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Christopher R. Cotter and David G. Robertson: Critique and Community: Podcasting Religious Studies

Introduction

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 The Religious Studies Project (RSP) began in May 2011 when the authors of this chapter met in the Students’ Association bar at the University of Edinburgh and decided to record a few audio interviews with scholars passing through the local RS seminar series. Formally launching in January 2012, it has become a truly international collaborative[1] enterprise, and is currently sponsored by the British Association for the Study of Religions (BASR), the North American Association for the Study of Religion (NAASR), the Australian Association for the Study of Religion (AASR), and the International Association for the History of Religions (IAHR). In September 2017, The Religious Studies Project Association–the nonprofit organisation behind the scenes–gained charitable status as a ‘Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation’ (SCIO). Our newly minted constitution[2] outlines the purposes of the organisation as follows:

  1. 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0
  2. To disseminate contemporary issues in the academic study of religion/s (‘Religious Studies’) to a wide audience, and provide a resource for students engaged in such study, their teachers, and interested members of the public.
  3. To provide engaging, concise, reliable and accessible points of entry to the most important concepts, traditions, scholars and methodologies in the contemporary study of religion/s, without pushing a confessional or apologetic agenda.
  4. To pursue these aims principally through the maintenance of the Religious Studies Project website,[3] and supporting an associated editorial team in the production, dissemination and archiving of regular audio podcasts and written features, in the maintenance of a social media presence and email list, and in editorial duties for the associated journal Implicit Religion.[4]

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 To this end, we have produced over 250 podcasts, roughly 30 minutes each, with leading scholars on cutting-edge theoretical, methodological, and empirical issues in Religious Studies, in combination with regular response essays which reflect on, expand upon, or critique our podcast output. For our purposes, a podcast is understood as ‘audio [or, increasingly often, video] content available on the Internet that can be automatically delivered to your computer or MP3 player.’[5]

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 All our new podcasts now come complete with a written transcription, some with video as well as audio, and all are now also released through our YouTube channel,[6] as well as through iTunes and other podcast feeds. The website also features a weekly digest of opportunities (jobs, funding, calls for papers, etc), roundtable discussions, book reviews and other occasional publications, and provides a forum for discussion which is augmented by our lively social media presence. By March 2018, listeners had downloaded our podcasts over 490,000 times, with new podcasts averaging over 1,000 downloads in their first week, and our first ever podcast–with James Cox on “The Phenomenology of Religion”–now boasts over 7,700 downloads. The website receives over 150,000 hits per year, and we are currently followed by over 4,800 accounts on Facebook, and 4,300 on Twitter. In 2016 the first ‘RSP Book’[7] was published–After World Religions–which expanded on a podcast of the same name, itself a response to a second interview with James Cox, on the World Religions paradigm.[8] We also began collaborating with Equinox to produce and transform the journal Implicit Religion following the death of founding editor Edward Bailey. Following initial sponsorship from the BASR, we now receive additional funding from the NAASR and IAHR, as well as maintaining relationships with the Australian Association for the Study of Religions, the European Association for the Study of Religions, and other organisations. In addition to these sponsorships and some revenue from advertising, we have recently started a Patreon campaign[9] and added a donations button to our homepage, in the hope that the RSP can become part of the solution to the exploitation of labour (particularly the labour of early career academics) so prevalent in the contemporary, neoliberal academic marketplace.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 Our focus in this chapter shall be upon the podcasts themselves. First, we address the question “why produce podcasts at all”? Second, we discuss the practicalities of podcast production–from technical aspects of recording, editing and disseminating, to more structural issues of managing data and organising an international team of volunteers. Finally, we turn to some of the challenges and criticisms we have faced along the way, and reflect upon where we can go from here… beyond interview-style podcasts, and beyond Religious Studies.

Why podcasts?

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 This is not the place to go into the history and technical detail of podcasting in general.[10] For the uninitiated, however, a podcast is a form of episodic audio content published on the Internet and designed to be listened to using an iPod or other personal audio device. Podcasts emerged during the 2000s, but have reached maturity with the explosion of smartphone ownership since 2010, and at time of writing, 24% of Americans access podcasts at least once a month, rising to 31% among 25-54 year olds, with use continuing to grow year-on-year.[11]

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 Back in 2012, we could already see a number of distinct advantages to the format, particularly when we thought about our own consumption of the medium. Podcasts had provided us with: company when engaged in lonely, solitary tasks; a feeling of community; a personally-curated, 24/7 radio station on topics of interest; and an accessible point of entry into a variety of topics from film criticism and politics, to comic books, true crime, and classical music. Given that we both spent a significant amount of time engaging with podcasts, where was the podcast for our chosen discipline, the academic study of religion? Sure, we were aware of a couple that were out there–and more have since come onto the scene[12]–but we felt, at the time, that the existing output was poorly promoted, with recordings that were too long and abstruse and often with a thinly-veiled agenda. Nothing seemed to fit what we were looking for in an RS podcast. So we started recording the podcasts we wanted to hear–interviews with top scholars drawing on their most interesting research to converse about the fundamental methodological and theoretical issues in the field in a relaxed, concise and perhaps a little irreverent manner.[13]

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 The podcast format has a number of distinct advantages–for members of the public, students of all levels,[14] and more established academics. It democratizes knowledge and humanizes its production by giving listeners the chance to hear academics talking naturally, and offering an introduction to topics somewhere between a Wikipedia entry and a full-length book. A lot of material can be covered in half an hour, yet this can be digested at the listener’s own pace, in their own time and space, again and again if necessary. Although podcasts lack the discursive element of traditional lectures, they can be used in a ‘flipped classroom’ model, and students find them particularly useful for revision.[15] Furthermore, regardless of our position in the field, we all have to focus our reading, and a podcast can help fill in some of the inevitable blanks, and facilitate listeners’ keeping on top of the latest research as well as current perspectives on older scholars and themes.

