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Hartford Institute For Religion Research Leads Study Of COVID Impact On Faith Communities

The Hartford Seminary has been awarded a $5.3 million research grant to study how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected Christian faith communities.

Dr. Scott Thumma, director of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, said the five-year project will explore how the pandemic has led congregations to innovate and discover new paths for worship. “What we hope is this research will collect information that will be able to correlate with more successful approaches, more beneficial ways of doing things. We’ll be writing a lot of the results throughout the five years to help clergy and other religious leaders make better decisions,” Thumma said.

To keep parishioners engaged during the pandemic, congregations had to become more tech-savvy and move worship online.

“What it has done is given their members significantly more flexibility as to different ways of participating that I think in the long run will be highly valuable for a lot of congregations,” Thumma added.

Researchers will collect data in several ways. They’ll draw from surveys of thousands of congregations throughout the country. They’ve also chosen eight regional sites and will begin in-depth explorations of 12 congregations at each site in 2022. Researchers will speak with pastors and members, study religious education and social media content, and look at how diverse congregations have dealt with the pandemic. Then, in 2024 and 2025, researchers will return to those congregations with follow-up questions.

Though the project is primarily focused on Christian congregations, Thumma hopes it will expand to other faiths.

“We clearly want to look at synagogues and at mosques, and at temples and other faith community gatherings because obviously everyone has been impacted by this pandemic,” he said.

The research will be funded by the Lilly Endowment Inc. Local congregations can assist the Hartford Institute for Religion Research project by filling out a survey on its website, www.covidreligionresearch.org.