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Dr. Whittaker Awarded CCCU Grant

This Fall, the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) announced the 2023 recipients of its annual Networking Grants, awarded to support high-quality Christian scholarship that speaks within the broader academy. A total of $68,000 was awarded to five research teams spanning 15 different institutions from all over the nation. 

Dr. Whittaker was part of the Planning Grant team, "The Missionary Database and Map Initiative: A Collaborative Digital Humanities Project." 

When asked about this work, Dr. Whittaker explains: "We are designing a database and mapping project that will begin with missions to Native Americans in the nineteenth century. Our goal is to create something that is informed by our Christian faith that can serve as a freely accessible, online resource for indigenous communities, churches, and Christian leaders today, as well as a technical research tool for scholars in religious history and the social sciences."

This work is a natural continuation for Dr. Whittaker, as he conducted extensive research on the emergence of a culture of American Protestant missions in the early nineteenth century, including Indian missions, as a part of his dissertation. 

"I'm very excited that this project is bringing together historians and computer scientists from a range of institutions, including our graduate Joseph Wang, as well as Anderson University's Dr. Matthew Preston and Asbury University's Dr. Alex Mayfield. We are coming at this project with different disciplinary perspectives, intellectual interests, and objectives, but we are benefiting hugely from getting the chance to work together on a project that will hopefully provide a valuable resource both to scholars and to a wider community."

Thomas Whittaker, Ph.D.

Dr. Whittaker was joined on this research team by three other scholars, including one of his former students! LeTourneau University alum, Joseph Wang ('23) is in the midst of his graduate work at the University of Southern California and was excited to join in this work as a research colleague. 

"During my final semester at LeTourneau, I was auditing Dr. Whittaker’s seminar on Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville. I was sitting in his office one day, and Dr. Whittaker mentioned this project he had in mind: constructing a database and map visualization of historical Christian missions, starting with a pilot project for Native American mission schools in the 18th and 19th centuries." As a computer science student at that time, and now a computer science graduate student, this project interested Wang from it's technical implications and challenges. "I believe strongly in the significance of studying Christian missions—I myself was a missionary kid born and raised overseas. Missions has been a central theme of Christendom, from the early church in Antioch (of Syria!) to today’s Africa Inland Mission, yet it has often earned a bad reputation in communities both secular and academic."

Joseph believes that there is much to glean from this project, not least of which is the practice of tying together faith and scholarship. "Our faith challenges us to think more deeply, and our engagement with the world informs our faith. At least that’s how I view my calling as a Christian engineer, in this case, engineering SQL databases and JavaScript visualizations to analyze Christian missions."

Joseph Wang

Read the full breakdown of the awards from the CCCU for this year's Networking Grants.