Research Responsibilities Revisited

Some may recall a series of posts from the summer of 2015, on what I saw as the shortcomings of a draft statement of the American Academy of Religion on their members’ research responsibilities. Their draft document was then the basis for a session at the AAR’s 2015 annual meeting, in Atlanta that year, and a final version of the document was then produced and passed, early in 2016, by the AAR Board.

Until recently I wasn’t aware of where the final version of the adopted document lived online but, thanks to the AAR main office, I learned that you can find it here.

So visit this site, if you’re interested what the document’s final form is, or if you’re wondering whether your comments on the draft might have swayed the committee in making their final revisions.

A Response to “Responsible Research Practices,” Part 12: Highest Standards

highdiveThis is an installment in an ongoing series on the American Academy of Religion’s recently released draft statement on research responsibilities.
An index of the
complete series (updated as each
article is posted) can be found here.

The thirteenth and final item included in the draft document reads as follows:

higheststandardsAt this point in the series there’s not really all that much left to say. For in my reading, there’s too little  specificity to the document’s claims to assist us in decoding its technical terms. So I’d argue that advocating that we “adhere to the highest standards” can’t, by definition, be operationalized.

Or better put, it can be operationalized, but in far too many ways, many of which will no doubt be contradictory. Continue reading

And Isn’t It Ironic? Don’t You Think?

rsnTomorrow the last  post in my series examining the American Academy of Religion‘s recent draft statement on research responsibilities hits the web (go here to see all the posts in the series).

I became aware of the document by happening upon a Facebook post about a month ago. Continue reading

A Response to “Responsible Research Practices,” Part 11: Research Assistants

researchassistantThis is an installment in an ongoing series on the American Academy of Religion’s recently released draft statement on research responsibilities.
An index of the
complete series (updated as each
article is posted) can be found here.

The second to the last item on the draft document is the only one that concerns our work with students — odd, if you think about it, since much of teaching concerns preparing them to be researchers themselves, so you’d think that a statement on research responsibilities would give some attention to our role mentoring the next generation of scholars. But, instead, the only attention to students reads as follows:

researchassistantsIf there’s been little to no explicit awareness of the loaded nature of terminology so far in the document, then there’s surely no reason to expect it to start now, given that we’ve reached its penultimate section. So we have little choice but to accept that the slippery term “collegiality” is used here as if it is self-evidently meaningful, making it yet another example of how the document fails to live up to the standards that (I would hope) many of us work to attain in our own research (e.g., clearly define your terms, recognize which are contested, identify your assumptions and mount a persuasive case for why you use the term as you do, etc.). Continue reading

A Response to “Responsible Research Practices,” Part 10: Peer Review

journalsThis is an installment in an ongoing series on the American Academy of Religion’s recently released draft statement on research responsibilities.
An index of the
complete series (updated as each
article is posted) can be found here.

As with the eighth and ninth points of the draft document, the tenth also strikes me as unproductively redundant:

digitalhumanitiesFor while the previous two were both concerned with scholars talking plainly to wide audiences, this bullet point focuses on that too, but narrows in on the medium by which the committee seems to recommend we (increasingly) do this — online. Continue reading

A Response to “Responsible Research Practices,” Part 9: Broader Public

lecturehallThis is an installment in an ongoing series on the American Academy of Religion’s recently released draft statement on research responsibilities.
An index of the
complete series (updated as each
article is posted) can be found here.

Much like the earlier post on doing human subjects research, we find a truism enshrined in the draft document’s eighth bullet point (at least in the opening clause; I include the ninth also since it too is related):

publicunderstandingI’m not sure if there are many scholars out there who decline to provide an account of what they’re up to — it would not be difficult to understand conference presentations, publications, and even the teaching that we do to be doing just that. So I’m unsure why this needs to be included as one of the thirteen obligations the AAR’s committee sees fit to put into their document. Even paying attention to the threefold grouping into which they divide this reporting — our research questions, methods, and findings — isn’t innovative and therefore doesn’t help to clarify why this item was included; for this reads as if it was offering instructions to a lower level undergraduate students on how to write a research paper.

