam King (Principal Investigator) and Fred Defoy*
Exemplarity research allows for the exploration of less understood psychological phenomena (Bronk, King & Matsuba, 2013), which in the case of this study is understanding the nature and structure of spirituality from psychological perspectives. The current project is a follow up to a qualitative study on adolescent spiritual exemplars (King, Abo-Zena & Weber, 2017; King, Clardy & Ramos, 2014), which has revealed the importance of transcendence, fidelity, and contribution as part of central to the spirituality of diverse youth nominated for living with profound spirituality in their culture. Twelve years later, interviews of five of the original participants explore the nature and function of spiritual development in their lives as emerging adults.
Measuring Spirituality Among Adolescents and Emerging Adults
Research Team: Dr. Pam King, Dr. Susan Mangan, and Abbey Craigg*
From a relational developmental systems meta-theoretical perspective, human development occurs through the ongoing interactions between a person and the many different environments or systems in which they live. Spiritual development is no exception.
The Measure of Diverse Adolescent Spirituality (MDAS) Scale was developed in order to measure a young person’s experience of their understanding of transcendence and their response attitudinal and behavioral response to it. From this perspective, spirituality is not just a feeling or experience of something beyond the self, but spirituality involves one’s process of making meaning, informing one’s sense of self and their worldviews, and motivates actions and behaviors that are aligned with their spiritual ideals (King et al., 2019).
Specifically, the MDAS is comprised of three subscales, including Transcendence, Fidelity, and Action. Although the MDAS was developed as a multidimensional measure of adolescent spirituality for use with diverse youth, including those who self-identify as spiritual outside of a religious tradition, it has been used mostly in Christian populations in the U.S., Mexico, El Salvador, and Rwanda (see King et al., 2017; King et al., 2019; King et al., 2020).
While there are many different measures that examine spirituality, the MDAS is particularly well-suited to assess spirituality in an emerging population because of the developmental tasks that emerging adults engage in. In a previous study, we found that a highly religious emerging adult population endorsed themes of Transcendence– Sacred, Transcendence– Other, Self-Awareness and Contribution (Craigg, 2019). In this current study, we will test the psychological viability of the MDAS in a diverse emerging adult population.
For any questions regarding the items and modification process for contextualizing the MDAS for culturally and spiritually diverse samples, please contact Dr. King at [email protected]
JoyRide: Exploring the Nature and Function of Joy
Research Team: Drs. Pam King (Principal Investigator) and Fred Defoy*
This project seeks to integrate the theological and psychological perspectives of joy and flourishing. Our aim is to provide information on the nature of joy and thriving and how to nurture joy in our lives, answering the following questions:
What is joy?
What is flourishing and thriving?
How are joy and thriving related?
How does joy develop in people, specifically youth?
What kinds of contexts, communities, relationships, and practices are conducive to promoting joy and thriving?
What are the implications for congregations, families, and other youth-related organizations?
We address the aspirational topics of joy and thriving in a manner that is not just informational, but inspirational, serving as an invitation to others to pursue a life of thriving and joy for themselves and the young people in their lives.
The Telos Project
Research Team: Drs. Pam King (Principal Investigator) and Rodrigo Riveros Miranda
Given the radical and frantic change throughout society, the Telos Project seeks to convene interdisciplinary scholars and to synthesize existing scholarship to further understand the ends of human development and thriving. Drawing on psychological science, philosophical, and theological perspectives, teleology provides a framework for human thriving pointing to the importance of the development of differentiated individuals in reciprocating relationships with others, and evolving moral and spiritual aspirations that contribute to flourishing society.
Recent Publications (* = students)
King, P. E. & Defoy, F.* (2020). Joy as a Virtue: The means and ends of joy. Journal of Psychology and Theology.
King, P. E., Schnitker, S. A., & Houltberg, B. (2020). Religious groups and institutions as a context for moral development: Religion as fertile ground. Handbook of Moral Development (ed. L. Jensen). New York: Oxford University Press.
King, P. E. (2020). Joy Distinguished: Teleological Perspectives of Joy as a Virtue. Journal of Positive Psychology, 15:1, 33-39, DOI: 10.1080/17439760.2019.1685578
Kim, S.-H., Lee, N., & King, P. E. (2020). Dimensions of religion and spirituality: A longitudinal topic modeling approach. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 59, p. 62-83.
King, P. E., Vaughn, J. M.*, & Merola, C.* (2020). Spirituality and adolescent development. In D. T. L. Shek & J. Leung (Eds.) Volume VII: History, Theory, and Culture. In S. Hupp & J. Jewell (Eds. in chief). Encyclopedia of Child and Adolescent Development. Wiley Blackwell.
King, P. E., Yoo, Y., Vaugh, J. M.*, Tirrell, J. M., Dowling, E., Geldhof, G. J., Iraheta, G., Williams, K., Sim, A., Lerner, R. M., & Lerner, J. V. (2020). Exploring religiousness and hope: Examining the roles of spirituality and social connections among Salvadoran youth. Religions.
Wang, D. C., Reed, A., Greggo, S., Bowersox, L., Drennan, A., Strawn, B., King, P. E., Porter, S., & Hill, P. (2020). "How do seminaries participate in the spiritual/character formation of students? Four perspectives from North American institutions.” Journal of Religious Education.
Hardy, S. A., & King, P. E. (2019). Processes of religious and spiritual influence in adolescence: Introduction to a special section. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 29(2), 244-253.
Schnitker, S. A., King, P. E., & Houltberg, B. (2019). Religion, Spirituality, and Thriving: Transcendent Narrative, Virtue, and Lived Purpose. In Hardy, S. & King, P. E. (eds.). Special section: Processes of religious and spiritual influence in adolescence, Journal of Research on Adolescence, 29(2), 276-290.
