Dr. Jamie D. Aten is a disaster psychologist, author, and speaker. His work draws from his experiences as a Hurricane Katrina and cancer survivor. He is founder and executive director of the Humanitarian Disaster Institute (HDI) at Wheaton College. HDI is the first faith-based academic research center in the country. Dr. Aten also holds the Blanchard Chair of Humanitarian & Disaster Leadership and helps train humanitarian, disaster, and ministry graduate students.
Dr. Aten’s interest in disasters is not something he sought out. Six days after he and his family moved to South Mississippi in 2005 Hurricane Katrina struck and he witnessed first-hand the important role that faith and churches play in times of disaster. Within weeks he was studying faith and disaster resilience and supporting church recovery efforts. Since that time, Dr. Aten has researched, trained and/or mobilized church leaders through disasters in 11 different countries, including:
- Hurricanes Katrina in 2005, Rita in 2005, Gustav in 2008, Irma in 2017, Harvey 2017, and Maria in 2017.
- H1N1 pandemic in 2009 and Ebola crisis in 2014;
- Mississippi Delta floods in 2010, Northern Illinois flood in 2011, South Carolina floods in 2015 and 2016, and Louisiana flood 2016;
- Tuscaloosa, Alabama tornadoes in 2011;
- Civil unrest in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia and Rwanda;
- Kenyan and Syrian refugee crisis;
- Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in 2010;
- Upper Big Branch mining explosion in 2010;
- Japan tsunami, earthquake and nuclear plant meltdown in 2011;
- New Zealand Christchurch earthquake in 2011;
- Philippines’s Typhoon Haiyan in 2013;
- Haiti earthquake in 2010 and rescued trafficked children;
- Republic of Botswana drought in Southern Africa; and
- Mass shootings at Umpqua Community College in 2015, Orlando nightclub in 2016, and Dallas 2016.
Dr. Aten is also a late-stage cancer survivor in remission. Diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer at the age of 35, he underwent a yearlong battle that included surgeries and multiple treatments. In many ways, he saw what he had spent years studying in disaster zones play out in his own life spiritually and emotionally.
“This was by far the scariest and most difficult time of my life,” said Dr. Aten. “This personal tragedy taught me more about suffering and adversity than I liked. However, this painful experience taught me spiritual and psychological lessons I don’t think I would have ever been able to learn from just my research.”
To date, Dr. Aten has written over 100 peer-reviewed articles, book chapters, resources, reports and other publications. Overall, his work on faith and disaster resilience has been supported by over $6 million in research grants. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, USA Today, TIME, Christianity Today, CBS, Fox News, Moody Radio and some of the top scholarly journals in the field of psychology.
Dr. Aten is also the co-author of the Disaster Ministry Handbook (InterVarsity Press) and co-editor of six scholarly books. He has two forthcoming books: A Walking Disaster: What Katrina and Cancer Taught Me About Faith and Resilience, (Templeton Press, January 2019) chronicling his cancer disaster experience, and Refugee Mental Health (APA Books).
Dr. Aten received the Community Preparedness Champion Award from FEMA at the White House for his work with faith communities and faith-based organizations.
He received the Margaret Gorman Early Career Award from the American Psychological Association (Division 36) for his research on the psychology of religion/spirituality and disasters.