Chaplains as Facilitators of Covenantal Pluralism

Covenantal Pluralism landing page

Wendy Cadge (Brandeis University), Shelly Rambo (Boston University School of Theology), Grace Tien (Brandeis University), Trace Haythorn (ACPE), Michael Skaggs (Chaplaincy Innovation Lab). Funded by the Templeton Religion Trust, 2021-2024. See press release here.

While past scholarship and research has often focused on supply, this Templeton Religion Trust (TRT) project, “Chaplains: Leading amidst Change,” redirects that conversation bySpiritual symbols of Hindu focusing on demand.

With this idea of covenantal pluralism, we emphasize that chaplaincy work is not just rooted in a single religious tradition but operates across a wide range of religious traditions and differences. Read more about covenantal pluralism here.

With demand, we shift the conversation to better understand those who work with chaplains in various contexts, as well as those chaplains serve and how they experience chaplain care.

Covenantal pluralism is an emerging framework around shaping spiritual care to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse religious population.

It seeks to pursue equal opportunities for all to propose their religious beliefs and behavior without imposing them on others, and leverage both shared values and differences for the common good.

We are convinced that educators cannot train chaplains well without information about where and how the work of chaplains is in demand, how they are enacting covenantal pluralism in those settings, and what training best facilitates their key roles.Spiritual Symbols 3

In some settings this is demand for an actual chaplain. In other settings the demand is for the skills of presence; empathetic listening; improvisation; an awareness of spiritual, religious and broad existential issues of meaning and purpose; knowledge and ability to comfort around death; and the ability to engage deeply across religious difference.

Covenantal Pluralism fact sheet thumbnailCovenantal Pluralism’s 6 Characteristics

Courtesy – Religious Freedom & Business Foundation

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Infographic: Chaplains – Leading Amidst Change

From Templeton Religion Trust

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Project goals include the following:

  • A national survey on spiritual care in partnership with Gallup which will help us better understand what groups that have worked with chaplains, where, and what effects this has had in the field.
  • In-depth interviews with those who work with and are served by chaplains;
  • And a comprehensive mapping of chaplains and professional organizations associated with the field.


Project outputs include the following:


A Diverse Advisory Committee:

We will also have engaged with a diverse Advisory Committee of 28 key stakeholders in a wide range of chaplaincy and spiritual care across settings (a group only beginning to work together) who have, in turn, engaged their constituents at each stage of the project.


A Network of Practitioners and Scholars:

The network of relationships among chaplains, educators, social scientists and others built through this work will enable the project to conclude with a strategic plan for implementing a demand-based approach to chaplaincy within the field.

In the media:

Lydia Saad, “One in Four Americans Have Been Served by Chaplains,” Gallup Blog, December 14, 2022.

Trish Shea, “New vision for chaplaincy,” In Trust, Winter 2024