King, P. E., Yoo, Y., Vaugh, J. M.*, Tirrell, J. M., Geldhof, G. J., Iraheta, G., Williams, K., Sim, A., Stephenson, P., Dowling, E., Lerner, R. M., & Lerner, J. V. (2019). Refining the Measure of Diverse Adolescent Spirituality in samples of Mexican and El Salvadoran youth. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality.
Tirell, J.M., Dowling, E.M., Gansert, P., Buckingham, M., Wong, C.A., Suzuki, S., Naliaka, C. Kibbedi, P., Namurinda, E., Williams, K., Geldhof, G.J., Lerner, J.V., King, P.E., Sim, A., & Lerner, R.M. (2019). Toward a measure for assessing features of effective youth development programs: Contextual safety and the "big three" components of positive youth development programs in Rwanda. Child & Youth Care Forum, 48(5), 1-22.
Tirrell, J. M., Gansert, P. K., Geldhof, G. J., Dowling, E. M., Lerner, J. V., King, P. E., Sim, A. T. R., Iraheta, G., Williams, K., & Lerner, R. M. (2019). Using the specificity principle to go inside the black box of programs: The sample case of an El Salvador PYD program. In S. Verma, A. Petersen, & J. Lansford (Eds.), Sustainable human development: Challenges and solutions for implementing the United Nations’ Goals [Special issue]: Zeitschrift für Psychologie.
Lerner, R. M., Tirrell, J. M., Lerner, J. V., Geldhof, G. J., Gestsdottir, S., King, P. E., Sim, A. T. R., & Dowling, E. (2018). The end of the beginning: Evidence and absences studying PYD in a global context. Adolescent Research Review, 4(1), 1-14.
Lerner, R. M., Lerner, J. L., Geldhof, G. J., Gestsdottir, S., King, P. E., Sim, A. T. S., Batanova, M., Tirrell, J. and Dowling, E. (2018). Lansford, J., and Banati, P. (Eds.). Studying positive youth development in different nations: Theoretical and methodological considerations. Handbook of Adolescent Development Research and Its Impact on Global Policy. New York: Oxford University Press.
Faculty and Principal investigator
Jilleen Westbrook, Ph.D. recently joined the staff of the Thrive Center for Human Development in 2022. She earned her Ph.D. in Economics from Claremont Graduate University and has taught at Temple University, the University of Southern California (USC), and Claremont Colleges.
Her academic work involved empirical investigations of the effects on markets that result from psychological shifts from policy decisions. Before joining the Thrive Center, she worked as a consultant. Dr. Westbrook has long been interested in issues of faith and well-being, particularly in the practices that encourage mental, physical, and spiritual health.
Operations Manager and Special Projects/Events Coordinator
With over 10 years of operational & admin experience, Lauren Kim joined the Thrive Center in 2022 to utilize her passion for faith-based creativity and witnessing others' ability to be joyously renewed. With an innate interest in different cultures and being born & raised in Seoul, Korea, Lauren hopes to connect a bridge between students of various backgrounds and their spirit's capability to thrive as He intended. In her intimate pursuit of God while cultivating the artistic passions of her heart, Lauren takes pride in being part of a team that brings forth the fruit of encouragement and spiritual joy in all.
Sean is a fourth year PhD student in Fuller's Clinical Psychology program. He completed his bachelor’s in psychology at Point Loma Nazarene University. He also has experience as an educator and tutor, working with middle school and high school students in San Diego, California. As a Thrive Scholars Fellow at the Thrive Center for Human Development, his research interests are examining how aspects of religiosity and spiritual experience relate to youth and adolescent development. Sean has a particular interest in understanding religious experience and how this can help youth and adolescents develop and thrive.
Lauren Van Vranken
Lauren Van Vranken is a third year Psy.D. student in Fuller's Clinical Psychology Program. She received her bachelor’s degree in human development and family sciences from Oregon State University. She has spent the past decade working in prison, jail and juvenile hall settings in Los Angeles and Ecuador as a volunteer chaplain, creative writing instructor, and facilitator of art therapy groups. This sparked her research interests in resilience, restorative justice practices, and collective thriving in the aftermath of trauma. Dedicated to research and clinical work that promote thriving through allyship with adolescents and adults affected by incarceration, she is particularly interested in researching how spirituality and hospitality promote resilience, kinship, and thriving for returning citizens.
Rebecca is a second-year student researcher at the Thrive Center for Human Development currently examining the overlap between joy and gratitude as part of the Shades of Gratitude Project. She is working on her PhD in Clinical Psychology. She holds a Masters in Systemic Counseling from the Internationale Hochschule Liebenzell in Germany and is currently employed there as a counselor. Her experience working with a large variety of demographics and cultures, from German University students to refugees from countries such as Syria and Afghanistan, has shaped her desire to explore how joy, purpose, and gratitude can contribute to a thriving life no matter the background.
Dr. Susan Mangan
Dr. Susan Mangan is a Postdoctoral Research Associate with the Thrive Center. As a positive developmental psychologist, Dr. Mangan is interested in how we, as individuals and as a society, can lead happier, more fulfilling lives. At the Thrive Center, Dr. Mangan is focusing her research efforts on positive youth development, gratitude, and joy. She will be the co-Investigator for the Thrive Center's Shades of Gratitude Project.
As a scholar more broadly, Dr. Mangan's research focuses on positive psychology interventions, well-being, psychological need satisfaction, and emerging adulthood. She also has a strong background in evaluation, statistics, and community program development. Dr. Mangan has contributed numerous research-based blog posts at the Thrive Center.
Jennifer Medina Vaughn