Q&A with Casper ter Kuile

Casper ter KuileCasper ter Kuile MDiv '16, Ministry Innovation Fellow, Harvard Divinity School, co-founder of Sacred Design Lab, is speaking at the Faith & Life Forum Sept. 20. Photo courtesy of Casper ter Kuile.

By Jeffrey Blackwell/Memorial Church Communications

Casper ter Kuile MDiv '16 and his partners at the Sacred Design Lab are exploring new ground in the relationship between the landscape of business, non-profit and other institutions, and the world of spiritual practice and thought. Created 2019 by ter Kuile, Angie Thurston MDiv '16 and the Rev. Sue Phillips, all part of the Harvard Divinity School's Innovation Fellows program, the Sacred Design Lab is a "soul-centered" research and consulting agency. Its clients include corporations and non-profit institutions seeking advice on branding, policies, programs, employee relations and other issues.

Ter Kuile, recently profiled in a New York Times article about the work of Sacred Design Lab and other spiritual consulting agencies, will speak at the Faith & Life Forum Sunday (Sept. 20). He is also a co-host of the Harry Potter and the Sacred Text Podcast. We sent ter Kuile a few questions to prepare the ground for the Sunday discussion.  

MemChurch: How did the Sacred Design Lab come into existence from the partnership forged at the Harvard Divinity School?

Casper ter Kuile: Angie Thurston and I were students at HDS and immediately found one another in our Introduction to Ministry Studies class. We shared a keen hunger to understand how millennials outside of religion were finding meaningful community, so we started a research inquiry that resulted in our first report How We Gather. From there we started to gather innovative community leaders and soon asked the Rev. Sue Phillips to help steward our gatherings. A few years later, we launched Sacred Design Lab as its own entity.

MemChurch: In your new book, The Power of Ritual, you note that "attendance at congregations is down, but our hunger for community and meaning remains." What have you learned about the spiritual lives of the "nones" and how do you see their spirituality developing in the future?

Casper ter Kuile: It is easy to read the striking statistics of the decline in religious affiliation, yet when you look more closely, very quickly a more complicated pattern emerges. The majority of unaffiliated people are far from non-religious. People have all sorts of beliefs, practices, and even communities that are spiritual in one way or another. So what we’re seeing is an unbundling and remixing of spiritual identities and practices.

MemChurch: What is the goal of the lab, and how does that mission fit into the profit-driven sector of corporate America?

Casper ter Kuile:  Sacred Design Lab is a soul‑centered research and development lab. We’re devoted to understanding and designing for 21st-century spiritual well being. We translate ancient wisdom and practices to help our partners develop products, programs, and experiences that ground people’s social and spiritual lives. Our vision for the world is one in which every person is connected to their inherent goodness, known and loved in communities of care, and bountifully giving their gifts toward beauty, justice, and wholeness. We know that more and more people are seeking out meaning and connection in the workplace, and so we’re discovering how best to responsible respond to that longing.

MemChurch: We are in a time of such great change because of the pandemic, raised public consciousness about racism and the divisive political climate. Is there a window now for real change in American’s corporate and other sectors of the nation?

Casper ter Kuile: Absolutely! We’re in a real turn toward meaning and a willingness (and necessity) to try new things.