One of the Disseminary’s purposes entails demonstrating the value of using digital technology for publishing academic resources. We want to operate at the convergence of three forces that act upon academic publishing in the area of theology and relgiious studies: first, that academic publishing tends toward low profits, high expense, and limited circulation; second, that digital technology diminishes distribution costs almost to the point of insignificance while dramatically increasing the size of the audience; and third, that institutions with an interest in religious education (not only colleges, universities, and seminaries, but also congregations and foundations) allot considerable sums as stipends for teachers to prepare material that goes unpublished.
The first and third points mean that scholars and teachers constantly prepare material for presentation, which publishers cannot afford to distribute (despite a vast audience for such material). Although a global audience seeks opportunities to learn more about religious, spiritual, theological topics, print publications reach mainly local readerships (“local” that is, by nation and to some extent by language); costs relative to transportation, as well as import/export duties, constrict the extent to which interested learners can gain access to books and articles from other nations. The Disseminary can make texts available around the world, to schools, libraries, and individuals wherever there’s internet access.
We will continue to seek support for commissioning publishable works, but we will also negotiate with conferences, endowed lectureships, and other venues for the permission to distribute texts that have already been commissioned by these sources.
The Disseminary license (which we’re still trying to get pinned down in legal writing) will work this way:
- The work will be distributed on the terms of a Creative Commons “Attribution — Noncommercial — No Derivs” license. That is, works published by the Disseminary may be copied and distributed freely so long as the work is properly attributed to its author, so long as no charge is made for that distribution, and so long as the work is not changed in any particular.
- The Disseminary will publish the work in a variety of formats. Wherever possible, we’ll distribute works in XML (for archival and web-services purposes), in HTML (for convenient online access), in PDF (for convenient, standardized printing), and in MP3 audio.
- The Disseminary will arrange with authors to license the prerogative to print their works with a print-on-demand commerical publisher (from whom authors would receive conventional royalties).
- The author retains the right to re-use any material published by the Disseminary in any future projects. In theory, an author might publish a monograph with the Disseminary, discover that its ground-breaking importance arouses the interest of a major print publisher, and contract with that print publisher to distribute a print edition of the monograph. The original material would stilll be available through the Disseminary, but the new edition (possibly revised or expanded) could be bought in bookstores from the commerical publisher.
We believe that this mode of publication ably serves all interested parties, without instituting a pointless rivalry with familiar publishing institutions. Academic authors typically receive very little in exchange for their compositions; our model proposes both an initial stipend and the possibility of future royalties. Moreover, a significant part of teachers’ motivation to publish arises from their commitment to circulating their ideas, an end that the Disseminary can serve much better than conventional publications. Readers benfit from having free access to texts in a variety of convenient forms. Even print publishers benefit from having this alternative medium by which authors can distribute hard-to-market works (odd-length monographs, extremely technical works, Festschriften, conference proceedings and symposia, for instance). Moreover, the Disseminary can help print publishers recognize commercially-promising authors.
The Disseminary will publish both peer-reviewed texts (in the Quadriga series) and, in the Hoopoe series, texts that (for various reasons) merit publication apart from peer review. Our program of publication will make finely-prepared educational resources available around the world at no charge, at the same time expanding and enhancing the audience for theological and religious books.
How Can I Help?
Let’s say — purely hypothetically — that you have read about the Disseminary, understand our excitement about it, recognize it as a major force for Good in the fields of theological learning and online learning (both!), and appreciate our labor in generating and sustaining this site. So you ask yourself, “What can I do to help the Disseminary?”
Well, we have some suggestions:
- You could buy some Disseminary gear at our online store. We make a dollar or two on each sale.
- You could offer to participate in one of our seminars, or bestir yourself to comment on others’ participation. You could send responses to the reviews that we post — which we will then moderate and append to those reviews.
- You could contact us relative to the possibility of submitting a manuscript or other educational resource for publication, or of leading a seminar, or of writing a review.
- You could write a check to Seabury-Western Theological Seminary (2122 Sheridan Rd., Evanston, Illinois, 60201) with the memo area clearly marked, “For the Disseminary.” Seabury will route all such donations directly to the Disseminary’s operating funds, without even skimming off a percentage for handling. That’s so nice of them, you might even want to send them a separate check (feel free to mark that, “For Endowed Chair in either Theology or New Testament”).
