Lilly Endowment Inc. Grant to Enhance Wheaton College Faculty Member’s Research on Faith and the Workplace

June 14, 2021

Dr. Denise Daniels’ research will examine the impact of COVID-19 and racism at the intersection of faith and the workplace.

253x380 Dr. Denise Daniels

The scholarship of Wheaton College Professor Dr. Denise Daniels and Rice University’s Dr. Elaine Howard Ecklund is being supported by a $300,000 supplemental grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. to research the impact of COVID-19 and racism on faith and the workplace. This grant to Rice follows a 2017 $1.5 million grant to Rice, which helped fund Dr. Daniels and Dr. Ecklund as they led the nation’s largest research project on faith and work, looking at how churches engage with the topic of work. 

“The research is still about faith and work, but because so many things have changed in the past year with respect to COVID-19 and the racial justice movement burgeoning across the U.S., we wanted to know how those things affected how people thought about their faith, particularly in the context of their workplace,” Dr. Daniels said.

Lilly Endowment is a private philanthropic foundation that funds projects which support education, community development, and religion.

During the last four years, Dr. Daniels and Dr. Ecklund used the first grant to develop and execute a national survey that garnered more than 13,000 quantitative responses and more than 200 hours of qualitative interviews to discover how congregants thought their churches related to and spoke about work.  

This second grant will fund another survey, as well as follow-up interviews, to extract richer, more nuanced details from survey respondents. Much like the first grant, the results of the supplemental research will produce numerous articles, lead to presentations at conferences, and be collected in two books slated for publication in 2022.


When asked why she chose this particular area of research, Dr. Daniels said that it seems that almost everyone’s research agenda is personal. “Everyone comes to the table with their own story, and I’m no exception.”

Very early in her career, when her children were young, Dr. Daniels and two colleagues decided it was time to figure out a way to lead a more God-focused and balanced lifestyle—one that wouldn’t leave them so exhausted all the time.

“We started to really live into this idea that God has a plan for our lives that’s bigger than just salvation. Every aspect of our lives needs to be under the Lordship of Jesus, and part of that means living our lives in a way that’s consistent with the way God made us,” she said.

At the time, this simply meant keeping the Sabbath. The group then conducted some research and wrote a few articles. Then her colleagues returned to their areas of research—but not Dr. Daniels. The field continued to inspire her. She became heavily involved in the faith and work movement, which shaped her research agenda for the past 20 years. 

“It was providential because I was very naïve when it came to what I was pursuing. God really directed my steps in ways that I only saw in retrospect,” and it all led her back home—to Wheaton, the town where she grew up and later attended college.

Daniels joined Wheaton College’s faculty as the College’s first Hudson T. Harrison Endowed Chair of Entrepreneurship in August 2020. She holds a doctorate in organizational behavior from the University of Washington. Her bachelor’s degrees from Wheaton are in Business and Economics and Psychology. Daniels also has a book titled Working in the presence of God: Spiritual practices for everyday work, which was published in 2019.

-- Alexandra Shimalla


-- Alexandra Shimalla


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