Professor launches research

Grant allows for study on work, faith connection

Dr. Daniels reads some papers while sitting in a blue chair in her office. She is wearing a white shirt and a denim jacket.

Luis Arellanes | The Falcon
Professor of Management Denise Daniels plans to use the $1.5 million grant to research the relationship between faith and work.

For Denise Daniels, a Seattle Pacific University professor of management, it is important to understand “how people of faith, particularly Christians, understand and think of faith in the context of work.”

Daniels became interested in the topic of “work and faith” when she observed that the information on the topic is largely “normative,” meaning that it has an assumed understanding and therefore lacks data and “descriptive understanding.”

“We just don’t have that type of information,” Daniels said.

Daniels and Elaine Howard Ecklund, who is Daniels’ associate and who currently works as a professor at Rice University, noticed that there seem to be correlations between Christianity and career choices that Christians choose.

So the two submitted a proposal to Lilly Endowment Inc., a private philanthropic foundation that specifically grants funding for research in support of “religion, education and community development,” in the fall of 2016.

The proposal requested financial funding for Howard Ecklund and Daniels’ research.

According to the organization’s website, Lilly Endowment Inc. is connected to Eli Lilly and Company, which is an Indianapolis-based pharmaceutical company. However, the Lilly Endowment is “a separate entity from the company, with a distinct governing board, staff, and location.”

In March 2017, Lilly Endowment Inc. awarded $1.5 million to Howard Ecklund and Daniels for “Faith at Work: An Empirical Study.”

Daniels wants to know how faith affects “the kind of work that [people do] … how [people] approach their work … and the types of interactions they have at work.”

The research study will be a four-year process in three phases, and each phase will canvas people from different races, ages, genders and locations across the U.S. in order to observe the ways in which Christianity impacts their work life.

The purpose of this research is to see how faith and work differ within the individual demographics.

The three phases are interest groups, surveys and one-on-one interviews.

Phase one will include insight from pastors, Christian professionals and blue-collar Christian workers in response to a series of questions about their current employment situations and career choices.  Individuals will also be asked about how their faith affects their work, a phase Daniels and Howard Ecklund deem extremely important.

“The Lilly Endowment is really looking for [a project] that would speak to pastors and church leaders, and would help those faith leaders better serve their congregants,” Daniels said. “They were interested in information that will provide guidance to pastors.”

“I hope [the research] provides information that will raise questions that can be addressed,” she added.

Daniels described phase two as a “large-scale survey,” in which 12,000 people will be surveyed.

Daniels and Howard Ecklund will allocate a large portion of the grant’s budget to hire a specialized survey firm to select the 12,000 people.

“They won’t write the survey for us, but they will make sure that we get a panel of respondents who represent the United States’ demographics,” Daniels said. “It’s to ensure that we get an adequate sample.”

The last phase, which involves interviews, will allow Daniels and Howard Ecklund to meet with 180 to 200 individuals, in order to personally ask them questions.

Although phase one will not officially begin until January 2018, Daniels and Howard Ecklund have already developed an advisory board.

“[The advisory board] will bring good guidance,” Daniels said. “These are people who have interest in the project and have some expertise in it.”

When asked about what she hopes to get out of this research, Daniels replied: “There are two basic things. We hope to get information that will be helpful to church leaders in order to reach their congregants … The other outcome is to gather information that will contribute to the academic context.”

Daniels and Howard Ecklund plan to write at least two books based off of this research. One will be specifically targeted toward church leaders, and the other will provide information to students, professors and others who are interested about the topic.

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