- You could say, “Your dreams have come true: find a warehouse to set up shop, and realize your wildest fantasies” (so, we have relatively tame fantasy lives).
The First Sketch
The following sketch reproduces what I earlier posted on a the main page of the Disseminary site, before we even had funding to build the Disseminary. The first section describes the history of the project from AKMA’s side. The second describes the Disseminary that Trevor and AKMA proposed to the Wabash Center, which has now been funded for the first year.
These musings apply assumptions about the Web and distribution of resources in keeping with such sources as The Cluetrain Manifesto (Locke, Weinberger, Searls, and Levine; Perseus, 2001); Gonzo Marketing (Locke; Perseus, 2001); Small Pieces, Loosely Joined (Weinberger; Perseus, 2002); and The Future of Ideas (Lessig; Random House, 2001), inflected by readings from Edward Tufte on the visual communication of information and Scott McCloud on publication and dissemination of niche market publications (in his case, comics).
Our self-introduction on this page
The Disseminary has its origins in a proposal AKMA first made in 1995 or ’96, if memory serves, for a site where theologically-interested inquirers might begin the work of putting into practice a different model for learning and teaching. At the heart of the project lies the premise that institutional infrastructure — not only the physical infrastructure of buildings and supplies, but also the information infrastructure of grades and credits — and the costs of maintenance do not simply make education possible, but also inhibit education in important ways.
Most obviously, the costs associated with education keep many interested learners at arms length. A building costs large sums whether to buy or rent; salaried faculty cost a great deal, and they expect certain prerogatives associated with their academic vocation. Beyond that, the physical space of education limits the number of students who can participate (those who can get to the location, those who can fit into the facilities). Even further, the institution’s attitude toward education warps toward its perceived necessities of physical plant and faculty, and these begin to displace the original educational goals.
Moreover, the social function of education often presupposes goals that do not themselves serve the interests of teaching and learning. People look to educational institutions to issue warranted certification that learners have attained particular levels of proficiency. Institutions that accept such a social function — in other words, the vast preponderance of them — need to slice, dice, and quantify the pedagogical endeavor so as to determine which students attain the degree, diploma, or certification. The exigencies of quantification and standardization oblige schools to squeeze all areas of study into terms of uniform duration, testing students to ascertain their progress, assigning a one-dimensional evaluation of a student’s accomplishment, and so on. These all serve the purpose of upholding the social function of the teaching institution — but not necessarily the purposes of teaching and learning.
The Disseminary stands for an approach to education and educational materials apart from the constraints of institutional education: credits, fees, restrictive copyright limitations, grades, and other limitations. The project envisions a variety of educational resources offered at no charge, for no formal credit. Such resources may in the long run include publications, asynchronous seminar discussions (kept available in archives), chats, interviews, audio and video recordings; we’ll post a fuller sketch of an ideal Disseminary below. Our present Wabash Center grant proposal includes plans for generating one online textbook and one online seminar [later changed as below].
This version of The Disseminary draws on ideas discussed in a conference paper from the Garrett Theology and Pedagogy in Cyberspace Conference (subsequently published in Teaching Theology and Religion), then further discussed at a Wabash Center Teaching and Technology Conference during the summer of 2002 (scheduled to reconvene in September 2003).
At the 2002 Wabash conference, one of our colleagues proposed the following manifesto for what she called “open-source” pedagogy:
- Course content kept in open public access, but confining relationality of dialogue (and, perhaps perforce?, reserve materials) to password protected materials
- Full compliance with web accessibility guidelines
- Consider pushing the use of something like Nicenet
- Support the use of open source software as an ethical commitment (e.g. Openoffice.org)
- Use and support network technologies that are open (end-to-end)
- Clear fair use policies that promote an open commons
- Promote technology choices that favor access
- Teach media/digital literacy as a core competency
- Promote open source development of substance
- Core pedagogy is constructive, collaborative
- Promote policies nationally and globally that reflect these principles
These points resonate with the Disseminary sensibility; where we don’t anticipate emphasizing them all, we support the outlook that they bespeak.
