Project Staff

We’re a team of congregational researchers, sociologists of religion, and collaborative project leaders at an Institute with over 40 years of experience conducting research designed to help congregations flourish by providing data to support informed decision making. Our project staff, based out of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research at Hartford International University, work in tandem with a diverse group of scholars of religion who serve as advisors and consultants, leading organizations engaged in similar research, and a wide range of denominational research offices nationally. As a strategic and collaborative venture, we are committed to understanding how congregations have creatively responded to and navigated the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as how these changes may impact the religious landscape of the U.S. for years to come.

Research Consultants

Dr. Scott Thumma

Principal Investigator

Scott Thumma serves as the Principal Investigator of this project. He is Professor of Sociology of Religion at Hartford International University for Religion and Peace and the Director of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research. He is the co-chair of the Faith Communities Today project and on the steering committee of the US Religious Census, as well as research advisor for several other projects and organizations. Throughout his 30-year career he has participated in many congregational study projects and national religion research efforts. He has written widely on the subject of megachurches, gay religious life, congregational dynamics, and nondenominational churches and has published three books [Gay Religion, Beyond Megachurch Myths, and The Other Eighty Percent: Turning Your Church’s Spectators into Active Disciples], many research reports, and managed over a half-dozen websites.

Dr. Allison Norton

Co-Investigator

Allison Norton serves as Co-Investigator. Norton is a Faculty Associate in Migration Studies and Congregational Life at Hartford International University for Religion and Peace and Project Director of the Pastoral Innovation Network of New England (PINNE). Norton specializes in African Pentecostalism and the dynamics of migrant congregations in the United States. Her work with PINNE and teaching at Hartford International University gives her a first-hand glimpse into how clergy across denominations have responded to the pandemic and the changing nature of congregational life.

Dr. Charissa Mikoski

Postdoctoral Research Fellow

Charissa Mikoski is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Hartford Institute for Religion Research. She provides quantitative data analysis for the project, as well as survey management. Her Ph.D. is from Purdue University with a focus on the sociology of religion. Charissa holds a B.A. in Sociology from Westminster College and an M.S. in Sociology from Purdue University. Her past research experiences includes roles with the Pew Research Center, Presbyterian Church (USA), and The Confirmation Project.

Dr. B. Clarvon Watts

Postdoctoral Research Fellow

Dr. B. Clarvon Watts is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Hartford Institute of Religion Research and Visiting Faculty Associate at Hartford International University. She specializes in qualitative research on behalf of the project. Dr. Watts completed her Masters and doctorate in Sociology at Kent State University, Kent, OH. She studied Religion, and Africa, African American Diaspora Studies at Wheaton College. Black Liberation Theology, Womanism, and Systematic Theology in her Master of Divinity from Duke University, Durham, NC. Dr. Watts has also researched and co-published on Black Christian women’s lived mental health experiences in “Keeping Ourselves Sane: A Qualitative Exploration of Black Women’s Coping Strategies” and plans to  explore mental health paradoxes, utilization of health services, and access to care within faith communities.  Additionally, she serves as the Program Director and Grant Writer at Shiloh Development Corporation, Inc., and provides education, resources, and care with dignity and pride to anyone in need.

Dr. Amidu Elabo

Postdoctoral Research Fellow

Dr. Amidu Elabo is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Hartford Institute for Religion Research (HIRR). He conducts ethnographic and qualitative research on behalf of the project, as well as data analysis and mapping. Amidu holds a PhD in Religion and Society from Princeton Theological Seminary, an MSc in Religious Studies from the University of Edinburgh, an MA in the Interaction of Religions from the University of Jos, and a BA in Religious Studies from the University of Jos. Dr. Elabo has served as a lecturer, Teaching Assistant, and Research Assistant in a variety of capacities in both Nigeria and the U.S. prior to joining the HIRR staff.

Tracy Simmons

Communications Manager

Tracy Simmons serves as a writer and social media consultant to the project. Tracy is a Scholarly Assistant Professor at the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University and writes for the Religion News Service, as well as The Spokesman-Review. She is also the Executive Director of FāVS.News, a digital journalism start-up covering religion news and commentary in Spokane, Washington.

Colleen Hill

Strategic Communication Specialist

Originally from Sonoma County, California, Colleen is excited to work alongside the Hartford Institute for Religion Research as a strategic communication specialist. Colleen graduated from Washington State University in May, earning her degree in journalism and media production. During her time at WSU, she served as general manager for a student-run television station, as well as a producer for Northwest Public Broadcasting’s “Morning Edition.” Studying with the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication, Colleen has worked on a wide range of projects including printed news features, documentaries and podcasts. In her free time, she enjoys exploring new cities, reading, and listening to Taylor Swift.

