As a regular feature of the site I would like to present profiles of new and existing open access journals in religion and theology. Coupled with these profiles I would like, whenever possible, to include interviews of or comments from the journal editor (or a member of the editorial team), a contributing author/scholar, and a scholar or librarian who knows of or has used the journal (through an article citation, link on a library website, etc.).
My interest here is to keep open access meaningfully rooted in the real world of active and on-going scholarship, and lend encouragement to scholarly content creators and users toward–as a colleague of mine has wonderfully phrased it–“the task of building an open access culture” in religion and theology. Hearing from folk who are already actively engaged in open access will enable/empower others to consider and better navigate the waters of open access, whether the issue is funding and sustainability, publishing platforms, attracting authors, the submission process, peer review, copyright and licensing, journal/article discoverability, or supporting libraries that are trying to serve the information resource needs of students and faculty.
Introducing Religion and Gender
I take it as serendipitous that I learned almost coincident to the launch of my site that a new open access journal in religion was being launched. The new journal called Religion and Gender (ISSN: 1878-5417) has released its first issue, thematically focusing on Critical Issues in the Study of Religion and Gender. It seems fitting that I begin my profile feature with this journal.
The journal is based in the Department of Religious Studies and Theology at University of Utrecht, The Netherlands. It is published by Igitur Publications, an open access journal publishing service of Utrecht University Library utilizing Open Journal Systems, an open source journal management platform developed by the Public Knowledge Project at Simon Fraser University, Canada.
The governance structure of Religion and Gender consists of three Executive Editors, three Assistant Editors, an International Editorial Board consisting of twenty four members, and an Academic Advisory Board of fourteen.
The journal’s website includes clear Online Submissions and Author Guidelines. Articles, concise papers and literature surveys submitted to Religion and Gender go through a “double blind” peer-review process involving “at least two scholars with relevant expertise.” The journal will be published twice a year. “Each year a first issue will appear in March and a second in October. All articles of one issue will be published simultaneously.” Articles in Religion and Gender are published under a Creative Commons Attribution License (3.0).
Focus and Scope (from the website):
Religion and Gender is the first refereed online international journal for the systematic study of gender and religion in an interdisciplinary perspective. The journal explores the relation, confrontation and intersection of gender and religion, taking into account the multiple and changing manifestations of religion in diverse social and cultural contexts. It analyses and reflects critically on gender in its interpretative and imaginative dimensions and as a fundamental principle of social ordering. It seeks to investigate gender at the intersection of feminist, sexuality, queer, masculinity and diversity studies.
Open Access fits the scholarly mission of Religion and Gender
The introductory editorial in the inaugural issue by Anne-Marie Korte, “Openings: A Genealogical Introduction to Religion and Gender” (PDF) addressed many of the questions I had regarding both the birth of the journal, and the decision of the journal founders to publish open access.
[A]t the very beginning we embraced the idea of ‘direct publishing’ and ‘free entrance’ that online and open access publishing brings about. ‘Open access’ – the magic word of this whole project, a real ‘Open, Sesame’! – represents and materializes our stance on the accessibility and the social relevance of this journal, its visibility, its intermediary role in current and emerging debates, and its function in warranting the author’s ownership of intellectual work as much as possible.
In addition to common benefits of open access for scholars, including closing the distance and reducing the time that often stands between authors and the publishing process (and readers on the other side of that process), promoting a progressive intellectual property perspective, removing the artificial notion of knowledge scarcity, and opening opportunities (especially) for new/young scholars to get in and engage the scholarly conversation/debate, Korte contends that open access fits well for other reasons.
Open access publication, in our opinion, does not only refer to the scope, pace, and amount of exchange it brings forth, but also to the transparency and the quality of conversation that it can enable. Research into religion and gender is always ‘entangled work’, as it means engaging in conversations, both scholarly and otherwise, that are often already formed by deeply ingrained and lived notions (words, gestures, images) of what ‘religion’ is and is not, of what it does and can(not) do, and of what it should be or not be. We do not only speak about religion but religion also speaks by, for and against us. And, intriguing as it is complicating, the same could be said about gender. For this reason, contemporary and interdisciplinary research into religion and gender conducted by scholars who are often simultaneously witnesses to and participants in the subject they study, demands vigorous, well-informed, critical and self-critical debate. Open access publication can deliver important contributions to this debate by staging these conversations and opening them up for both insiders and outsiders.
