By Avery Ballmann | Staff Writer
Tucked away on the ground floor of Waco Hall is the office of Baylor’s first postdoctoral fellow of church music and digital humanities. Dr. Shannan Baker, who has a doctoral degree in church music from Baylor, began the position in July.
As a postdoctoral fellow, Baker’s job is to conduct research on worship songs and church music — a field that hasn’t been explored in this way before at Baylor. Baker said her research on music includes asking questions as to why it was written, who wrote it and how it relates to the liturgy of the Bible.
“The faculty and staff here and in the School of Music have been really welcoming and encouraging,” Baker said. “I hope that the existence of my position encourages them to show that we do make good music in the School of Music — we have a really high level of performance — but we also have a really high level of research.”
Baker said she chose Baylor because of Dr. Monique Ingalls, who has a doctoral degree in anthropology of music. Ingalls applied to have a postdoctoral fellow through the provost and created this position for Baker.
“The vast majority of hires for Baylor postdocs have been hired to help science faculty with some of their projects and labs,” Ingalls said. “I got to thinking, ‘Well, there’s no reason that there can’t be a lab of sorts in our department.’”
Ingalls said more questions and problems can be addressed when working as a team. So, when Baker was hired this summer, the department had to find an office for her new position.
“I’m among the few,” Baker said. “Any challenges that I face are mostly just trying to figure out in a system that’s so STEM-focused, with my supervisor, how do we make what I’m doing kind of match my area instead of the STEM fields?”
Baker is not just a researcher. She also co-teaches a course with Ingalls for a Baptist seminary in Nigeria, which led to a project Baker and Ingalls are relaunching.
Baker worked on this project in spring 2021 while she was still obtaining her Ph.D. She is now co-leader of the project with Ingalls.
Just as in Baker’s current research, the Nigerian Christian Songs project finds meaning and theology behind the worship sessions held in the Nigerian church.
Baker said she came to her Christian faith at a church whose band led contemporary worship. Baker said this personal connection is why she chose to study this type of worship for her dissertation and research endeavors.
“If we don’t take time to reflect on what we do in worship, we’re missing out, to some extent, on fully embracing kind of what we’re doing instead of just going through the motions,” Baker said. “If nothing else, I think my research helps give some voice to the why.”
Ingalls said Baker keeps her on her toes by introducing her to things she has never heard before, such as topics in the field of digital humanities.
The other half of Baker’s specialty is digital humanities, which combines technology with humanities studies, such as music. Baker will be teaching a workshop on python coding — a general-purpose programming language. Baker applies this technology to music by making a code to analyze Spotify playlists.
Baker’s fellowship has a three-year period. In December, Baker and Ingalls will be relaunching the Nigerian Christian Songs website with new doctoral students. Baker is currently working on Ingalls’ research topics and her own, applying for grants and helping students lead their own research groups.
“Having gotten this postdoctoral position, it’s renewed my faith in Baylor’s commitment not to leave the humanities behind,” Ingalls said. “I think those of us in the humanities may have to start thinking a little bit differently in this direction of collaboration.”