Dr. Jerry Park

Research Consultant and Community Liaison

Dr. Jerry Park is an associate professor of sociology at Baylor University. His research interests include the sociological study of religion, race, identity, culture and civic participation. Recent publications have covered topics such as racializing religious measures in research, race, religion and inequality attitudes, religion and workplace attitudes, religious attitudes of academic scientists, and Asian-American religiosity. Currently his research focuses on attitudes toward racial and religious minorities and perceptions of discrimination from racial and religious minorities including: perceived religious, racial and political group threats, perceived anti-Asian discrimination, racial and religious ignorance, White perceptions of racial inequality, perceptions of Anti-Muslim discrimination. Dr. Park graduated from the University of Virginia with a psychology degree and earned his masters and Ph.D. degrees in sociology from the University of Notre Dame.

Dr. Cheryl Townsend Gilkes

Research Consultant and Community Liaison

Cheryl Townsend Gilkes (Pronounced “Jillks”) is the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Professor Emerita of African-American Studies and Sociology at Colby College (Waterville, Maine). An ordained Baptist minister, she is an assistant pastor for special projects at the Union Baptist Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She has served as visiting faculty at several seminaries and schools of divinity, most recently Chicago Theological Seminary. She will also serve as a Distinguished Professor, Community Liaison, and Research Consultant for the Hartford International University for Religion and Peace effective January 2023. She holds degrees in sociology from Northeastern University (B.A., M.A., Ph.D.), has pursued graduate theological studies at Boston University’s School of Theology, and has received an honorary Doctor of Divinity (D. D.) from Ursinus College. In addition to her book, If It Wasn’t for the Women: Black Women’s Experience and Womanist Culture in Church and Community, she has published articles in scholarly journals and edited volumes on race and ethnicity, the work of W.E.B. Du Bois, and African American religion. She has also published sermons in several journals and edited volumes. Until the pandemic, she was “Dr. Dr. Cheryl” on Colby College’s radio station where she hosted a gospel music radio show, “The Uncloudy Day,” for 19 years. Since the pandemic she has contributed several opinion pieces to Religion News Service and has written the introduction to the fiftieth anniversary publication of James Cone’s book, The Spirituals and the Blues: An Interpretation.

Dr. Jonathan Calvillo

Research Consultant and Community Liaison

Dr. Jonathan Calvillo serves as Assistant Professor of Latinx Communities at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology. Prior to joining the Candler faculty in fall 2022, Dr. Calvillo was an assistant professor of sociology of religion at Boston University School of Theology and was also affiliated with Boston University’s department of sociology. His work examines how distinct Latinx populations build communities of belonging through faith and creativity, often in the face of systemic exclusion. His current projects focus on how churches shape Latinx civic engagement, how lived religion influences Latinx ethnoracial identities, and how young Latinx creatives have responded to urban inequalities through artistic resistance.

The author of numerous peer-reviewed articles and book chapters, Calvillo published his first monograph, The Saints of Santa Ana: Faith and Ethnicity in a Mexican Majority City (Oxford University Press), in 2020. He has presented at various conferences and been awarded multiple grants and fellowships, including a Latino Protestant Congregations Project Research Fellowship, a Notre Dame Global Religion Research Institute Curriculum Grant, and a Louisville Institute First Book for Minorities grant.

Dr. Calvillo holds a PhD from the University of California, Irvine, an MA from the University of California, Irvine, and an MDiv from Talbot School of Theology. He is a member of the American Academy of Religion, the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, the Association for the Sociology of Religion, and the American Sociological Association.

Regional Advisors

One major component of this project is a strategically targeted exploration of qualitative changes happening within congregations in eight select areas of the country. These cities represent both higher COVID incident regions and lower infection areas, are regionally diverse, and include both urban metro areas and smaller cities. The research directors of these regional sites include: 

Dr. Penny Edgell

Regional Advisor — Minneapolis, MN

Dr. Penny Edgell (Ph.D. University of Chicago 1995) is a cultural sociologist who studies contemporary American religion and non-religion. At the University of Minnesota she has led research projects on religion, non-religion, and symbolic boundaries, and on how people use religious, spiritual and non-religious repertoires to make sense of contemporary social controversies. Her research has appeared in Congregations in Conflict (1999, Cambridge University Press), Religion and Family in a Changing Society (2005, Princeton University Press) and Religion is Raced (NYU Press 2020), and in journals including the American Sociological Review, Annual Review of Sociology, Religion and American Culture, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Social Problems, Social Forces, and Sociology of Religion. Current projects include studies on non-religion and well-being and public religious repertoires.

Dr. Arthur E Farnsley II

Regional Advisor — Indianapolis, IN

Dr. Art Farnsley is research director of the Religion and Urban Culture 2.0 project at IUPUI and a data evangelist for www.thearda.com. His books include Sacred Circles, Public Squares, The Bible in American Life, and Flea Market Jesus. His articles have appeared in Christianity Today, the Christian Century, and in newspapers across the country. Art is also a 30 time knife and tomahawk throwing champion of the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association.

