Tag Archives: Blog

Not So Lively?

28 Nov

Promises to get back to blogging are easy to break. I’ve made them before only to find myself staring at months of silence. I’m not about to make another one now. This blog has been a home for many works-in-progress ideas. When I needed an outlet for exploration, this was an ideal forum. I struggled, as we all can, to maintain a steady volume of output. The ebb and flow of posts is essential for long-term readers. As a writer I am learning to be reliable, but it is a long process.

Part of the challenge–which I recently discussed with a colleague or two at the 2014 meeting of the American Academy of Religion in San Diego–is the paralysis that can come when writing a certain kind of blog post. I have preferred to write lengthier posts that do a bit of the initial free-writing on a topic I’d like to explore further (Demons in video games, for instance, or the viral qualities of cult formation seen in Twitch Plays Pokemon). This preference makes it much harder to be satisfied with your posts. When have I had my say on a topic that I’m just beginning to write about? Am I using my blog as an “open research notebook” for myself or should I consider my audience as I write?

For me the paralysis of writing often emerges when I fail to find a suitable way to balance the demands of audience and personal research notes. The first requires clarity and a willingness to explain context while avoiding jargon. The second makes more rapid progress while shutting out potential conversations. Rather than walk the line I have often chosen not to take a first step and my writing suffered.

Being out of the classroom (we knew we were moving mid-semester so I lost quite a bit of time when I could have been teaching) also diminished my desire to write. Speaking with folks on sabbatical reminded me how integral the conversations in the classroom have been to my own writing process. This blog has been most active when I have been working intensely with students who challenge me to present my ideas more succinctly and seek out points of reference for their frame of experience. Having begun teaching again this fall I feel my desire to write has been rejuvenated. I am also brimming with ideas, many of which are spurred by the work my students have done.

If this experiment has not been so lively lately, I am certainly to blame. But I have not been idle and I hope to be able to share the fruits of other orchards with visitors when they arrive. I still hope to transfer my digital life over to my self-hosted site; I still work on the details of my Spiritual Warfare Archive; I am moving forward in the development of multiple writing projects; and I have exciting partnerships with folks elsewhere on the web such as SacredAndSequential.org and SacredMatters. Perhaps I should shed more light on the shadowy development process, but, as many of us feel, it is often easier to *do* the things rather than discuss them. Self-reflection is a skill to be mastered just as much as blogging.

Zombie Blogging

7 Dec

No, this isn’t a post about another zombie apocalypse. I have blogged on and off for 10 years. I was on LiveJournal to stay connected to high school friends when I entered college. I had a photo-blog at the end of my undergraduate schooling that I kept until I finished my master’s degree. I had a pseudonymous blog as a master’s student. I started another pseudonymous blog when I entered graduate school. These were all more than half a decade ago. They are all long since extinguished. They may still exist in the interstices of the web’s forgotten corners. I bet if I tried hard enough I could find them on Google in their immense cache of web stuffs. I don’t know that it is worth it to me to do so. There’s not enough on them that I would want to do anything with. They are zombies that I’d happily send to a more permanent hereafter.

However, there is a blog that I worked on with several fellow graduate students (pre-comprehensive exams). When I passed my exams and began to do my dissertation research I felt compelled to put my own name on my digital work and started again. (Those friends were also never quite so into trying to cultivate a digital space for their religious musings as I was.) I haven’t regretted that decision–although I have at times still struggled to balance the allure of web publishing against rapid degree progress. (Haven’t we all had moments in projects where we’d rather do some other work instead?) But the thing is… I had over a 100 items on my previous site–nearly all of which were academically oriented and many of which deserve another day in the sun. What should I do with them? I certainly won’t (and can’t) simply re-post them. They have broken links, embedded pictures that need to be reuploaded, and contain much that I’d like to change if i had the opportunity. So what to do with these semi-living creatures?

Zombie Ed in Shaun of the Dead (2004)

Zombie Ed in Shaun of the Dead (2004)

This is one of the problems with the web, right? Nothing dies. It just creeps along, malnourished and thirsting for brains (literally). And when we consider that I am (and most other academic bloggers are)  trying to extend our professional selves into the digital public, what are the consequences of these roaming zombie ideas? Are we emotionally invested in them? Do the hold the potential to harm us further down the road? I’ve always been moderately aware that the web is forever. I try pretty hard to remember that when I’m online. Still. You weren’t always the person you are now. Doesn’t that former self merit some consideration? When are we free to decide its time is over? Are we even free to make that decision?

