The Database of Religious History (DRH) “is a massive, standardized, searchable encyclopedia of the current best scholarly opinion on historical religious traditions and the historical record more generally.”
Much of the challenge the DRH tries to address is the volume of scholarly literature being produced on religious history and the difficulty of keeping current with it all.
Thank you for introducing this to us Dr. Stark. The DRH looks like interesting and informative work. A couple points and questions arose as I considered this. Whereas in the past scholars could keep the currents of scholarship in their heads, a point made in the video (due to the fact that they either knew those scholars personally or their work well), today it almost seems that we “mine the data” so to speak without engagement with the scholar responsible for the work. Perhaps it is simplistic of me to say, but it seems one cannot understand the work without some knowing of the one behind it or becoming deeply familiar with their body of work. How do we retain the relational components of scholarship amid the rapid proliferation of information? Second, there is an assumption here that we must keep up with all the trends happening. But no matter how current one keeps, the scholar remains behind in some sense being that there is always another publication, viewpoint, etc. on the horizon that we are yet to consider or even be aware of. Certainly a program like this narrows that gap but a gap will remain. Trying to keep up with trends is full work in of itself. Would it serve the scholar better to find a boundary of working knowledge to become proficient that doesn’t include every opinion and tidbit? Then the scholar can focus on their own voice and contributions and dive deeply into their niche? I am not entirely satisfied with this kind of contentment with one’s knowledge, but I also am not sure that “a mile wide and an inch deep” type of knowing best serves the scholar either. How do we find balance here? Thanks Dr. Stark!
You make some good points, Matthew. On your first query, certainly knowing something of the person behind the writing can be helpful. But for instance, we know next to nothing about the authors of Jude or Hebrews except through those writings (and of course theories about the identities of these authors among the early fathers). On this issue, I like Gadamer’s notion that getting into the mind of an author isn’t so important as getting into the (arguably more accessible) perspective within which the author’s views were formed. There’s no getting around the hermeneutical task even for authors contemporary to us (to say nothing of communication with those family members dearest to us). But I think Gadamer’s nuanced view of the author’s contribution to the interpretive process is helpful in thinking about questions like you pose here.
On your second query, DRH—or any other tool—certainly isn’t and won’t ever be a one stop shop for everything for some of the reasons you mention. But we may still find it helpful. In answer to your question about the balance, though, I suppose I might point to the role of the audience. As Lloyd Bitzer pointed out, no author gets to determine a rhetorical situation simply by fiat without risking the argument falling flat. The situation is determined in dialog with the audience and is the rhetorical space—or ground that needs to be covered—between the rhetor and the audience. So if an audience thinks something is critically relevant, it’s important to deal with that literature even if you might not otherwise. We never know what we don’t know, of course. But that’s where peer review can be helpful. We do our homework to account for the best scholarship we can with as much thoroughness as we can. And then if someone sees something relevant that we didn’t, we can take that feedback into account in revising our work. There might be some embarrassment when this happens, but if we stay focused on the quality of the research product rather than letting the steadiness of our identity get bound up with that product, we probably stand a better chance at recognizing areas for improvement in our own work more dispassionately. Though it’s written about a conference context, you might find this post’s similar reflections useful further developments of this point.
Thanks again so much for your queries. Enjoying the dialog. 🙂