And secondly, open access publication also addresses other and related epistemological and moral aspects of scholarship in both religion and gender studies, in particular the dynamics of distance and personal engagement that binds researchers to the topics, persons and communities they investigate. Open access publication, moreover, with its technologically organized promise of direct publishing and free entrance, intensifies the questions about locality and loyalty, privilege and marginalization, and objectivity and embodiment that gender studies has raised and put on the academic agenda. Open access publication has the paradoxical quality of recalling ‘old’ ideals of activist, engaged and grassroots scholarship, epitomized by the idea of immediate exchange between the researchers and the persons or groups they commit themselves to in their research. And at the same time it has the quality of meeting ‘new’ academic requirements of presenting our research results and demonstrating its relevance, not only to academic peers and funding instances but also as ‘open’ to wider audiences as contemporary media make feasible. (emphases added)
Although it might be possible to study religion and gender from an objectivist/’scientific’, or at least, a disinterested perspective (research as an ‘academic exercise’), I take from Professor Korte’s comments that Religion and Gender doesn’t intend and would not be satisfied with this approach. The Editorial Team (and supporting Editorial Board and Advisors) is seeking submissions from scholars who are engaged as both witnesses of and participants in the relationships and communities that inform their research. But more, they want this research to echo relevance back into those relationships and communities. In order to successfully fulfill this mission, the communication platform for such a research agenda needs to be open and accessible to all. Open access would seem able to support this mission most effectively.
Funding and Sustainability
Religion and Gender’s commitment to open access is informed by its mission of engaged and “socially relevant” scholarship. But how is this commitment funded and sustained? I thought Professor Korte was about to answer this question when at the end of the paragraph above she raised the issue of the economics of access:
As an upcoming ordering principle of academic publicity and communication, however, open access publication also raises firm questions about its organization and economic costs: who can be held responsible for granting – and paying – ‘free entrance’ and reaching ‘the widest possible audience’? What if the authors whose work actually gets published are saddled with all the costs?
Korte never returned to answer these questions in the editorial. In the Acknowledgements at the end of the editorial, however, I was able to glean that in addition to significant volunteerism in terms of time and expertise from a variety of sources, a major source of funding for Religion and Gender has come through an Incentive Fund Open Access Journals in the Humanities grant from The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). Additional financial support is coming from the Christine de Pisan Foundation and the Interuniversity Theology Network of Women.
Happily, Adriaan van Klinken, a member of the Editorial Team at Religion and Gender responded to my inquiry for additional information. Dr. van Klinken notes that although there is still much hesitancy and resistance, there has been “a noticeable turn towards open access publishing” in The Netherlands. The NWO (the national funding body for academic research) and the major universities (including Utrecht University where Religion and Gender is based, and Igitur, the open access publisher at the Library of Utrecht University that publishes Religion and Gender) has significantly enhanced support for open access in the country. Religion and Gender received three years of support from the NWO through a special grant for open access journals in the Humanities. NWO also offers the opportunity for authors to apply for funding to publish their work open access. (Recently, Professor Korte successfully applied for a research and networking grant, which included funding for three special issues of Religion and Gender.)
So, it appears that grant funding combined with a strong network of editorial and technical expertise, and dedicated volunteers will help Religion and Gender get off to a good start. That being said, Dr. van Klinken acknowledges much work remains to be done. “Our task is to develop a long-term business plan to run the journal. Clearly, this is a major challenge and sometimes we are concerned about it, because we do not have an example of an established OA-journal with a successful business model running over a longer period of time.” They are looking at two avenues to create sustainable funding: the introduction of a system of author fees, and the establishment of an international scholarly association, whose membership fees could help support the on-going publication of Religion and Gender.
“We are fully aware that launching an OA journal is a challenging adventure. The world of OA-publishing is very dynamic and unpredictable. However, we are convinced that OA is the future. Therefore we trust that we will find ways to develop a solid financial model to publish our journal. Our top priority right now is to establish Religion and Gender as a high quality academic journal, because in the end the quality and relevance of the scholarship published in the journal will build its reputation.”