Lee Jefferson and Tom McCollough receive ACS funding to improve undergraduate research
Centre College’s Assistant Professor of Religion Lee Jefferson and Nelson D. and Mary McDowell Rodes Professor of Religion Tom McCollough have devoted a significant portion of their recent scholarship to the site of Khirbet Qana/Cana of Galilee (above) in lower Galilee, Israel, where McCollough has been excavating a series of four veneration caves thought to be part of an ancient pilgrimage route for fifth- and sixth-century Christian pilgrims. And thanks to recent funding from an Associated Colleges of the South (ACS) Faculty Advancement grant, they will be able to immerse several students in the heart of scholarly research like never before.
“Our excavations at Khirbet Qana/Cana of Galilee have brought to light a first century Jewish village that was transformed into a Christian pilgrimage site in the fifth century C.E.,” McCollough explains. “The pilgrimage cave complex was filled with soil soon after the Crusader period and thus the evidence was well preserved. Our investigations of the site promise to have important bearing on understanding the history, art and theology of Christian pilgrimage and the interaction between Christian pilgrims and the Jewish population of Byzantine and medieval Palestine.”
The ACS grant represents a partnership between Jefferson and McCollough and Professor Gregory Snyder of Davidson College.
“The grant facilitates the travel of several students from each campus to participate in an excavation dig at Khirbet Qana,” Jefferson (below) says. “We should be able to allow students to take part in the examination of primary material evidence for a period of up to two weeks in Israel. Following the dig, students will aid in analyzing the findings and contributing to the excavation report.”
Indeed, the entire purpose of the project is to promote undergraduate research methods in a field setting, something that can be difficult without a source of outside funding such as the ACS grant.
The support will allow students to examine the graffiti, iconography and material remains in the cave complex (right), giving them an invaluable experience with authentic fieldwork. Student contributions to the publication of excavation reports and articles will round out their research experience, allowing them to see the entire research process from start to finish.
“The project is consistent with the priorities of the religion programs at both Centre and Davidson,” Jefferson explains. “It promotes active research by faculty while providing valuable opportunities to develop excavating and analysis skills within our students.
“An off-campus opportunity such as this provides a dynamic research project for students by placing them in the field,” he adds. “The project also coincides with the Mellon commitment to undergraduate research.”
by Mariel Smith