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 In an era of departmental streamlining and closure, and with increasing isolation and stress brought on by the marketization of education and by limited budgets for conference participation, regularly listening to a podcast can provide a vital connection to the world outside the confines of one’s institution that can be academically stimulating and provide a sense of community and common purpose that might be lacking in one’s immediate environment. And, similarly, given the increasing pressure for academics to relate their research to public interest, and to make sure their research is accessible for said public and has ‘impact’, recording a podcast is a simple and efficient way to disseminate research freely and accessibly to thousands of interested listeners in perpetuity. Much as Plate argues about Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) in this volume, podcasts ‘can offer a critical intervention into the understanding of religion’, helping us to ‘push beyond academic insider-speak’ and shape broader societal discourses.

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 All of this is not to say that simply recording a single podcast will have impact. A synergy of fortuitous factors worked in our favour, including timing, relatively light workloads, an unsaturated market, the support of the BASR and some senior colleagues,[16] and the availability and enthusiasm of a large number of interviewees, interviewers, authors and more. We also had a plan: there is no point launching enthusiastically into recording a couple of podcasts with departmental colleagues, only to have the venture fizzle out in a few weeks. Get some recordings in the bag. Build up a following. Take a break if you need to. But–importantly–make sure that when you establish a regular pattern of output that you stick with it. There is something particularly galling about that one webpage that was set up back in 2014 as the public face of Research Project X, but which was never updated and which served as nothing more than a half-hearted nod to the impact agenda before a retreat back behind the protective walls of the ivory tower. We selected a weekly schedule, with a long break during the summer, though that is not the only model. Our colleagues at the University of Alabama have successfully established an alternative pattern–releasing seven podcasts between March 2017 and March 2018– that is ‘occasional’, aiming to ‘reflect the goings-on in the department and the larger field.’[17]

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 We quickly adopted an attitude of ‘don’t wait to be given permission’, and this attitude has pervaded RSP output to this day. The point was not to merely replicate existing academic structures and outputs, but to complement, challenge and expand upon them. Indeed, it is unclear whether we would have been able to build anything like the resource we did had we been bound by a department or institution, because of the issue of justifying the cost in staff time and resources for each episode, slow-moving checks and balances, and the inbuilt conservatism of institutional structures. Having built up a reputation, however, it is encouraging to see these existing academic structures engaging with RSP outputs in the form of citations and entries on course syllabi at universities from Alabama to Chester, Turku to Sydney, and, indeed, at Edinburgh,[18] as well as some creative and innovative engagements, such as that explored by Michel Desjardins at Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada, who built RSP podcasts

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 into his (required) MA Method and Theory course. In groups, students selected ‘the podcasts that attracted them the most’ and then, along with other activities and short papers, facilitated class discussion on them. The result? A ‘method and theory course that reflected student interest and instructor knowledge’. In this particular instance, the students seemed to enjoy ‘having choice, they found it easy to listen to the podcasts, and it was impossible for people not to have opinions about what they’d heard.’[19]

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 These and other engagements with RSP podcasts reflect the logics of the contemporary Higher Education environment in which access ‘to knowledge and ownership of knowledge […] is no longer a marker of privilege and academic status,’ where it ‘is beholden on teachers to show and share how they are co-users of open access information’.[20] We passionately believe that the careful use of podcasts helps in no small way to mitigate the pitfalls of the ‘transfer theory’ of teaching[21] and develop a media- and resource-rich environment suited to the vagaries of the twenty-first century.[22] But if that addresses the ‘why’ question, how might one even begin?

How do we podcast?

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 The project launched in late 2011 with £200: £100 from each of us. £100 went to setting up a WordPress website to host the podcast, and the remainder was spent on a digital recording device. We decided on a Zoom H2, a self-contained battery-operated unit with an excellent microphone. This would remain our primary device for the first three years of the project, and in fact we still use it today in certain circumstances. It can produce great results in a quiet environment, but does pick up a lot of background noise if a quiet area cannot be found.

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 We recorded the interviews and the episode introductions separately, as we still do today. Initially, when we were doing all the interviews ourselves, we would simply alternate so the person not presenting the interview recorded the introduction. Once other interviewers joined the team in 2013, we began presenting the introductions together, taking on the role of hosts. Separate introductions are needed because interviews do not necessarily go out in the order in which they are recorded, in part to ensure variety of interviewer, location, and subject matter, but also because some interviews find a respondent more quickly than others. From the very start, we introduced a regular written response expanding, reflecting upon or critiquing the podcast, as an encouragement to others to continue the conversation, to provide an opportunity for up-and-coming scholars, and to establish the idea that there is no single, definitive ‘RSP view’ on a topic. It also underlined that the podcasts are part of a larger project – the RSP as ‘hub’, rather than ‘show’. As previously mentioned, over time RSP publications have grown to include an edited book, a journal and a number of articles, including the one that you are reading.

16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 To edit the episodes together, we used Audacity, an Open Source audio editor which is available on all platforms.[23] While not as fully featured as some editors (called DAWs in the trade, for Digital Audio Workstation), it has excellent noise reduction, is easy to use and extremely reliable. Again, we continue to use this to this day, although now we have a team of audio editors. We have also added a mastering stage through the online service Auphonic, which standardizes and optimises the audio, as well as automating some of the publishing process.[24] WordPress handles standard audio formats already, so we only had to add a simple (free) audio player–PowerPress by Blubrry[25]–to embed the podcasts into the website posts. Syndicating them to iTunes (historically the home of the iPod and therefore of podcasts, and still arguably the major library) requires setting up a specific RSS feed for podcast output, as well as some additional descriptors, keywords and so on. This can be done through iTunes itself, but PowerPress helpfully takes care of all of this, as well as ensuring that the feed is picked up by other podcast apps, and providing a free basic statistics service, shortcodes, and more.

