Posts tagged with: academics

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, July 13, 2010

You often hear that Europe is much more secular than America. Just take a look at the Netherlands, for instance. How much more secular can you get?

But one place in which this stereotype rings false is in terms of academic institutions. You can pursue (as I currently am) a degree in theology at a European public university. Can you imagine that in the United States?

No, here we have departments of “religious studies” in public colleges and universities (if we cover religion there at all, and to be sure, “theology” and “religion” aren’t identical). My friend Hunter Baker might point to this difference not as secularism in a strict sense, but rather an institutional separation between state and church (for more on his definition of secularism, check out his book, The End of Secularism).

And thus from accounts of the institutional differences between the academic study of religion and theological study in America, you might easily get the impression of a kind of intellectual or academic secularism. After all, to study theology in America, you have to go to a private college or seminary (as I also am currently doing). This perspective from the Chronicle of Higher Education is representative, “The Ethics of Being a Theologian,” in which K.L. Noll writes, in part,

I do not presume to tell theologians how to be theologians, and I will not attempt to define the value of theology. I simply request that theologians fulfill basic ethical obligations, such as the affirmation that theology is not knowledge and must position itself apart from those academic disciplines that try to advance knowledge, such as history, anthropology, religious study, and (perhaps especially) the natural sciences.

Meanwhile, in secular Europe, as ENI’s Stephen Brown reports, “European theology faculties warn of shift to religious studies.” Read the rest of Brown’s story after the break.
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Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, October 13, 2008

Speaking of the Nazis, I highly recommend Heiko A. Oberman’s essay, “From Luther to Hitler,” contained in the posthumously published The Two Reformations (Yale University Press, 2003). The piece is short and pointed, well worth the read, and just one of a number of excellent essays in that collection.

Here’s how Oberman concludes (p. 85):

I do not intend this analysis to serve the cause of exculpating the Germans who were fated to be born too early. Rather I hope to direct attention to the decade of decision between 1925 and 1935, particularly to the responsibility of academic leaders, who enjoyed a status of respect unparalleled in the rest of Europe. Among those leaders martin Heidegger, Emanuel Hirsch, and others constituted a kind of Nazi think tank that provided Hitler with some of his most effective ideological executioners. Although they are now restored to what may be their rightful glory as scholars, they have forfeited their claim to be regarded as citizens of humanity.

Ideas have consequences and academic leaders have a public responsibility. History, too, has a duty to judge the moral quality of those ideas and what consequences they had.

BRYN MAWR, July 13, 2006 – Over the course of the week I have offered my reflections that have arisen within the context of the Advanced Studies in Freedom seminar offered by the Institute for Humane Studies (previous editons: Weekend, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday). The presentations by the faculty have been in great part engaging, intellectually rigorous, and valuable.

I’ll conclude with an observation about the necessity for any intellectual endeavor to pursue scholarship in a rigorous and serious way. This is applicable to any scholar who is or is not part of the liberal education establishment, but it is even more relevant, I think, for those of us who do not share many of the same fundamental convictions as the intellectual elite.

The point is this: the only way that scholars who come from positions outside the mainstream can expect to garner any measure of respect and/or success in the education establishment is by deeply committing themselves to the standards of scholarship. So, for example, in my own case, I face what might be called a heavy ideological burden: I am socially, theologically, and morally conservative with significant affinities to classical liberal political and economic theory. These values are simply out of step with the broader academic world, and even to some extent within the circles of my own field of interest, historical theology.

I propose that the only way to overcome these obsacles is to do scholarly work that even those who have radically different ideological commitments but who nevertheless believe in the seriousness of scholarship will have no other choice than to respect. This includes a commitment to the commonly accepted standards of scholarly work, such as a consistent application of research methodology, responsible engagement and treatment of primary and secondary sources, a striving for objectivity, and treatment of the subject matter according to the scholastic method. It excludes ideological diatribes and polemic passed off in the form of scholarship.

There is no guarantee of course that in any particular instance my work will be respected on its own merits rather than being passed over due to intellectual bias. But these elements are really the only ones that I can control, and I must leave it to God’s providence to determine where and how my calling is to be effected in the future.

Beyond being a strategic means of attaining acceptence in the academic world, the duties of the scholar are such that they are necessary for the broader and ultimately more important matter of fidelity to my calling and the responsible exercise of my scholarly vocation.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, July 6, 2006

The Drexel University Libraries have posted video and audio from the Scholarly Communications Symposium convened earlier this year. The event, held on April 28, 2006, included a presentation by me, “The Digital Ad Fontes!: Scholarly Research Trends in the Humanities,” as well as Rosalind Reid, “Access, Inertia, and Innovation: Turbulent Times in Scientific Publishing” (Dr. Blaise Cronin was ill and unable to attend).

The video is divided into two parts and is archived in the streaming content library (scroll down to the bottom). My talk begins the first part, preceded by a brief introduction, and starts at roughly the four minute mark, continuing up through the the beginning of the second hour, including a Q&A period.

A panel discussion begins at roughly the eight minute mark of the second part. These videocasts are in MP4 format (.m4v) and are viewable through iTunes (you can right click to save these files for local viewing. File sizes are 572 MB and 276 MB respectively). I have posted the text from the introduction to my lecture here.

Jordan J. Ballor at the Drexel University Libraries Scholarly Communications Symposium, April 28, 2006

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, June 13, 2006

John Wilson, editor of Books & Culture, writes up a summary of the proceedings of The Historical Society’s conference, “Globalization, Empire, and Imperialism in Historical Perspective.”