Dr. Todd W. Ferguson

Regional Advisor — Waco, TX

Todd W. Ferguson is a sociologist at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton, TX. His research focuses on congregations and their clergy, and his book Stuck: Why Clergy Are Alienated from Their Calling, Congregation, and Career…and What to Do About It (Fortress Press 2022) examines pastors who no longer want to be in the profession but struggle to leave. He earned his Ph.D. from Baylor University and a Master of Divinity from Duke Divinity School. Before becoming a sociologist, he was a pastor in a Baptist church in Houston, TX.

Dr. Richard Flory

Regional Advisor — Long Beach, CA

Richard Flory (Ph.D., University of Chicago) is senior director of research and evaluation at the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture. He is a sociologist whose research focuses on religious and cultural change, religion and urban life, and the religious and spiritual lives of youth and young adults. He has published several books, including most recently, Religion in Los Angeles: Religious Activism, Innovation, and Diversity in the Global City (Routledge, 2021) and Back Pocket God: Religion and Spirituality in the Lives of Emerging Adults (Oxford University Press, 2020).

Rev. Dr. Kristina Lizardy-Hajbi

Regional Advisor — Denver, CO

Kristina Lizardy-Hajbi is Term Assistant Professor of Leadership and Formation and Director of the Office of Professional Formation at Iliff School of Theology. Lizardy-Hajbi is an interdisciplinary scholar who teaches in the fields of leadership theory and praxis, congregational and community formation and change, practical theology, and applied research methods. She is the author of the report “American Congregations 2015 Engaging Young Adults” outlining the state of young adult presence and ministry in U.S. congregational life based on the results of the Faith Communities Today (FACT) Survey and was also the first co-chair of the Cooperative Congregational Studies Partnership, the multi-faith association of researchers responsible for the FACT National Survey of Congregations. As a scholar-practitioner, Lizardy-Hajbi is a member of the Religious Research Association, the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, the Academy of Religious Leadership, and the Association of Theological Field Educators. In addition, as an Ordained Minister in the United Church of Christ, Dr. Lizardy-Hajbi’s ministry has included experience in Christian education and faith formation, multicultural student affairs in higher education, chaplaincy, and denominational leadership. She received her Ph.D. and B.A. from the University of Colorado and M.Div. from Iliff School of Theology.

Dr. Nichole R. Phillips

Regional Advisor — Atlanta, GA

The Rev. Dr. Nichole R. Phillips is Associate Professor in the Practice of Sociology of Religion and Culture and Director of the Black Church Studies Program at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology. She also serves as an associate faculty in the Department of Sociology at Emory College of Arts and Sciences, and a senior faculty fellow at the Emory Center for Ethics. A sociologist of religion and public theologian, she teaches courses in community and congregational studies.

Her research interests lie at the intersection of religion and American public life with a focus on community and congregational studies where she investigates the moral commitments and vision of community and congregational members. Her scholarship treats religion, critical race, gender, and cultural memory studies. She is also developing new research interests in the sociology of science and religion.

Dr. Phillips holds a PhD from Vanderbilt University, an MDiv from Harvard University, and a BA from Wellesley College.

 

Dr. Arlie Tagayuna

Regional Advisor — Southeast Tennessee

Dr. Arlie Tagayuna is Associate Professor of Sociology at Lee University, where he has worked in the Department of Behavorial and Social Sciences since 2011. His research and teaching stands at the intersection of inequalities, crime, delinquency and punishment, race and ethnic relations, culture, disability, social stratification and community development. Prior to his tenure at Lee University, Dr. Tagayuna started and coordinated the criminal justice program at New Mexico Highlands University. He has also taught at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, California State University–Monterey Bay and the University of Hawai‘i-Manoa.

Dr. Brandon Vaidyanathan

Regional Advisor — Washington, DC

Dr. Brandon Vaidyanathan is Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Sociology at The Catholic University of America. He holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Notre Dame. His research on the cultural dimensions of religious, commercial, medical, and scientific institutions has been published in leading peer-reviewed journals. He is author of Mercenaries and Missionaries: Capitalism and Catholicism in the Global South (Cornell University Press, 2019) and co-author of Secularity and Science: What Scientists Around the World Think About Religion (Oxford University Press, 2019). His ongoing work examines aesthetics and well-being among scientists and mental health issues in religious communities.

Dr. Ruth Wienk

Regional Advisor — Southeast Tennessee

Dr. Ruth Wienk is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Lee University. Prior to her tenure at Lee, she served as an instructor and graduate teaching assistant at South Dakota State University, where she taught introduction to sociology, introduction to sociology honors, courtship and marriage, and teaching sociology. Dr. Wienk was also an adjunct at Black Hills State University College of Education teaching linguistics and language assessments as hybrid courses. She received her PhD from South Dakota State University, her MS from Shenandoah University, and her BS from Southeastern University.