17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 As the team of interviewers grew, it became increasingly important to standardise and improve audio quality. The plurality of voices on the RSP is a strength, but it also presents problems, as interviewers are not generally trained in audio production, so simple things which affect recording may not occur to them. Background noise, for example; while the gentle ambience of the city or of a park is not an issue, audio from a cafe may be almost unusable due to the high-pitched noise of cutlery and glassware which cuts across everything else, and must be removed manually–a time-consuming and difficult process which can often mean cutting quality content for audio reasons. Moreover, interviewees are academics, trained as researchers rather than media pundits, and so will turn away from the microphone mid-sentence, shuffle their notes next to the mic, or tap a pen or watch on the table while they speak, any of which potentially ruining the interview. With a weekly turnaround, it has not generally been possible to scrap an interview completely, or re-record it–although we have done this on occasion.

18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 Audio quality is the single most common, and, indeed, highest profile complaint, that the project has received, with Mike Altman noting in journal Religion that a ‘major flaw in RSP’s podcasts is the production quality’.[26] Thus, much money and time has been spent to improve it, although this also presented challenges. In 2015, we had enough sponsorship to be able to purchase some professional-quality equipment, including microphones and a digital interface, but it simply wasn’t viable to provide this for all our interviewers. Nor was this rig enough to record roundtables or panels with multiple speakers. Our solution at present is to purchase special clip-on mics[27] for our interviewers which work with any device, including a smartphone, iPad or laptop–these can give excellent results (although this is just as dependent upon background noise as our Zoom H2 is), but for a much more affordable price. In addition, we will use our professional rig (now expanded with a mixing desk and additional mics for use in roundtables, etc) whenever possible–for example, if attending a conference, this will be set up and available for interviewers to use.

19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 The expanding team created other systemic challenges. Audio was coming in from multiple sources, in multiple formats, and all large data files. We needed a way to store these files, and to share them. We tried using a private file server on our website, hidden from the public, but it quickly became unwieldy and glitchy[28] and we switched to using Google Drive. We also found that our respondents were having trouble with accessing the sometimes unusual file types and with their large size (many institutional mailboxes won’t accept attachments larger than 25mb, for example), so we developed a system which automatically converts submitted audio to a simple .mp3. We have developed other forms of automation too: interviewers submit their interviews through an online form which informs the editors and contains the information needed to create the text that accompanies the podcast when published, and the Auphonic mastering stage uploads the final audio to the WordPress site and YouTube.

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 As our editorial team is spread across four continents,[29] another challenge has been creating an organisational system to handle it. Email threads quickly became unmanageable, and it was clear that a lot of work was being duplicated by the two Editors-in-Chief. With our then Managing Editor Daniel Favand and Webmaster Knut Melvær, we developed a cloud-based system using Trello, a project management tool, and Google Docs, in which each interview comes into the system via the online form, has the appropriate team members assigned to it, and is finally scheduled after finding a respondent and being edited. This has streamlined the production process enormously, which has helped us identify problems, as well as making it easier for new editors to join the team.

21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 These systematic developments build upon the work of all the editors who have contributed over time, and the time saved on day-to-day tasks enables us to spend that time on pursuing the more ambitious aims of the RSP. It also means that, if needed, the RSP could continue without the founding Editors. Moreover, it means that we have established an open source, cloud-based infrastructure for others to use in the future to create similar–or preferably different!–public-facing initiatives. Indeed, we have spoken about this in seminars on the Digital Humanities at the University of Chester and the Open University, and intend to make this knowledge publicly available in future.

A Rocky Road

22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 As the preceding discussion has indicated, producing this born-digital, Open Access resource has not been all plain sailing, and we have been on the receiving end of a number of important criticisms over the years.

23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 0 Going beyond criticisms of our audio quality, it was occasionally pointed out to us that our podcasts might be problematic for people for whom English is not a first language, or indeed for those with hearing impairments. One step that we took to address this was ceasing our established practice of recording our podcast intros and outros in various pubs and bars, and refraining from beginning each episode with niche pop culture references, as we would often do in the early days. Although we do still maintain a level of irreverent humour (as particularly evidenced by our annual ‘festive midwinter special’), we decided that a bit more professionalism on our part would reduce the opportunity for things to be ‘lost in translation’. We have also begun to transcribe new podcasts (the back catalogue is still a work in progress), which means that they can now be more easily cited and utilized in the classroom, and this also softens some of the barriers surrounding spoken English. These transcriptions are not cheap, however. Although we do receive enough funding from our headline sponsors to cover basic running costs, innovations such as transcriptions, new software and hardware, all cost money–hence the funding drive mentioned in the introduction. As Plate argues in his chapter in this volume, the popular rhetoric that MOOCs (and podcasts) are ‘free’ ignores the (often highly significant) costs in time and (financial) resources for those who produce them. We want to be part of the solution to the systemic exploitation of the ‘free’ labour of (junior) academics, and our ambition would be to be able to pay a fair rate for the work carried out by our large team of volunteers ‘for the good of the discipline’. The first months of 2018 are a case in point, where a number of technical issues caused by our former hosting provider, and then compatibility issues with our new provider, disrupted our output for a number of weeks, and involved a significant amount of labour to restore functionality. Such events cannot be predicted, but without the ‘stability’ that comes from being attached to a university or other institution, even small injections of capital make a significant difference. And returning to the language issue, we are certainly willing to entertain the possibility of publishing podcasts in other languages in future, but that will require editorial team members and transcribers who have a sound knowledge of those languages, and might also raise issues of translation for our existing audience. However, we are working closely with the EASR and IAHR to expand the global regions covered in the substance of podcasts, and also to develop a better geographical spread of interviewees, interviewers and editorial team members.

24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 0 This leads us to another group of important criticisms that we have received over the years surrounding, for example, the spread of topics covered, the prevalence of white males in our output, the featuring of the occasional controversial individual or argument, and the lack of a ‘traditional’ peer review process. Given our situatedness as two white, relatively privileged, relatively heterosexual, ‘British’ – or, rather, Scottish and (Northern) Irish[30] – men, who have been closely associated with the Religious Studies system at the University of Edinburgh system for over a decade, and who have very specific research interests, it is somewhat unsurprising that–despite best intentions–RSP output has fallen foul of these critiques. Yet these are critiques that we take seriously, and it is worth explicitly considering them here as they highlight issues that others may face in similar ventures, as well as in the field in general.

