Sunday, November 22, 2015

Andrew Henry on Blogging and Graduate Students

Andrew Henry is a Ph.D candidate in Religious Studies at Boston University.  He is a scholar of Late Antiquity and the host and creator of Religion for Breakfast. Follow him @andrewmarkhenry Andrew is covering the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion in Atlanta for us this weekend.  Here is his first dispatch: "Religious Studies Blogging Comes of Age, but Grad Students Need Not Partake?"  --JF

Even a few years ago, academic bloggers of religion needed to defend their online endeavors to their colleagues. In a market where ideas are currency, why would you share these ideas publicly for free and especially without the careful vetting process of peer review?

It seems, though, that academic blogs of religion have come of age, or at least, that is what James McGrath announced at the start of the AAR/SBL panel on Blogging and Online Publishing. Formerly dominated by personal blogs, the religious studies blogosphere now features slickly designed sites ranging from non-profit web journals such as Ancient Jew Review to inter-disciplinary platforms like The Religious Studies Project which produces regular podcasts, interviews, and articles from leading scholars in the field.

The AAR/SBL panel featured several heavy-hitters to showcase this newly triumphant religion blogosphere—Bart Ehrman, Wil Gafney, and Lawrence Schiffman.

All three panelists shared a deep commitment to public engagement. An academic blog, they argued, can be a vital aspect to your teaching and research as you share complex ideas with a broader audience. Moreover, academic blogs offer an opportunity for academics to collaborate on projects, providing instant feedback to half-formed ideas that can eventually grow into a larger project such as an article or monograph.

Despite these benefits, all three panelists strongly cautioned graduate students away from blogging. Graduate students, according to Bart Ehrman, should be focused on their research. Blogging is a huge “time suck” that can slow down their progress toward finishing their dissertation. The other panelists warned that graduate students might inadvertently torpedo their careers by writing something that will be held against them in a hypothetical interview for a tenure-track job.  Of the three panelists, only Wil Gafney saw some benefit in graduate students blogging, though she did note the possible negative effects blogging could have on job searches outweighed the benefits. 

It seems that academic blogging is great, but, according to this panel, the risks outweigh the benefits.

After tweeting this unanimous opinion, something of a firestorm erupted on Twitter. Several newly-minted tenured professors cited their blog as a critical factor that secured their job. Others stridently defended graduate student blogging, saying blogs can help hone writing ability, develop ideas, and forge professional relationships between academics.

In a battle of anecdotal evidence, though, what advice should graduate students follow? The blogosphere of religious studies has clearly justified its existence, but where the graduate student fits into this community still remains tenuous.