Research Overview

Humans are a uniquely existential species. Our advanced cognitive capacities allow us to contemplate the nature of our existence and orient us toward a quest for meaning in life. We don’t just strive for survival. We strive for significance. Dr. Clay Routledge is a leading expert in existential psychology. His work examines how the need for meaning and related psychological motives influence and are influenced by cognitive, affective, and self-regulatory processes, individual differences, momentous life experiences, personal and professional goals, social relationships, spirituality and religiosity, entrepreneurship, innovation, prosocial behavior, and attitudes about the future.


Current Research Projects

Dr. Routledge is currently working on developing a new area of psychology that focuses on the cognitive, affective, self-regulatory, and motivational variables that promote or threaten civilizational progress. To this end, he recently launched the Psychology of Progress Project. As part of this project, he is conducting national surveys exploring what Americans think about the state of progress around the world and in the United States, the future of the world and the United States, their own ability to help solve the big challenges of our time, and related attitudes. He is also conducting research examining how meaning in life and related variables influence psychological characteristics and states that support progress such as curiosity, creativity, social trust, resilience, gratitude, hope, and generativity. Further, he is studying how existential psychology contributes to entrepreneurship and cultural worldviews about entrepreneurship. Dr. Routledge is also an editor for Profectus (, a periodic magazine focused on creating a cultural and academic conversation around key drivers of human flourishing, progress, and the barriers that stand in the way improving wellbeing.



Dr. Routledge is a highly cited researcher who has published more than 100 scholarly papers, co-edited three books, and authored two books. He is currently writing a book on how nostalgia can help people live a more goal-focused and meaningful life. He has received numerous awards at NDSU for his scholarly research and student mentorship. In addition, his work has been featured by many media outlets such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Times, CBS News, ABC News, BBC News, CNN, MSNBC, NPR, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, HGTV, Men’s Health, Wired, Forbes, BBC Worklife and many others.

As a public intellectual, Dr. Routledge has authored dozens of articles for popular outlets including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Newsweek, National Review, The Hill, and Entrepreneur. He also wrote the documentary short film Why do We Feel Nostalgia? He has appeared on a number of television and radio programs and podcasts such as NBC Today, Science Friday, NPR Morning Edition, The Jordan Peterson Podcast, The Strategic Financial Leadership Podcast, Economics for Entrepreneurs, The Human Progress Podcast, and The Art of Manliness. He has also been featured in a number of documentary programs including The Overview from NBC Peacock, The Benefits of Being Nostalgic from BBC Reel, and Cursed Films from Shudder.


Recent Business and Academic Publications

Routledge, C. (2021). Bring the outdoors into your hybrid work routine. Harvard Business Review.


Routledge, C. (2021). You can’t cure your employee’s existential crisis. But you can help. Harvard Business Review.


Routledge, C. (2021). The surprising power of nostalgia at work. Harvard Business Review.


Routledge, C. & FioRito, T. A. (2021). Why meaning in life matters for societal flourishing. Frontiers in Psychology-Personality and Social Psychology.


Routledge, C., FioRito, T.A., Bitzan, J., & Abeyta, A. A. (2021). Does existential wellbeing promote positive attitudes about entrepreneurs? Journal of Consumer Satisfaction, Dissatisfaction, and Complaining Behavior, 34, 1-15.


FioRito, T. A., Routledge, C., & Jackson, J. (2021). Meaning-motivated community action: The need for meaning and prosocial goals and behavior. Personality and Individual Differences, 171. 110462.


Leunissen, J., Wildschut, T., Sedikides, C., & Routledge, C. (2021). The hedonic character of nostalgia: An integrative data analysis. Emotion Review, 13, 139-156.


Hepper, E. G., Wildschut, T., Sedikides, C., Robertson, S., & Routledge, C. (2021). Time capsule: Nostalgia shields wellbeing from limited time horizons. Emotion, 21, 644-664.


FioRito, T. A, Geiger, A., & Routledge, C. (2021). Creative nostalgia: The social and psychological benefits of scrapbooking. Art Therapy, 38, 98 – 103.


Recent Institute Research Reports

Routledge, C. (2021, October). Existential Agency in America. Archbridge Institute.


Bitzan, J. & Routledge, C. (2021, June). 2021 American College Student Freedom, Progress and Flourishing Survey. Sheila and Robert Challey Institute for Global Innovation and Growth.


Routledge, C. (2020, December). Who is proud to be American? Archbridge Institute and Sheila and Robert Challey Institute for Global Innovation and Growth.


Routledge, C. & Bitzan, J. (2020, June). How are attitudes toward entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial motivation affected by meaning? Sheila and Robert Challey Institute for Global Innovation and Growth.


Routledge, C. (2020, May). Why meaning matters for freedom and flourishing. Archbridge Institute.


Select Popular Press Publications

Routledge, C. & Bitzan, J. (2021, November 25). This Thanksgiving let’s be grateful for human progress. The Hill.        -be-grateful-for-human-progress


Skenazy, L. & Routledge, C. (2021, July 8). Childhood freedom necessary to raise next generation of entrepreneurs. USA Today.


Routledge, C. (2021, February 26). Remember the good old days? No need to feel ashamed if you do.The Wall Street Journal.


Routledge, C. & Bitzan, J. (2020, April 20). Want to be an entrepreneur? Focus on what gives your life meaning. Entrepreneur.


Routledge, C. (2018, June 23). Suicides have increased. Is this an existential crisis? The New York Times.


Routledge, C. (2017, October 14). Why are Millennials wary of freedom? The New York Times.


Clay Routledge

Arden & Donna Hetland Distinguished Professor of Business
Richard H. Barry Hall, 344
(701) 231-1728


  • Ph.D. University of Missouri–Columbia
  • M.A. University of Missouri–Columbia
  • B.A. Missouri Southern State University

Curriculum Vita

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