25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 0 A pithy example is our annual ‘Christmas special’. In frequently referring to this ‘non-denominational festive midwinter special’ as our ‘Christmas’ special, we have certainly adopted the hegemonic discourse of our social and historical context. We don’t produce special comedy episodes to celebrate Yom Kippur, Diwali or American Independence Day, but neither is there a tradition of producing such specials in mainstream UK media. One could, of course, challenge such a hegemony, but our annual special is not a matter of religious observance – it is not ‘about’ Christmas. We have resources to produce one special per year, so it makes sense to publish it during the most widely-observed public holiday in the regions in which the vast majority of our audience live.

26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 0 Turning to our more ‘standard’ output, we have on a few occasions taken the contextually ‘easy’ route and released a podcast which didn’t quite live up to our implicit editorial line, and we did once release a podcast with an individual not known to us whose work turned out to be somewhat controversial in another geographical region.[31] Furthermore, our first foray into publishing a more ‘traditional’ research paper on the website resulted in one reader commenting:

27 Leave a comment on paragraph 27 0 If RSP is going to publish ‘research articles’ representing the academic study of religions then the mss. should I think go through the normal process of peer review to help authors submit the best possible version before publication.[32]

28 Leave a comment on paragraph 28 0 On the latter point, part of the very purpose of the RSP was to provide an alternative to those institutional processes–such as lengthy periods of peer review–that, though important, slow everything down and stifle debate. At the time, Chris argued that our ‘less formal approach allows the authors to take comments on board from members of the academic community and revise the text accordingly […] to produce the best possible text’ yet acknowledged the ‘need to balance our preference for informality and accessibility with the standards of the academy.’ In essence, if not in name, this was an example of ‘post-publication peer-review.’[33] Ultimately, however, the issue was sidestepped when we began to direct outputs based on ‘original research’ to Implicit Religion. On the former point, we have now tightened up our ‘vetting’ procedure, informally assessing potential contributors based on where they work/study, what/where they have published, who else has worked with them, what conferences have they presented at, and so on. Where questions have been raised, we have asked around trusted colleagues, or have simply tried to raise these questions in the podcast itself (to greater or lesser success). Further, we have clarified our intellectual angle through the development of our constitution (see above), and the reformulated rubric for Implicit Religion, which takes a broad scope and showcase analyses of material from the mundane to the extraordinary, but always with critical questions in mind such as: why is this data boundary-challenging? what do such marginal cases tell us about boundary management and category formation with respect to religion? and what interests are being served through acts of inclusion and exclusion?[34]

29 Leave a comment on paragraph 29 0 On the ‘diversity’ front, it is certainly true that we have hastily convened roundtable discussions with arrays of panelists that would be difficult to describe as ‘diverse’. The makeup of our very first roundtable discussion on ‘The Future of Religious Studies’ in March 2012[35] provoked one visitor to comment ‘Perhaps the photographs are misleading or I’ve missed something, but why are the discussants all white and male?’ Five years later, a similar issue was raised surrounding another roundtable discussion[36] which once again featured an all-white panel. A simple lack of resources is partly to blame (including time and money to fund travel, etc), as is a need for timely and topical content. Faced with a choice between a less-than-ideally representative roundtable or no roundtable at all, we have generally opted for the former. But we are well aware that, although we have definitely been improving in this regard, this excuse cannot be used in perpetuity. Nevertheless, while our output may seem overwhelmingly white to listeners in other geographical contexts, the demographics of the critical study of religion in the UK are, as yet, predominantly white. And while the criticism of gender inequality may certainly be leveled at some of our podcasts, it is certainly not the case of our output overall.

30 Leave a comment on paragraph 30 0 A more cynical response here might be to ask ‘who made us the police of Religious Studies?’ We’ve been producing a free resource for over five years in our ‘spare time’ with very limited resources, so of course there are going to be omissions, of course things will slip through the net, and of course we will (unintentionally) repeat and reinforce some of the inequalities that plague the field (globally and in our UK context). People are always welcome to point out our omissions and to contribute themselves or suggest others we might approach. People are always welcome–indeed encouraged–to carry on the discussion on our website and social media feeds, on the podcast itself and in other fora. We think in particular here of the fantastic and varied discussion triggered by our 2016 interview with Teemu Taira which was picked up by a least five other scholarly blogs, and snowballed into a highly fruitful and, at times, heated dialogue.[37] But whilst there might be some truth in this cynical response, we are keenly aware that we have a great deal of responsibility. We had this responsibility when we started (even though we might not have realised it), but this is particularly the case now, given our position of authority in the field, our recently acquired charitable status, and the fact that we are sponsored by some of the highest bodies in RS. It’s not just our reputation that’s on the line anymore.

31 Leave a comment on paragraph 31 0 Although we might be irreverent, we do take things seriously, and we are trying to become more proactive than reactive. We also have a commitment to the principles of academic freedom and our editorial team will not veto content which questions or tests established ideas or received wisdom, develops or advances new ideas, or presents controversial or unpopular points of view. For example, a lively comment thread following one response essay prompted Chris to reply that although we generally try and keep a relatively tight reign on the critical and non-confessional (for want of a better term) nature of the content on this site, this is much more the case in terms of the podcasts. We see these responses in particular as sites for listeners – and this includes the respondents – to react to the podcast, and to facilitate exactly the sort of debate that is now occurring in this comments section.[38]

32 Leave a comment on paragraph 32 0 Indeed, our focus is much broader than most academic publications, both geographically and thematically, so the range of opinion on the RSP is always going to be challenging. However, such material must be presented in a collegial and respectful manner, and consistent with the principles of equality and diversity adopted by our editorial team’s host academic institutions. Controversies have been few and far between and we like to think that when something has gone awry and problems have been pointed out that we have been gracious, understanding, and attempted to move forward in a manner that will preserve the existing ethos of the RSP whilst incorporating the critique, learning from it, and putting measures in place to ensure things are different in future. And we now have a much larger editorial team and board of trustees to hold us to account. But there will always be more to be done…

Conclusion

33 Leave a comment on paragraph 33 0 We’ve come a long way from those days in the pub with our trusty Zoom H2, and some might lament this institutionalization and ‘routinization of charisma’,[39] yet we see it as simply the inevitable, logical, and indeed appropriate process which any well-meaning, public facing digital humanities venture will undergo. At the same time, we are acutely aware that we caught lightning in a bottle with the RSP, so the issue now is to decide what we want to achieve with it.