“We urgently need an antidote to the journalistic clichés and the even more deplorable pseudo-scholarly discourse surrounding the interlocked themes of globalization, empire, and imperialism. We need the distance—the perspective—that good historical thinking affords. There was plenty of that on display in Chapel Hill, along with some muddle,” reports Wilson.

For more on how “pseudo-scholarly” and pseudo-theological discourse on these themes has been manifest in the contemporary ecumenical movement, check out this piece, which reflects on the 2004 meeting of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches in Accra, Ghana, “Ecumenical Economics: Confessing against the Empire.”

Rodney Dangerfield is famous for saying, “I don’t get no respect!” This complaint is shared in the laments that I often hear from academics, that electronic journals are not afforded the same respect as print journals. I explored some of the reasons for this as well as some of the results that have implications for journal publishers in an article published last year, “Scholarship at the Crossroads: The Journal of Markets & Morality Case Study,” Journal of Scholarly Publishing 36, no. 3 (April 2005).

The basic argument in favor of affording electronic journals the same prestige and status as print journals is that they both are based on the same fundamental quality-control process: peer review. In reality, however, all peer review is not created equal. There are practical differences in what various journals call peer review, how they exercise it, and the self-imposed rigor and depth of external reviews. But even if all peer review were qualitatively equal, there are other factors that contribute to the perception that electronic journals deserve less respect.

The fact is that there are very few, if any, practical constraints on the number and length of articles that could be published by an electronic journal. A print journal has a definite maximum number of pages per issue and volume that can be printed. This creates scarcity, and thus a perception if not the reality of increased value, since only a select number of articles can be printed. No such limits exist in the digital medium, so that such constraints must be voluntarily and rigorously enforced by electronic journal publishers if they are to mimic the dynamics of this aspect of traditional journal publishing.

One other observation I’d like to make is that the advent of e-journals has really sparked the proliferation and diversification of journal publishing. This mirrors and catalyzes the increasing specialization of academic disciplines. For example, the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) lists 90 titles under the subject heading “History”. Some journals are focused on narrow geographical areas and historical periods, such as The Heroic Age: A Journal of Early Medieval Northwestern Europe.

To be sure, some academic disciplines, such as literature and gender studies, lend themselves to greater fracturing and diversification, so that Cervantes or Flaubert have their own dedicated e-journals. It’s entirely likely, for example, that the typical tenure review board member is going to value an article published in Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality somewhat less than one appearing in the American Journal of Sociology. In addition, peer review takes on a different shape if there are very few scholars who are true specialists in a particular area of research.

Certainly many scholars will argue that this embodies the democratization of education and academics, in that fields are no longer monopolized by a few traditional and academically conservative journals. But at the same time scholars must realize that the obscurity and extreme specialization of some of e-journals contributes greatly to their lack of prestige.

One concrete way for electronic journals as a medium to gain respect, especially in the humanistic fields, would be for major, established, respected journals to make the move from print to digital. Otherwise, electronic journals that are almost always less than a decade-old will struggle to get respect.

For a quick overview of the current state of appreciation for economics and capitalism among various ‘academics,’ see the newly inaugurated e-journal Fast Capitalism. It might as well be subtitled: Marxism, Alive and Well. Most of the contributors to the first issue are in sociology, communications, or political science. Here’s a sampling:

In “Beyond Beltway and Bible Belt: Re-imagining the Democratic Party and the American Left,” Ben Agger, who teaches sociology and humanities at the University of Texas at Arlington, writes, “Electoral politics now matter. George W. Bush, Jr. and his evangelical-Christian supporters have seen to that. Bush threatens to undo the welfare state, roll back civil liberties (and block new ones), and isolate the United States from the rest of the world. His foreign policy is an admixture of isolationism and unilateral adventurism. Homeland Security, his contribution to our political lexicon, has a Nazi-era resonance. Gays, lesbians, foreigners, liberals, the left have been demonized by a supposedly literal interpretation of the Bible, which drives the Christian right, Bush’s base of support. This has the makings of fascism.” One other tidbit: “FDR’s welfare state, while not perfect, significantly buffered the ravages of capitalism for those without jobs and without hope.” Also check out the planks in his “agenda for American social democracy,” which include “economic restructuring,” in which “the Democratic Party must take the lead in reconceptualizing the United Nations not only as an international police force but as an agent of the redistribution of capital.”

See also Charles Lemert, Andrus Professor of Sociology at Wesleyan University, who is self-described as “once a minister, still a student of theology, seldom a church-goer.” He writes an encomium to Reinhold Neibuhr, praising him for, among other things, opposing the Ford auto company in the early 20th century. “Though called to serve a traditional, declining urban congregation, Niebuhr, still in his twenties, quickly engaged himself on the side of industrial workers in a city where automobile manufacturing ruled by the hand of Henry Ford who presented himself as the patron saint of economic justice in the offer of then higher wages. Thus began Fordism, born not of fairness, but of greed for efficient production. The higher wages famously broke Marx’s rule on the suppression of labor costs as the key to the extraction of surplus value. But the break was only apparent. The wages were taken back in the purchase of the automobiles labor produced—thereby doubly exploiting the laborer,” he writes.

And don’t miss “Politics and Self in the Age of Digital Re(pro)ducibility,” by Robert W. Williams, who teaches Political Science at Bennett College in North Carolina. His claim, explicitly made within “the Marxist tradition,” is that “there is a dialectic of in/dividuality present in the conjuncture of globalizing capitalism and liberal-democratic policies. The relationships that reduce us as separate selves to digitally mediated signifiers and that “reproduce” those signifiers as dividuals also provide the potential for resistance against the oppressions resulting from digital re(pro)ducibility.”

HT: The Blogora