Doxology: Open access “magnifying lens” on worship scholarship

In a previous post, I related a conversation I had with Geoffrey Moore, the new editor of the recently converted online and open access journal Doxology: A Journal of Worship (ISSN: 2167-0153) regarding the pros and cons of publishing complete periodic issues or publishing articles as they are submitted and reviewed in open annual volumes. In that post I indicated that I planned a follow-up profile of the journal itself. At last…

The scholarly publication of the Order of Saint Luke

Doxology was founded in 1984 as a scholarly publication of the Order of Saint Luke. The Order of Saint Luke is a “religious order in the United Methodist Church dedicated to sacramental and liturgical scholarship, education, and practice.” It was formed in 1946 “to bring about a recovery of the worship and sacramental practice which has sustained the Church since its formation in Apostolic times,” and “to help the Church rediscover the spiritual disciplines of the Wesleys as a means of perceiving and fulfilling the mission for which the Church was formed” (from the website).

I spoke with former editor, Professor Byron Anderson (Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary), about the history of Doxology.

Anderson: Doxology began in 1984, primarily as a venue for members and friends of the Order of Saint Luke. It served as a venue for publishing the lectures/papers offered at the annual retreat of the Order, along with a few other occasional pieces—either solicited by or offered to the journal. It did not publish substantive reviews, nor were materials reviewed independently prior to publication. In 1998, with Volume 15, Clifton Guthrie and I took over editorial responsibility for Doxology after conversation with the OSL Council about the future and shape of the journal. Among our goals were moving to a juried journal, broadening and deepening the scholarship offered through the journal, providing a venue through which to support younger scholars, giving emphasis to Protestant worship, and offering “more exacting” and more selective reviews (soliciting particular reviewers rather than accepting unsolicited reviews).

Omega Alpha: I understand the print journal was published once per year, and it is continuing as an annual in its online incarnation. When was the issue typically released each year? How many subscribers did you have prior to Doxology going online?

Anderson: Issues came out in December, although several years we had a print/delivery delay, which helped support our push to go online. The primary subscriber base was the membership of the Order of St. Luke, which has somewhere around 800 members. [They also had 39 institutional subscribers.] The subscription price for individuals and institutions was $10.

Omega Alpha: So the subscription price was primarily intended to help defray the cost of printing and mailing. Did you publish Doxology in-house?

Anderson: The journal was and is a publication of OSL Publications, which usually contracted with a printer and mail service for production and delivery. Printing and postage costs were becoming a concern, and we were beginning to have some problems with timely delivery. Yes, the subscription had been part of the annual membership dues to the organization.

Omega Alpha: Your first online annual issue—Volume 28—was published last year (2011) while you were still co-editor. You mentioned printing costs and delays. Did these things factor into your decision to move Doxology online?

Anderson: Yes. I first broached the possibility that we take the journal online after several years of printing/delivery delays and with changes being made in the staffing of OSL Publications. The first conversation took us as far as agreeing to continue to explore the possibility. After learning about Open Journal Systems, seeing it in use at Methodist Review, and conversing with the editor of Methodist Review, I developed a proposal and pressed for this move. Admittedly, the move also came at a time when financial considerations helped press it forward. Of course, because Doxology has always been produced on a shoe string, there wasn’t much to fund. What we have done is make use of the previous budget for printing and postage to cover the modest cost for the online move. The editors receive a modest honorarium; we do this, in part, as a contribution to the OSL.

Omega Alpha: Volunteerism applied to tasks such as editing and peer review is common and frequently necessary. But it is a long-standing, honorable, and collegial tradition in scholarly communication that reaps a lot of direct value in the online open access environment because infrastructure costs (when coupled with the use of open source tools like OJS) are otherwise low. It is now possible for any group of committed scholars or a scholarly organization to contemplate embarking on a fully credible journal publishing venture with readily available tools. Can you say more about your decision to embrace the open access publishing model for Doxology?

Anderson: Pretty much as I just indicated before. Seeing it in use at Methodist Review, having it recommended to me by my institution’s librarian, and then beginning to explore its “ease of use” from an editorial perspective.

Omega Alpha: Do you feel that open access lends itself appropriately to the mission of The Order of St. Luke?