34 Leave a comment on paragraph 34 0 The name ‘The Religious Studies Project’ was deliberately chosen to be ambitious. Our field is at a crossroads: departments are being squeezed due to cuts and the neoliberalisation of the academy; the subject is being ‘balkanised’ into departments made up of multiple area-studies scholars with little interest in cross-cultural comparison or theoretical issues, and – sometimes – an apologetic agenda;[40] religion is a more prominent aspect of public and political discourse than it has been for decades, yet our analysis is not being sought or heard.[41] Our larger Project, then, is to get Religious Studies – social-scientific, non-confessional, critical Religious Studies – the voice it deserves.

35 Leave a comment on paragraph 35 0 The public remains largely ignorant of what Religious Studies does; we can help to change that. We believe that these topics are intrinsically interesting, and we know that a person talking naturally about a subject they are passionate about is always engaging. Too few of us know how to go about it, however, as these are not skills we are typically trained in, and moreover the current academic climate rewards us for work aimed only at our peers and all but inaccessible to the public, in journals, conferences and committees (notably, the Research Excellence Framework (REF) in the UK).[42] The RSP has built a platform for scholars to put forward research for free and in a way that anyone can understand–which after all should be a central concern for a public-funded intellectual. Moreover, by focusing on intersections with other subjects in the humanities, we can give those scholars the tools to explore that avenue, and promote the relevance of Religious Studies in the social sciences more broadly.

36 Leave a comment on paragraph 36 0 But is our model the only one? Can podcasts be used in other ways? What might the future of podcasting be in Religious Studies? Can podcasts be scholarship? Or are they a medium in which we talk about scholarship? Back in 2015, Mike Altman conducted an initial review of the uptake of podcasting within Religious Studies, observing quite rightly that much like ‘the classic academic monograph or journal article, [existing RS] podcasts still rely on language and argumentation, even if they are ‘heard’ instead of read’.[43] Some of our podcasts, such as our roundtable discussions, conference diaries, book review episodes, live episodes and compilation episodes have begun to push the format beyond the standard ‘tell me about your latest book’ format, but in each of these areas there is much room for improvement. Apart from recording in front of a live audience, in what other ways could the audience – in the room or digesting the podcast in their own time – be brought into the process? Future endeavours might make much more use of audience participation, in written, audio and video form, through the podcast channel itself, or on associated websites and blogs. For example, portions of this paper were presented as part of the University of Edinburgh Religious Studies research seminar, which was audio recorded, transcribed and released via the RSP in March 2018,[44] meaning that the paper has received multiple peer reviews, from multiple audiences, and been digested in person, via transcript, and via earbuds before making it to the final version you are reading.

37 Leave a comment on paragraph 37 0 There is great potential for podcasts to be rapidly convened to comment on current news and events, both within the field itself, and more broadly relating to ‘religion’ around the globe – much as we did when the initial results of the 2011 UK census were published.[45] Our experimental ‘compilation episode’ model – most recently on the sociology of religion beyond the secularization thesis[46] – could be fully embraced, with topics planned well in advance, making use of audio archives and scholarly correspondents worldwide to produce critical primers on key topics and up-to-date, multifaceted commentaries on the most pressing issues of the day. More broadly, scholars might wish to explore the production of academic audiobooks, working across multiple languages, innovative excursions into comedy, drama, music and soundscapes, or the production of more ‘documentary-style’ episodes, or any combination of the above. Furthermore, there are a growing number of RS-related podcasts out there, most of which have creative commons licenses,[47] meaning that this content can be utilized to varying degrees by others, allowing collegial commentary, critique and collaboration across podcasts, across the globe. Yet, all of these innovations would require significantly more time and resources than are currently at our disposal. Indeed, as Mike Altman concludes:

38 Leave a comment on paragraph 38 0 The podcast is service to the field – academic icing on the cake of real research (read books and articles). Producing high quality, well-researched, clearly articulated, and accessible podcasts […] requires the same amount of energy and resources as quality books, chapters, and articles. Until tenure and promotion committees and academic administrations are willing to recognize a truly academic podcast as scholarly research they will probably never happen.[48]

Epilogue

39 Leave a comment on paragraph 39 0 Thinking beyond podcasting and Religious Studies, what can others take from this chapter? There is an important difference of approach between the RSP and traditional academic platforms. Had we sought perfect audio, an ideal web interface and perfectly diverse participants from day one, the project would probably never have happened, and certainly not keeping to a weekly schedule. Like Facebook’s original motto, ‘Move fast and break things’, we use an iterative model where we try a lot of things, and improve on what is working as we go along. In this way, our publishing model is closer to journalism or software development than traditional academia, but this may be an approach that academia needs to embrace. That one perfect journal article behind a paywall belongs to another age, and arguably serves only publishing houses.

40 Leave a comment on paragraph 40 0 If you want the public to listen, they have to be able to hear you.

References

41 Leave a comment on paragraph 41 0 Altman, Michael J. “Podcasting religious studies.” Religion 45 (4) (2015): 573–584.

42 Leave a comment on paragraph 42 0 Blair, Ian. “P.E.A.R.S. The Religious Studies Project and Undergraduates.” BASR Bulletin 126 (May 2015): 14.

