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Collaborating to Support Religious Studies Scholars

Today, we are publishing a report that grew out of a new type of collaboration facilitated by Ithaka S+R. As we continue to study the research practices of faculty in particular disciplines, we have developed a model that harnesses the knowledge and expertise of librarians on the ground.

For Supporting the Changing Research Practices of Religious Studies Scholars, sponsored by the American Theological Library Association (ATLA) with additional support from the American Academy of Religion (AAR) and the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL), we partnered with 18 academic libraries to explore research practices in religious studies. Following a two-day training session led by Ithaka S+R, teams from these libraries used qualitative research methods to interview religious studies faculty at their home institutions. To diversify the types of scholars included in the study, ATLA conducted additional interviews of Islamic studies faculty and faculty from historically black colleges and universities.

The end results are two-fold. Each library team analyzed the data it collected and wrote reports about findings unique to their own institution. The report presented here is an analysis of findings across a sample of data collected by all of the participating research teams by Ithaka S+R. Many of the institutional reports have also been made publicly available, which provides a further entry point into considering and comparing the state of religious studies research activities and support needs within and across institutions. Links to these reports are available below.

Through this collaborative research process, we are able to analyze the research practices of faculty across a variety of methodological orientations, specialties, and institution types. Our high-level findings focus on three areas:

  • Discovering and accessing information. When available, digital discovery and access have greatly improved these scholars’ research experiences with relatively few challenges. Scholars located in some seminaries and those conducting research on religions and religious cultures beyond the West experience greater challenges when conducting primary and secondary source research.
  • Information management. Scholars contend with the challenge of managing vast arrays of information that they produce and collect in the process of conducting their research and engage in idiosyncratic practices for organizing and storing their information. They struggle with digital approaches to citation management and information storage and experience uncertainty around destroying and preserving information following their personal use.
  • Audience, output and credit. Scholars’ primary focus remains on traditional scholarly outputs due to the expectations associated with tenure and promotion. Overall awareness and engagement with open access is low but the perceived importance of more freely sharing work as enabled by social media platforms is high.

The report concludes by highlighting key issues and providing recommendations from across the findings that have wider implications for how prioritize support for religious studies faculty at every stage of the research lifecycle.

Collaborative research across institutions is crucial to developing dynamic services and well-designed tools to support researchers in the 21st century, and we are very thankful to all of our partners on this project. We are also excited that this represent the first of many such projects that we are engaged in. We are currently fielding additional projects using this collaborative research method in agriculture, and public health and we will be launching a project on Asian Studies in spring 2017. We are also exploring future projects in engineering and indigenous studies and welcome expressions of interest for developing projects in other fields.

Institutional reports

While all participating institutions created reports based on the data and analysis conducted locally, the participants were given the option whether or not to disseminate their reports publicly. The following reports are publicly available:

Adams, R., Bedard, R., and Bogue, S. “Pitts Theology Library Local Report.” Emory University, 2016, http://pitts.emory.edu/ithaka2016.

Bales, J. and Bales, R. “Ithaka S+R Religious Studies Project: Report of Interviews of Religion Faculty at Baylor University.” Baylor University, November 1, 2016, http://hdl.handle.net/2104/9882.

Bidlack, B., Baker, M.C., and Bakkalbasi, N. “Is There Anything New under the Sun? (Ecclesiastes 1:9): A Local Report on the Research Practices of Scholars in Religion and Theology.” Columbia University Academic Commons, 2016, http://dx.doi.org/10.7916/D8668DKK.

Burr, T. and Keck, A. “Faculty Research Practices at Luther Seminary.” Luther Seminary, 2016, http://digitalcommons.luthersem.edu/staff_pubs/1.

Cohen, I. and Steinberger, N. “Report to Ithaka Religious Studies Project.” Jewish Theological Seminary of America, November 2016,  http://garfield.jtsa.edu:1801/view/action/singleViewer.do?dvs=1481045442663~220&locale=en_US&VIEWER_URL=/view/action/singleViewer.do?&DELIVERY_RULE_ID=10&frameId=1&usePid1=true&usePid2=true.

Dearborn, V., Gundry, J., and Skrebutenas, K. The Research Practices and Support Needs of Advanced Scholars in Religion and Theology: A Local Report by Princeton Theological Seminary Library.” Princeton Theological Seminary, 2016, https://library.ptsem.edu/assessment/ithaka-2016.

Estelle-Homer, S., Krätli, G., and Richardson, C. “A Study of Faculty Research Practices in Religious Studies at Yale University.” Yale University, November 1, 2016, https://works.bepress.com/suzanne_estelle-holmer/1/.

Hatch, T., Lee, R., and van Dyk, G. “Research Support Services for Religious Studies” Brigham Young University, 2016, http://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/facpub/1745.

Hill, J. Lloyd, R., Rowland, F., and Turner, N.  “Final Report: Religious Studies Scholarship at Temple University.” Temple University, 2016, https://sites.temple.edu/assessment/files/2017/01/TempleUniversity_ReligiousStudies_FinalReport.pdf.

Kohut, M., Benda, C., Romero, R., Hook, B. “Research Support Services: Religious Studies.” Vanderbilt University, 2016, http://hdl.handle.net/1803/8369.

Strauber, C. “Supporting the Changing Research Practices of Religious Studies Scholars at Tufts.” Tufts University, 2016, http://dl.tufts.edu/catalog/tufts:sd.0000506.

Korsman, G. and Lowrie, R. “The Research Practices of Faculty in Religious Studies:

A Local Report by Harvard Library Fall 2016.” Harvard University, 2016, http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:29503806.

Thomas, A., Tenner, E. “Research Support Services Department of Religion Rice University (Ithaka S+R Local Report).” Rice University, 2016, https://scholarship.rice.edu/handle/1911/92705.

Tippey, P.A., Horner, T., and Custer, W. “Supporting the Changing Research Practices of Religious Studies Research’s.” Asbury Seminary, 2016, http://place.asburyseminary.edu/firstfruitspapers/70.

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