It was almost two years ago that I received an email from the then publishing editor in Religion and Philosophy at Springer Science+Business Media expressing an interest by the publisher to launch open access journals in Religion. I wrote about the conversation I had with the editor in response to that email back in March 2012.
At that point Springer had no open access journals in Religious Studies, although it published seven subscription-based journals in the discipline. This has now changed. At the end of 2013 the International Journal of Dharma Studies (ISSN 2196-8802) launched on the SpringerOpen platform.
The International Journal of Dharma Studies is affiliated with the Center for Dharma Studies at Claremont Lincoln University, California, which also serves as the journal’s sponsor. The founding Co-Editors in Chief of the journal are Professors Rita D. Sherma (University of Southern California) and Purushottama Bilimoria (University of California at Berkeley and University of Melbourne, Australia). The journal has a complete roster of section editors and an extensive editorial board. Submitted manuscripts are subject to review by at least two scholarly peers, who are provided with clear review guidelines.
The journal takes a multi- and interdisciplinary approach to the study of the Indic Religions (Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, and Sikhism) with the following aims (from the journal website About page):
(i) investigate, present, interpret, and envision the shared and distinct categories of the life-worlds of the Indic Religions, globally, in a (ii) multidisciplinary format with articles from Religious Studies, Philosophy, Ethics, Cultural Studies, Musicology, Film, Contemporary Issues, Sociology, Anthropology, and the Arts, within (iii) a structure that maintains the rigor of conventional academic discourse, but adds methodological contextualization and investigative, epistemic, hermeneutical and evaluative perspectives from these religious and cultural traditions (iv) in conversation with the world’s religions and the concerns of our time.
This journal has been conceived as an interdisciplinary forum for evaluating the contemporary contributions of the Dharma traditions within the context of a new and dynamic setting that acknowledges globalization and global flows of thought.
The journal is organized in an annual volume format with new articles published immediately (and numbered sequentially) as they complete the submission and review process. As of this writing, five research articles have been published in the first volume. Consistent with SpringerOpen’s open access policy, articles are published with a Creative Commons attribution license (CC-BY 2.0) granting full reuse rights, and authors retain copyright.
As with all SpringerOpen titles, the journal is funded through the levy of author-side article processing charges (APCs) instead of traditional reader-side subscription charges. The amount charged per article varies by title from US$680 to $1,890. I spoke with the current publishing editor in Religion and Philosophy about the APC for the International Journal of Dharma Studies, who indicated it would be roughly US$900. However, the aforementioned Center for Dharma Studies at Claremont Lincoln University is subsidizing the publication charges for the journal on behalf of authors. Springer has actively promoted the idea of institutional memberships to underwrite article publication fees that sustain their open access journal publishing model.
“We felt confident to be under the publishing wings of Springer”
I had an opportunity to speak with Professors Bilimoria and Sherma via email about the journal, open access, and their choice of Springer as publisher. It was of interest to me to learn that the initiative to make the International Journal of Dharma Studies open access came from Springer. (This squares with what I was told by the Religion and Philosophy publishing editor, that all new journals launched by Springer needed to be open access.) Bilimoria is Co-Editor in Chief of the journal Sophia: International Journal of Philosophy and Traditions, and the Book Series Editor of The Sophia Studies in Cross-cultural Philosophy of Traditions and Cultures, both of which are published by Springer. So the agreement of the journal founders to move in this direction was based first-off on a longstanding positive relationship with the publisher, not from a philosophical commitment to open access per se.
Bilimoria indicated a preference for a traditionally published subscription-based journal available in print, though he acknowledged that the effective dominance of online distribution and changing access models is making this increasingly unlikely. At the same time, appreciating that grant funding opportunities for Humanities scholars are limited, they wanted to make sure that their authors would not have to bear the financial burden to have their articles published. This is where their sponsorship from the Center for Dharma Studies comes into play.
We felt confident to be under the publishing wings, as it were, of Springer. So it is the motivating ideas behind the journal and the good-will of the particular publisher that have driven us forward, not so much an eo ipso appeal of or to [an open access journal on an online platform].
Confident yes, but this is also new territory for the journal founders. They have questions.
Do journals born in this modality survive, thrive and gain success? Is the readership compromised? Are the academic contents compromised?
Their willingness to move ahead despite these and other questions takes the form of a hopeful experiment—not only for the journal, but also for Springer in moving open access into the Humanities, and with a discipline like Religious Studies.
Professor Bilimoria also addressed these questions to me as an open access advocate. He has invited my feedback as our conversation continues, and I am pleased to share my perspective. But as I thought about his comments I was struck that perhaps the good-will generated in a positive relationship with a reputable publisher might be particularly helpful in building confidence in the values of open access with scholars who are relatively new to this alternative publishing model. Humanities (and Religious Studies) scholars have deep and longstanding traditions in scholarly communication. Relationships with reputable publishers forged in the print era are still deemed important in the digital era. They are understood to validate scholarly quality and lend prestige. I might protest against the tradition of granting publishers an imprimatur, even as I would insist that it is the scholars themselves that bring prestige to research communication. But one step at a time. If Humanities scholars increasingly see well-known and respected publishers embracing open access models they themselves may be encouraged to broaden their traditions to the intentions and advantages of open access. As Professor Sherma added:
We learned that the sciences have embraced open access and the results are a swifter dissemination of critical data. Access to the commons is a great concept and allows for the wide and prompt dissemination of ideas. Why shouldn’t the Humanities and the Social Sciences benefit from this?
Congratulations and best wishes to Professors Sherma and Bilimoria and to Springer at the launch of the International Journal of Dharma Studies. I will continue to watch the development of this journal with considerable interest.