43 Leave a comment on paragraph 43 0 Chryssides, George D., Christopher R. Cotter, David G. Robertson, Beth Singler, Bettina Schmidt, and Teemu Taira. “Podcast: Religion in the 2011 UK Census.” The Religious Studies Project. (14 December 2012). http://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/2012/12/14/podcast-religion-in-the-2011-census/.

44 Leave a comment on paragraph 44 0 Clark, Emily, Finbarr Curtis, M. Cooper Harriss, Rachel Lindsey, Craig Martin, Derek Nelson and Brad Stoddard, “Six Scholars Discuss the Dissertation to First Book Process.” The Religious Studies Project (20 March 2017). http://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/podcast/six-scholars-discuss-the-dissertation-to-first-book-process/

45 Leave a comment on paragraph 45 0 Cotter, Christopher R. “You’re Greek? Well…, I’m (Northern) Irish, Kind’a…” in Fabricating Identities, edited by R.T. McCutcheon, 34–41. Sheffield: Equinox, 2017.

46 Leave a comment on paragraph 46 0 Cotter, Christopher R., Carole Cusack, Grace Davie, Jonathan Jong, Kim Knott, David G. Robertson, Paul-François Tremlett, Joseph Webster, Linda Woodhead, “New Horizons in the Sociology of Religion: Beyond Secularization?” The Religious Studies Project (12 December 2016). https://religiousstudiesproject.com/podcast/new-horizons-in-the-sociology-of-religion-beyond-secularization/.

47 Leave a comment on paragraph 47 0 Cotter, Christopher R., Ethan Gjerset Quillen, David G. Robertson, Liam Sutherland, Jonathan Tuckett and Kevin Whitesides, “Roundtable: What is the Future of Religious Studies?” The Religious Studies Project (21 March 2012). http://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/podcast/roundtable-what-is-the-future-of-religious-studies/.

48 Leave a comment on paragraph 48 0 Cotter, Christopher R. and David G. Robertson. “Unlocking the Ivory Tower: The Religious Studies Project One Year On.” BASR Bulletin 121 (November 2012): 11–12.

49 Leave a comment on paragraph 49 0 Cotter, Christopher R. and David G. Robertson, eds. After World Religions: Reconstructing Religious Studies. London: Routledge, 2016.

50 Leave a comment on paragraph 50 0 Corrywright, Dominic. “Landscape of Learning and Teaching in Religion and Theology: Perspectives and Mechanisms for Complex Learning, Programme Health and Pedagogical Well-being.” DISKUS: The Journal of the British Association for the Study of Religions 14 (2013): 1–20.

51 Leave a comment on paragraph 51 0 Deslippe, Philip. “Stretching Good Faith: A Response to Candy Gunther Brown.” The Religious Studies Project. (29 June 2017). https://religiousstudiesproject.com/2017/06/29/stretching-good-faith-a-response-to-candy-gunther-brown-philip-deslippe/

52 Leave a comment on paragraph 52 0 Edison Research. “The Podcast Consumer 2017.” Edison Research (April 2017). http://www.edisonresearch.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Podcast-Consumer-2017.pdf

53 Leave a comment on paragraph 53 0 Fox, Dennis. “Personal theories of teaching.” Studies in Higher Education 8 (2) (1983): 151–163.

54 Leave a comment on paragraph 54 0 Geoghegan, Michael W., and Dan Klass. Podcast Solutions: The Complete Guide to Podcasting. Berkeley, CA: Friends of ED, 2005.

55 Leave a comment on paragraph 55 0 Hjelm, Titus. “Understanding the New Visibility of Religion.” Journal of Religion in Europe 7 (3–4) (2014): 203–22.

56 Leave a comment on paragraph 56 0 Hughes, Aaron W. Islam and the tyranny of authenticity an inquiry into disciplinary apologetics and self-deception. Sheffield: Equinox, 2015.

57 Leave a comment on paragraph 57 0 Hunter, Jane. “Post-publication peer review: opening up scientific conversation.” Front. Comput. Neurosci. 6 (2012): 63. doi: 10.3389/fncom.2012.00063

58 Leave a comment on paragraph 58 0 Mochridhe, Race. “Theologies That Cannot Be: A Response to the RSP Interview with Dr. Caroline Blyth.” The Religious Studies Project (9 March 2017). http://religiousstudiesproject.com/2017/03/09/theologies-that-cannot-be-a-response-to-the-rsp-interview-with-dr-caroline-blyth/.

59 Leave a comment on paragraph 59 0 Mugwanya, Raymond, Gary Marsden, and Richard Boateng. “A preliminary study of podcasting in developing higher education institutions: A South African case.” Journal of Systems and Information Technology 13 (3) (2011): 268–285.

60 Leave a comment on paragraph 60 0 Ractham, Peter, and Xuesong Zhang. “Podcasting in academia: a new knowledge management paradigm within academic settings.” Proceedings of the 2006 ACM SIGMIS CPR Conference on Computer Personnel Research 2006, April 13-15 2006, Claremont, California, USA. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/221644207_Podcasting_in_academia_a_new_knowledge_management_paradigm_within_academic_settings

61 Leave a comment on paragraph 61 0 Robertson, David G. “Teaching Matters: Using Podcasts in Tutorials.” BASR Bulletin 129 (November 2016): 17–18.

62 Leave a comment on paragraph 62 0 Stausberg, Michael, and Knut Melvær, “What is the Study of Religion/s? Self-Presentations of the Discipline on University Web Pages.” The Religious Studies Project (6 December 2013). http://religiousstudiesproject.com/2013/12/06/what-is-the-study-of-religionsself-presentations-of-the-discipline-on-university-web-pages/

63 Leave a comment on paragraph 63 0 Taira, Teemu and Breann Fallon. “Categorising “Religion”: From Case Studies to Methodology.” The Religious Studies Project (19 September 2016). http://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/podcast/categorising-religion-from-case-studies-to-methodology/.