Anderson: I think it does. The purpose of the journal focuses on the OSL’s desire the “seek the sacramental life, promote the corporate worship of the church, and magnify the sacraments,” attempting to do these things from an academic perspective yet trying to maintain a bridge between the church and the academy. Open access potentially expands our audience beyond the membership. Because we are an annual journal, we had not been able to be listed in ATLA’s Religion Database so our materials did not show up in library searches. But by moving Doxology online, we at least can make an appearance through web searches.

I posed this same question to Daniel Benedict, the Abbot of the Order of Saint Luke.

Benedict: As Abbot, I am responsible for overseeing the spiritual and temporal matters of the Order of Saint Luke. In this regard, the publications of the Order are an important part of our work and service to the church and the academy. Doxology is our scholarly periodical. However, publishing it as an annual print volume was both expensive and limited in the audience it could reach. As an annual publication, Doxology was not indexed in ATLA. Without database indexing, few scholars could know of it or its contents. With Dr. Ron Anderson’s encouragement and background work, I concluded that the Order and the academy would be better served by going to the online/open access approach and advocated for that to the Council.

Omega Alpha: What has been the response to this transition within the Order of Saint Luke?

Benedict: Two part response: First, the Council was favorable because the savings are significant. We are now realizing a $2,500 annual reduction in costs of publishing the journal. Second, the promise of wider availability to the intended audience has appeal to the leadership of the Order and to members who are aware of the shift to online/open access publication.

The new approach to publication costs us nothing, beyond the time given by the editor, Br. Geoffrey Moore. That is not to minimize the gift and sacrifice on his part as a scholar, giving himself to this work. We pay a small stipend for his efforts. Beyond that, the savings realized allows the Order to contribute a significant portion of his expenses for attending the North American Academy of Liturgy, where he is able to interface with other scholars with an eye toward generating potential writers for Doxology.

Omega Alpha: So the move to open access has resulted in reduced costs, timely publication, and the prospect of a broader readership and increased discovery by scholars of worship and liturgy. These were the very goals Drs. Anderson and Josselyn-Cranson articulated in the “Note to Readers” in the first online issue of Doxology.

Benedict: We are still living into the transition and our awareness of what the new approach will mean for our end users. The journal’s end users are not, for the most part, members of the Order. Rather, the end users are scholars who engage in academic considerations with each other for the sake of matters of practice in the church’s liturgy and sacramental life. The Order and the Church benefit from this ongoing conversation.

Doxology 4.0

In the “Note to Readers” from the first online issue of Doxology (Volume 28, 2011), Dr. Byron Anderson writes: “In my count, this issue of Doxology represents either its third or fourth ‘incarnation’—Doxology 4.0 perhaps. … What has changed is the means by which it is delivered to you, our readers. … What has not changed, however, is the quality of the material presented here” (emphasis added). This is a very neat and concise way of communicating the intentions of open access. The quality of scholarship, editorial oversight, and peer review is in no way compromised by open access. Open access is about distribution of scholarship not scholarly quality. [I had dinner with a professor colleague just last evening who still didn’t “get” this basic fact about open access—an indication that advocates for open access still have some work to do!]

Another point raised by Dr. Anderson in his “Note” was that a search for new editorial leadership was underway, after his 15-year tenure. That search was successfully concluded this year as Geoffrey Moore, a doctoral student at Southern Methodist University, assumed the post as editor.

I followed-up this profile and my earlier conversation with Moore about plans for Doxology moving forward. The 2012 issue (Volume 29) is slated for publication in December along the lines of the first online issue last year. However, he has decided, beginning in 2013, to adopt an open submission and publication format (publishing articles immediately as they pass peer and editorial review), similar to the approach taken by Methodist Review. “This is a logical choice in the interest of getting scholarship ‘out there’ with greater expedience; and given that we’re already an annual, there doesn’t appear to be a downside with respect to the history of our serial.” Moore is also interested in exploring a print on demand option for individuals and institutions. And as time allows, he wants to scan the back issues to create a complete journal archive on the site.

An open access “magnifying lens” on worship scholarship

The Focus and Scope section on the journal’s “About” page includes these words regarding the mission of Doxology: “Doxology is a refereed scholarly journal. Through the academic and pastoral conversations developed in Doxology, the journal seeks to promote the corporate worship of the church,… While, on the one hand, we seek to ‘lift up the sacraments’ we also seek through the same to apply a magnifying lens to them through scholarly conversation and critique” (emphasis added).

What a great metaphor for the scholarly endeavor and its communication. I am pleased that this particular scholarly magnifying lens is now open access. I wish it continued success.

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