The relevance of research is an implicit topic in a recent blog post (Bulletin for the Study of Religion blog) from Craig Martin, a religious studies scholar at St. Thomas Aquinas College in New York. He questions why scholars outside religious studies often do not engage recent scholarship in religious studies when working on “religion.” He wonders, “Is this because ‘religion’ in the popular imagination is something so naturalized or self-evident that serious theory on it need not be read?” Commenters on his post defend religious studies scholars, arguing that these scholars do not have the power in society to compete with those who resist a critical reading of religion. I doubt that this challenge is exclusive to religious studies, as other scholars, and even moreso the broader population, do not understand the relevance of what many of us do in our research.
If research is relevant to our teaching, as I have argued in my most recent post, and that research develops a fuller understanding on the working of society (earlier post) and teaching helps students refine important skills (earlier post), then perhaps scholars should put additional effort into making that research more accessible to other scholars and the general public. Do we develop serious interdisciplinary conversations, as most of us are more accustomed to working alone, despite our interdisciplinary rhetoric? Do we focus on the disputes within our fields and not engage the broader academic population and the larger society, to our own detriment? Do we value complicated language and jargon that becomes a barrier to those not in our specific “club”? Do scholars in underfunded or misunderstood disciplines need to work differently?