64 Leave a comment on paragraph 64 0 Tsonis, Jack, Christopher R. Cotter, and David G. Robertson. “The Religious Studies Project… In Teaching & Learning.” BASR Bulletin 124 (May 2014): 11–12.

65 Leave a comment on paragraph 65 0 Tuckett, Jonathan. “Shall we play the game?” The Religious Studies Project (22 March 2018). https://religiousstudiesproject.com/2018/03/22/shall-we-play-the-game/.

66 Leave a comment on paragraph 66 0 Weber, Max. The Theory of Social and Economic Organization. New York: The Free Press, 1997.


67 Leave a comment on paragraph 67 0 [1] Note the ‘collaborative’. We humbly and gratefully acknowledge the work of editors past and present: Katie Aston, Ella Bock, Sammy Bishop, Helen Bradstock, Sidney Castillo, Thomas J. Coleman III, Louise Connelly, Breann Fallon, Daniel Favand, Cole Gleason, Hanna Lehtinen, Martin Lepage, Knut Melvær, Kyle Messick, Raymond Radford, Venetia Robertson, Jane Skjoldli, Per Smith, Jonathan Tuckett, and Kevin Whitesides. We also acknowledge all of those who have contributed as interviewers, interviewees and respondents, unfortunately too numerous to list here, but a full list can be found at http://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/persons.

68 Leave a comment on paragraph 68 0 [2] http://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/constitution/.

69 Leave a comment on paragraph 69 0 [3] http://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/.

70 Leave a comment on paragraph 70 0 [4] https://journals.equinoxpub.com/index.php/IR. Produced in collaboration with the RSP since 2016.

71 Leave a comment on paragraph 71 0 [5] Michael W. Geoghegan and Dan Klass, Podcast Solutions: The Complete Guide to Podcasting. (Berkeley, CA: Friends of ED, 2005), 5.

72 Leave a comment on paragraph 72 0 [6] https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCypfitkcldmX1CpAqCp7PKw.

73 Leave a comment on paragraph 73 0 [7] Christopher R. Cotter and David G. Robertson, eds., After World Religions: Reconstructing Religious Studies. (London: Routledge, 2016)

74 Leave a comment on paragraph 74 0 [8] This book was the culmination of a Facebook interaction with Russell McCutcheon. At the time of writing, the authors have never met Russell in the ‘meat world’, but have participated in a number of collaborations with him and Alabama colleagues which would not have been possible without the kinds of online interaction he describes in his chapter in the present volume.

75 Leave a comment on paragraph 75 0 [9] https://www.patreon.com/projectrs.

76 Leave a comment on paragraph 76 0 [10] But, see: Peter Ractham and Xuesong Zhang, “Podcasting in academia: a new knowledge management paradigm within academic settings.” Proceedings of the 2006 ACM SIGMIS CPR Conference on Computer Personnel Research 2006, April 13-15 2006, Claremont, California, USA; Raymond Mugwanya, Gary Marsden and Richard Boateng, “A preliminary study of podcasting in developing higher education institutions: A South African case.” Journal of Systems and Information Technology 13 (3) (2011): 268–285.

77 Leave a comment on paragraph 77 0 [11] Edison Research, “The Podcast Consumer 2017.” Edison Research (April 2017). http://www.edisonresearch.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Podcast-Consumer-2017.pdf.

78 Leave a comment on paragraph 78 0 [12] See Michael J. Altman, “Podcasting religious studies.” Religion 45 (4) (2015): 573–584.

79 Leave a comment on paragraph 79 0 [13] See Christopher R. Cotter and David G. Robertson, “Unlocking the Ivory Tower: The Religious Studies Project One Year On.” BASR Bulletin 121 (November 2012): 11–12.

80 Leave a comment on paragraph 80 0 [14] See Ian Blair, “P.E.A.R.S. The Religious Studies Project and Undergraduates.” BASR Bulletin 126 (May 2015): 14.

81 Leave a comment on paragraph 81 0 [15] McGarr, O. “A review of podcasting in higher education: Its influence on the traditional lecture.” Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 2009, 25(3), 309-321

82 Leave a comment on paragraph 82 0 [16] In particular George Chryssides, Dominic Corrywright, James Cox, Carole Cusack, Graham Harvey, Hannah Holtschneider, Bettina Schmidt and Stephen Sutcliffe were supportive in the very early days, and Russell McCutcheon later became instrumental in the institutionalisation and diversification of the project.

83 Leave a comment on paragraph 83 0 [17] https://religion.ua.edu/blog/2017/03/02/we-have-a-podcast/.

84 Leave a comment on paragraph 84 0 [18] See David G. Robertson, “Teaching Matters: Using Podcasts in Tutorials.” BASR Bulletin 129 (November 2016): 17–18.

85 Leave a comment on paragraph 85 0 [19] Jack Tsonis, Christopher R. Cotter and David G. Robertson, “The Religious Studies Project… In Teaching & Learning.” BASR Bulletin 124 (May 2014): 11–12, 11.

86 Leave a comment on paragraph 86 0 [20] Dominic Corrywright, “Landscape of Learning and Teaching in Religion and Theology: Perspectives and Mechanisms for Complex Learning, Programme Health and Pedagogical Well-being.” DISKUS: The Journal of the British Association for the Study of Religions 14 (2013): 1–20, 4.

87 Leave a comment on paragraph 87 0 [21] Dennis Fox, “Personal theories of teaching.” Studies in Higher Education 8 (2) (1983): 151–163, 152–153.

