Luce Award

In 2010-11, Dr. Linda Mercadante Was Named A Luce Fellow for Her Work on “Spiritual But Not Religious” by The Association of Theological Schools and The Henry Luce Foundation, Inc.

 (Pittsburgh, PA, April 17, 2010) The Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada (ATS) and The Henry Luce Foundation, Inc. have named six scholars from ATS member schools as Henry Luce III Fellows in Theology for 2010–2011.

Selected on the basis of the strength of their proposals to conduct creative and innovative theological research, the Fellows will engage in year-long research in various areas of theological inquiry. The 2010–2011 Fellows constitute the seventeenth class of scholars to be appointed since the inception of the program in 1993, bringing the total number of Luce Fellows to 117. The program is supported by a grant from The Henry Luce Foundation, honoring the late Henry Luce III.

At the conclusion of their research year, the Fellows gather at the annual Luce Fellows Conference to present and critique their work and to discuss with both current and past Luce Fellows how their work may impact the life of the church and the broader society. They will also present their findings for publication in popular religious journals.


Linda A. Mercadante, Methodist Theological School in Ohio, Unfettered Belief, Untethered Practice: Thinking Theologically about ‘Spiritual but not Religious’

Non-religious spiritual seekers claim doctrine is far less important than—even non-essential to—spiritual practice. Yet I sense an alternative meta-narrative developing among the “spiritual but not religious” [SBNR]. This influential ethos has definite theological implications, challenging and offering opportunities to Christianity especially in the areas of epistemology and concept of God. Ironically, in spite of its anti-hegemonic self-presentation, the SBNR ethos actually homogenizes and markets the voice of disparate spiritual “others” while championing hybridity and anti-dogmatism. I address the emerging narrative theologically, focusing on the four main conceptual areas of transcendence, human nature, community, and life-after-death. Preliminary analysis shows an emerging picture, including: a) a transcendent dimension consisting of an unknowable, impersonal, universal energy source; b) an ephemeral human nature with the eventual dissolution of identity in death, potentially with an amorphous energy dissipated or re-invested, and c) a restless search for community which often replicates a societal desire for more freedom, less commitment and minimally invasive contact. My approach includes in-depth interviews, observation, online and print research, blog conversation, and site visits. Early analysis of the first 60 interviews across North America also indicates an underlying eagerness among some SBNRs to excavate and examine belief.

The Association of Theological Schools, located in Pittsburgh, PA, is an organization of more than 250 graduate theological schools that educate persons for the practice of ministry and for teaching and research in the theological disciplines. The Commission on Accrediting of ATS accredits the schools and approves the degree programs they offer.

Established in 1936 by the late Henry R. Luce, co-founder and editor-in-chief of Time Inc., the work of the Henry Luce Foundation reflects the interests of four generations of the Luce family. These include the interdisciplinary exploration of higher education, increased understanding between Asia and the United States, the study of religion and theology, scholarship in American art, opportunities for women in science and engineering, and environmental and public policy programs.

Sampling of Articles About Her Work

[See Resources page for more]

Links to Organizations

  • The Center of Theological Inquiry, Princeton, NJ
  • The American Academy of Religion