Americans are still intrigued by outer space, but more and more they are zeroing in on inner space as the frontier for the 21st century. For George Gallup Jr., that exploration of the inner life is an exciting, pioneering venture for survey research.
While much has been written about the surge in spirituality - the search for meaning in life and for the sacred - it hasn't been the focus of scientific study, Dr. Gallup says. "We know virtually nothing about the profound experiences people have that are life-transforming," he adds, "and one-third of the populace has had [such] a remarkable experience.... Little has been done on the effects of prayer." Gallup spoke last week in Boston to employees of The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and The Christian Science Publishing Society about findings from surveys and new projects.
Two current projects of the George H. Gallup Institute include a study on "24 hours in the spiritual life of America" (involving 250 families), and a research tool that measures "love of God and love of neighbor."
"We're in a retreat from materialism," Gallup says. "We've learned from this century that when we try to do it alone, we don't do too well. People are trying to get out of bondage of various kinds: alcohol and drugs, food, narcissism." At the same time, he says, "we're at a period of spiritual adolescence - going in all directions. Most Americans don't know what they believe and why. There's great biblical illiteracy. Some of the spirituality is more self-oriented than God-oriented."
Yet people are seeking God and more meaningful relationships. They are flocking to small groups for discussion and religious study. "The small group movement," Gallup says, "is a silent revolution."