88 Leave a comment on paragraph 88 0 [22] Corrywright 2013, 16.

89 Leave a comment on paragraph 89 0 [23] https://www.audacityteam.org/download/.

90 Leave a comment on paragraph 90 0 [24] https://auphonic.com/.

91 Leave a comment on paragraph 91 0 [25] https://create.blubrry.com/resources/powerpress/.

92 Leave a comment on paragraph 92 0 [26] Altman 2015, 578.

93 Leave a comment on paragraph 93 0 [27] MOVO PM20 Dual-Headed Lavalier Condenser Microphones, which can be purchased through Amazon. Two institutional factors drove this decision as much as audio quality – plug-and-play compatibility with recording devices (including smartphones, as Apple have a different connection from other brands), and that it can be delivered worldwide. We don’t want to be paying as much to mail as we paid for the actual hardware.

94 Leave a comment on paragraph 94 0 [28] Powered by the open source Pydio (www.pydio.com). The issues with this platform seemed to be caused by our server, however.

95 Leave a comment on paragraph 95 0 [29] Europe, Australasia, North America and South America. We are actively working on Asia and Africa. Antarctica will be a challenge, however.

96 Leave a comment on paragraph 96 0 [30] See Christopher R. Cotter, “You’re Greek? Well…, I’m (Northern) Irish, Kind’a…” in Fabricating Identities, ed. Russell T. McCutcheon (Sheffield: Equinox, 2017): 34–41.

97 Leave a comment on paragraph 97 0 [31] See Philip Deslippe, “Stretching Good Faith: A Response to Candy Gunther Brown.” The Religious Studies Project. (29 June 2017). https://religiousstudiesproject.com/2017/06/29/stretching-good-faith-a-response-to-candy-gunther-brown-philip-deslippe/.

98 Leave a comment on paragraph 98 0 [32] Michael Stausberg and Knut Melvær, “What is the Study of Religion/s? Self-Presentations of the Discipline on University Web Pages.” The Religious Studies Project (6 December 2013). http://religiousstudiesproject.com/2013/12/06/what-is-the-study-of-religionsself-presentations-of-the-discipline-on-university-web-pages/.

99 Leave a comment on paragraph 99 0 [33] Jane Hunter, “Post-publication peer review: opening up scientific conversation.” Front. Comput. Neurosci. 6 (2012): 63. doi: 10.3389/fncom.2012.00063

100 Leave a comment on paragraph 100 0 [34] https://journals.equinoxpub.com/index.php/IR.

101 Leave a comment on paragraph 101 0 [35] Christopher R. Cotter, Ethan Gjerset Quillen, David G. Robertson, Liam Sutherland, Jonathan Tuckett and Kevin Whitesides, “Roundtable: What is the Future of Religious Studies?” The Religious Studies Project (21 March 2012). http://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/podcast/roundtable-what-is-the-future-of-religious-studies/.

102 Leave a comment on paragraph 102 0 [36] Emily Clark, Finbarr Curtis, M. Cooper Harriss, Rachel Lindsey, Craig Martin, Derek Nelson and Brad Stoddard, “Six Scholars Discuss the Dissertation to First Book Process.” The Religious Studies Project (20 March 2017). http://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/podcast/six-scholars-discuss-the-dissertation-to-first-book-process/.

103 Leave a comment on paragraph 103 0 [37] See here for a list of these: Teemu Taira and Breann Fallon, “Categorising “Religion”: From Case Studies to Methodology.” The Religious Studies Project (19 September 2016). http://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/podcast/categorising-religion-from-case-studies-to-methodology/.

104 Leave a comment on paragraph 104 0 [38] See Race Mochridhe, “Theologies That Cannot Be: A Response to the RSP Interview with Dr. Caroline Blyth.” The Religious Studies Project (9 March 2017). http://religiousstudiesproject.com/2017/03/09/theologies-that-cannot-be-a-response-to-the-rsp-interview-with-dr-caroline-blyth/.

105 Leave a comment on paragraph 105 0 [39] Max Weber, The Theory of Social and Economic Organization. New York: The Free Press, 1997

106 Leave a comment on paragraph 106 0 [40] Aaron W. Hughes, Islam and the tyranny of authenticity an inquiry into disciplinary apologetics and self-deception. (Sheffield: Equinox, 2015).

107 Leave a comment on paragraph 107 0 [41] Titus Hjelm, “Understanding the New Visibility of Religion.” Journal of Religion in Europe 7 (3–4) (2014): 203–22.

108 Leave a comment on paragraph 108 0 [42] See Jonathan Tuckett, “Shall we play the game?” The Religious Studies Project (22 March 2018). https://religiousstudiesproject.com/2018/03/22/shall-we-play-the-game/.

109 Leave a comment on paragraph 109 0 [43] Altman 2015, 579.

110 Leave a comment on paragraph 110 0 [44] Christopher R. Cotter, Stephen Gregg, Suzanne Owen, David G. Robertson and Steven J. Sutcliffe, “The BASR and the Impact of Religious Sudies.” The Religious Studies Project (12 March 2018). https://religiousstudiesproject.com/podcast/the-basr-and-the-impact-of-religious-studies/

111 Leave a comment on paragraph 111 0 [45] George Chryssides, Christopher R. Cotter, David G. Robertson, Bettina Schmidt, Beth Singler and Teemu Taira, “Podcast: Religion in the 2011 Census.” The Religious Studies Project (14 December 2012). http://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/2012/12/14/podcast-religion-in-the-2011-census/.

112 Leave a comment on paragraph 112 0 [46] Christopher R. Cotter, Carole Cusack, Grace Davie, Jonathan Jong, Kim Knott, David G. Robertson, Paul-François Tremlett, Joseph Webster, Linda Woodhead, “New Horizons in the Sociology of Religion: Beyond Secularization?” The Religious Studies Project (12 December 2016). https://religiousstudiesproject.com/podcast/new-horizons-in-the-sociology-of-religion-beyond-secularization/.

113 Leave a comment on paragraph 113 0 [47] https://creativecommons.org/

114 Leave a comment on paragraph 114 0 [48] Altman 2015, 582.

Source: https://opr.degruyter.com/digital-humanities-and-research-methods-in-religious-studies/christopher-r-cotter-and-david-g-robertson-critique-and-community-podcasting-religious-studies/