In fact, given that this is pretty much what we, as scholars, all already do, without being told to, it’s somewhat surprising that we also weren’t advised to have a thesis when we write a paper. Continue reading

A Response to “Responsible Research Practices,” Part 8: Diverse Approaches

journalsThis is an installment in an ongoing series on the American Academy of Religion’s recently released draft statement on research responsibilities.
An index of the
complete series (updated as each
article is posted) can be found here.

The seventh bullet point concerns the Academy’s common description of itself as being devoted to religious studies and theology, for it reads as follows:

diverseapproachesBut what exactly are these guiding principles that rule scholarship in or out — in a word, what makes it “responsible”? To rephrase: what might irresponsible scholarship look like? For with the inclusion of the word “may” — as in “responsible scholarship may be conducted ‘both from within and outside…'” [emphasis mine] — I assume they’re entertaining that, in some cases, it may not.

So under what conditions might scholarship carried out from within a so-called community of belief and practice not?

Working within the bounds of the document, I’m not sure how to answer this, for so far, as several of the previous posts have made plain, I’ve only found undefined terms with no plainly stated criteria to adjudicate, say, a fair from an unfair interpretation. Which is pretty ironic, as I’ve also said already, for here we have a statement on research responsibilities that fails to define any of its own technical terms or make its own presuppositions explicit… So, much like the eventual downfall of the positivists’ verificationalist criterion, I’m not sure this document lives up to its own ambitions. And now, halfway into it, we find a bullet point that cites the document itself as providing clarification on one of the most foundation issues of our entire field. But it turns out to be rather Kafkaesque, if you think about it, because we here have a document that justifies a stance on a crucial issue by citing things it doesn’t actually say. Continue reading

A Response to “Responsible Research Practices,” Part 7: Methodological Pluralism

blindmenandtheelephantThis is an installment in an ongoing series on the American Academy of Religion’s recently released draft statement on research responsibilities.
An index of the
complete series (updated as each
article is posted) can be found here.

Hanabusa Itchō‘s (d. 1724) print of the well-known parable of the blindmen and the elephant seemed to me a fitting image to open this commentary on the sixth bullet point in this document.

It reads:

pluralismI won’t quibble as to why the word “theoretical” isn’t bolded, but I tend to think it’s rather significant and not just a copyediting oversight; for “theory” is still (to borrow a phrase of my own, from an earlier but, I think, still relevant, time) a four-lettered word for many in our field, inasmuch as it implies, for them, determining the cause of religion as opposed to interpreting its enduring and deeply personal meaning. And, while many think that the era is long past when religion was claimed by scholars to be unique and unexplainable (what is meant by a Latin term we used to see a lot in the literature: sui generis), the still widespread commitment to seeing religion as a site where transcendent meaning is manifested (or embodied, as some now prefer to say), as opposed to seeing what we call religion to be a secondary phenomenon that results from some other mundane aspect of historical existence, tells me that not much has changed in our field. Continue reading

A Response to “Responsible Research Practices,” Part 6: Irrevocable Commitments

cakeandeatThis is an installment in an ongoing series on the American Academy of Religion’s recently released draft statement on research responsibilities.
An index of the
complete series (updated as each
article is posted) can be found here.

This is, at least to me, perhaps the most troubling of all the bullet points in the document, because of the way it fails to take a stand despite providing the impression of taking a very strong one.

irrevocablecommitmentAs with other portions of this document, there’s a contradiction here that’s left unaddressed. Continue reading

A Response to “Responsible Research Practices,” Part 5: Sources and Interpretations

fairbalancedThis is an installment in an ongoing series on the American Academy of Religion’s recently released draft statement on research responsibilities.
An index of the
complete series (updated as each
article is posted) can be found here.

What should be clear from my previous comments is that I don’t think the draft document simply needs some editing or a few words added to it, in order to make it work. Instead, I think the entire exercise needs to be rethought, form the ground up. But to get there we first need to take the committee seriously and offer the response they solicited to what they’ve put in front of us, if for no other reason than to know how not to tackle such a topic.

Hence this series.

So, we turn to the fourth bullet point:

Picture 22There is much to comment on in this item, so much so that its two sentences really deserve to be elaborated into at least several paragraphs, so that readers understand what’s going on here — i.e., what are the issues and what’s at stake in this particular statement?

After all, modern hermeneutic theory’s been a few centuries in the making, suggesting that a “fair interpretation” is a little more complex to achieve than it here seems.

But I’m getting ahead of myself… Continue reading