Does this mean that they are like Ed from Shaun of the Dead? Are these old ideas doomed to an unfortunate life after death? I wouldn’t blame them for hanging around. It’s not their fault. I put them out there–which is why blogging is always so risky, right? Digital humanists must, to some degree tip-toe along always aware that they are not totally in control of their products. To a degree it’s the same risk that any academic project accepts. But pushing “publish” is so much faster and seemingly less risky than “real” publishing. No wonder we still haven’t resolved the issue. We’re still figuring out what the consequences might be.

The SSRC’s “New Landscape of the Religion Blogosphere”

1 Dec

Today on the Social Science Resource Council’s blog, The Immanent Frame: Secularism, Religion and the Public Sphere, you can read a rather substantial report on “The New Landscape of the Religion Blogosphere.” I have great respect for its primary author, Nathan Schneider, who started at UCSB the same year I did, but left swiftly after completing his Master’s degree to pursue religious study beyond the Ph.D. Schneider has promoted a more expansive view of the roles and responsibilities of religious studies scholars. This emphasis is readily apparent in the new report, which balances the fact of growing scholarly presence in the blogosphere with optimism about its growth and confirmation about the value of blogs for academics and the public.

The first section of the report, “Why bother with blogs?” contends that “the blogosphere has become one of the eminent spaces for serious public discourse in the online world.” This eminence comes with a cost, however, not only for scholars, who can spend considerable time working on their blogs, but also for the academy’s link to the public as “the informality and lack of oversight that characterizes much of the blogosphere takes its toll on readers’ trust.”

In section two, “Blogging and academia” authored by Ruth Braunstein, blogs are positioned as a digital frontier for academics where many authors hope their work might  “foster new and enhanced forms of scholarly collaboration of the kind most researchers strive for, but cannot—because of limits to time, resources, or nearby colleagues—actually bring about.” If that seems rosy, there are many academic concerns and plenty of professional anxieties . From issues of authority to the looming challenges of differentiating blogs from “real” scholarship, the risks/rewards of participation in the digital frontiers are still developing.

The next section of the work maps the religion blogosphere as a  sophisticated network of small discourses. Should blogs be judged by perceived authority, site traffic, depth of their connections to other blogs, interaction with the community through comments, or some combination of metrics? Moreover, if we’re classifying blogs, what criteria should we use? Might we divide blogs into content areas such as political opinion, culture and ideas, academic research, news, and so on? The challenge seems to be that  “like so much of the Internet,  the religion blogosphere is a system of self-directed, independent parts, fueled by a variety of motivations and following no coherent underlying design.” Moreover, it’s dynamic and constantly evolving.

In what I found to be the most interesting section of the report, “Religion bloggers on blogging,” describes not only the challenges of using blogs as CV appropriate professional service, but also cites areas of the blogosphere that need development, such as additional “high quality academic writing,” focus on “Islam as a lived religion,” and more reviews/discussion of “religion-related books.” These items were contributed directly from 19 blogging scholars, and I wouldn’t mind seeing even more of their frank evaluations.

Finally, in two great services to the blogosphere, the report first collects an innovative bibliography related to blogging and the digital public sphere before then offering a substantial blogroll of religion blogs. These are excellent resources and I expect they’ll continue to grow. They invite religion blog authors and readers to submit sites for addition to the roll. (Please send nominations to ifblog@ssrc.org with the name, URL, and a description of the blog.) I’m not on there, for instance, especially since I’ve been publishing privately for the last year or so. I imagine there are many, many others who are also flying underneath the radar.

If you want to download the report as a single PDF, the SSRC has got you covered. This won’t update with the blogroll, but it will provide easy access to the substantive discussion the report has produced. Be sure to let Nathan know you appreciate the report by sending him a tweet at @nathanairplane

[Yes, weekends are for dissertation topics, but this was both timely (the report just came out) and appropriate for the relaunch of my own blogging site. Check back next weekend for an update on spiritual warfare and spatial prayer.]

Should I blog?

28 Sep

Over at Religion in American History Edward Blum writes about his reservations when folks exactly like me blog under their own names. The risks, he believes, should make young professionals think twice about their digital publishing. His point are entirely reasonable and I’ve heard them before from my father, a professor of environmental science, other graduate students, and even academic advisers. Unfortunately, his piece offers no advice for young professionals hoping to get blogging “right” and identifies few of blogging’s benefits in this increasingly digital age. I want to take the time today to explain why I’m here under my own name and why despite Blum’s reservations I think it’s okay and even beneficial for me to be writing here.

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