We don’t do research for research’s sake—we use research as a practical tool for helping others impacted by disasters and humanitarian crises. 

Street view after disaster from car

Research Impact 

Our pioneering research has helped tens of thousands of people live more faithfully and resiliently worldwide by translating scientific advances into training, tools, resources, and interventions for equipping the church to prepare and care in a disaster-filled world.  

What We Do 

We are advancing the psychology of religion/spirituality (RS) and disaster research, which is the scientific study of how people believe, think, behave, feel, and relate in disaster situations. A growing body of scientific evidence has shown that people turn to faith amidst disasters and that doing so fosters resilience. Surprisingly, the relationship between faith and disaster resilience is under-studied. But even less is known about cultivating faith and virtues intentionally to help people endure and recover from disasters. We are setting out to change this.

What We Study


  • General religiousness 
  • Meaning-making 
  • Religious coping 
  • God representations 
  • Religious attributions


  • Spiritual fortitude 
  • Humility
  • Justice
  • Leadership
  • Forgiveness
  • Hope


  • Trauma 
  • Depression 
  • Anxiety 
  • Survivor guilt 
  • Well-being 
  • General health 
  • Burnout  
  • Growth (spiritual and emotional) 


  • Natural disasters 
  • Refugee crisis 
  • Terrorism 
  • Mass shootings 
  • Human trafficking 
  • Civil conflict 
  • Genocide  
  • Public health emergencies  


  • Survivors 
  • Clergy  
  • Chaplains 
  • Congregations 
  • Volunteers 
  • Humanitarian aid workers 
  • General public 


  • Spiritual First Aid 
  • Culturally Adaptive Spiritually Oriented-Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy 
  • Expressive writing 
  • Psychology-church collaboration 

Current Grants and Projects 

We have received over $6.3 million in research funding overall, including a $1.9 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation to study how faith fosters resilience and growth amidst disasters.

Contact Us

If you would like to contact the HDI team, we would love to hear from you. 

Student holding child
Leader Humility in Humanitarian Aid Organizations

Jamie Aten (Wheaton College), Ward Davis (Wheaton College), David Wang (Biola University), Laura Shannonhouse (Georgia State University), and Liz Hall (Biola University). The focus of this project is to understand how humility develops among humanitarian aid leaders, and its impact on humanitarian aid worker resilience. Supported by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation (Grant #60622).

People walking on top of disaster ruins
Earth as a School: Finding Meaning, Relating to God, and Experiencing Growth after a Natural Disaster

Jamie Aten (Wheaton College), Ward Davis (Wheaton College), Daryl Van Tongeren (Hope College), Don Davis (Georgia State University), and Joshua Hook (University of North Texas). This project aims to explore the impact of natural disasters on survivors’ faith, resilience, and growth (spiritual and emotional). Supported by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation (Grant #44040).

People in Kakuma Refugee Camp Kenya
Training Refugee Pastors and Church Leaders to Provide Trauma Care: A Program of Service in the Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya

Jenny Hwang (Wheaton College), Jamie Aten (Wheaton College), George Kalantzis (Wheaton College), and Tom Albinson (International Association for Refugees). In partnership with the International Association for Refugees, we are training and equipping refugee pastors and church leaders in the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya to better understand and care for traumatized people. Supported by a grant from the Chatlos Foundation. 

Open hands
Christian Meaning-Making, Suffering, and the Flourishing Life

Liz Hall (Biola University), Jamie Aten (Wheaton College), Eric Silverman (Christopher Newport University), Jason McMartin (Biola University), and Laura Shannonhouse (Georgia State University). The goal of this project is to understand how survivors draw upon religious resources to construct meaning in coping with adversity. Supported by a grant from the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities Networking Grant. 

Kalen Humanitarian Disaster Institute student
More Global Projects

We use our research to inform on-the-ground disaster spiritual and emotional care efforts that address the justice issues surrounding disasters, which often put a spotlight on disparities already present in a community. Our current ongoing projects include work with Restavek children in Haiti, a refugee camp in Kenya, and post-Irma Florida. (Photo courtesy of Kalen Drake Sanders)