Tag Archives: research

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.

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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.]

Future Fridays? The Experiment Continues

30 Nov
Ph.D. in Horribleness

Ph.D. in Horribleness (Photo credit: KellBailey)

Welcome back! After buckling down on dissertation research and writing, I’ve made substantial progress toward the completion of my degree. It’s now time to continue to excellent work I was engaging in before I went on an extended blog-cation. (Is that a thing?) I have a plan, too, to prevent the resumption of blogging from impairing the singular goal of my academic year (Ph.D. in hand)! Here’s what you’ll find from now on:

Media Mondays — I am still a devout, card-carrying member of the media generation. I love the art of film, the art of art, the comfort and energy of music, and  all things digital. I’ll fill future Mondays with movie reviews, analysis of religiously oriented popular music, discussions pulled from live-tweeting conferences, and so on. It will be a great way to start each week!

Textual Tuesdays — My growing collection of primary sources for my dissertation as well as resources for teaching courses in religious studies need a home. I hope to spend future Tuesdays sharing great resources from my personal collection as well as those so many great colleagues share throughout the web.

Western Wednesdays — The study of the American West is near and dear to me. Early proposals for my dissertation included substantial western emphases, but these were eventually reduced. You can’t do everything all at once. I’ll be looking for ways to continue these interests, as well as create a climate for cross-blog discussion with the excellent Religion in the American West blog, which I’ve pledged to write several contributions for in the next year. 

Theory Thursdays — I am surprised at how theoretically inclined my dissertation has become. I’ve always been seriously devoted to theories of sacred space and the tools necessary for theorizing the field of religious studies. I hope to briefly introduce some of these major elements and discussions–perhaps with an eye to a fancy technological project I’ve got in mind for the future.

Free-For-All Friday — Like today’s post, I expect to do quite a few different things on Fridays: from site business, Twitter #followfridays, teaching pedagogy, syllabus drafting, and whatever else didn’t quite make it into the rest of the week.

DiSSertation Weekends —  Over the weekend I’ll try to bring focus to the research I’ve been so concerned with for the last few years. I’ll probably post irregularly on Saturdays and Sundays, naturally preferring to work on the dissertation itself rather than write about the dissertation. I imagine these will be lengthier or more detailed academic posts, too, either serving as launching points for my daily grind or tangents that can’t be contained in the project itself.

Here Be Dragons

Here Be Dragons (Photo credit: Lars Kasper)

Part of the reason I stopped blogging was the challenge of consistently making a variety of content. I was always pushing myself to write substantive and often lengthy posts. This may not have always happened, but that motivation meant I spent more time than I should have planning posts (or drafting them) and less time than I should have publishing what I was working on. In the past year, as I’ve learned more and more about digital humanities and its methods, I can see where this was leading me astray. There’s certainly a place for those posts–hopefully I’ll make more of them–but the average post on my site can be less a lengthy finished product and more a short invitation to discussion and future exploration.

This routine, I hope, will let me publish a consistent volume of interesting items on the topics that keep me motivated and captivated. Let me know if you’re rejoining me! And watch out for those dragons lurking in the unexplored places of the maps.