For the time being, The Disseminary exists mostly as plans and possibilities; we await word on our pending grant proposal. But when the grant is approved, or even if it isn’t, we may get impatient and see what we can get rolling on our own. Until then, you’re welcome to bookmark AKMA’s and Trevor’s weblogs, where there’ll be the most frequent updates, and where they’ll be likely to mention any significant changes to this site
Thanks for visiting. . . .
The Disseminary Sketch
We envision the Disseminary as an umbrella for a variety of educational ventures. Among the dimensions of the proposal we imagine, we propose the following in the form of a site map:
Disseminary seminars would be asynchronous discussions led by commissioned participants in the project. While leaders would maintain the prerogative to shape the seminar as they felt appropriate, we anticipate seminars beginning from a familiar readings-and-discussion format. Such seminars could easily be conducted with existing weblog tools such as Movable Type, and might (at the leader’s discretion) permit comments from non-participants. Once the seminar had run its course, the conversation would be archived and available for browsing or redistribution.
Many institutions for theological and religious studies regularly commission presentations for named lecture series; the Disseminary would house video, audio, or transcripts of these lectures, extending the reach of the the lecture to remote locations and amplifying the prestige associated with the institution’s and the lecture’s name.
Many of the pivotal resources for teaching and learning in theology and religion were published well before the present copyright regime took effect. The Disseminary would prepare carefully-edited digital versions of these texts (many of which are already available in plain-text or lightly-edited versions) for use in classes or for individual reading.
There exists on the Web a signiÞcant amount of highly-useful resources for religious and theological education. However, these resources are widely dispersed and while some indices (notably the “Wabash Center Guide to Internet Resources”) do exist, these indices rarely provide more than basic commentary. The Disseminary will commission Þve study guides that will direct the reader through a course of study that comprehends its entire subject area. For instance, a study guide on “mysticism” will note that the translations of Pseudo-Dionysius’s Mystical Theology available online are of signiÞcantly lower quality than that available through the Paulist Press Classics of Western Spirituality series. It would also note that the work of Maximus Confessor is not available online, and that the serious student should consult a print edition of his Chapters on Knowledge. The purpose of this would be to augment the study of Þgures such as Teresa of Avila and Catherine of Siena—of whose works good online editions are available—with the guidance necessary to enrich a student’s learning. The study guides, in effect, teach a subject rather than provide a list of information and links. To some extent, the study guides acts as a small, but reputable secondary resource on its subject. The study guide will also refer to other reliable secondary resources both on- and off-line.
Academics write much all the time, for very little return. The Disseminary would commission works and publish them for distribution online. While some will quickly point out that online publications would fail to draw high-quality writing from estimable authors, we respond that the advantages of online publication would provide an attractive incentive for possible authors. Not every prominent scholar need contribute—but once one or two participate, the perception that online publication lacks scholarly heft will quickly evaporate.
Commissioned publications may vary in scope from full monographs to topical essays to chapter-length introductory treatments of fundamental topics. We especially look forward to commissioning textbook chapters for use in introductory classes; teachers (and learners) may compile a collection of chapters to use as a single textbook, or select particular chapters as worthy of attention. The Disseminary can commission alternate chapters on the same topic, so that a teacher could choose a chapter on “Eschatology” (for instance) from among a range of available options.
A Note on Online Publication
The Disseminary project envisions not only the online distribution of its commissioned work (and edited classical sources), but also distribution in print. To that end, the text will follow a carefully planned mark-up scheme, such that a print-on-demand publisher could produce a limited-run edition of a selected text with only minimal set-up. Moreover, print editions stand to return to their authors royalties over and above the initial commission—a noteworthy incentive for writers to participate in Disseminary publishing ventures.
I know we’ve had other ideas—they’re just escaping me at this moment.
The Big Fantasy
Since we first found receptive ears for our Disseminary project, we’ve had various tiers of aspiration for the project. Tier One, “The Little Dream,” was realized in last year’s Teaching and Technology Conference at the Wabash Center, to be renewed September 2003. Tier Two is the Disseminary — you can see the prospects and results of this all around the site.
Tier Three is “The Big Dream,” and this would entail offering an open-enrollment conference for seminaries, religious studies departments, and theological other educators. The premise of The Big Dream would be to round up travellers for the technological clue train, to bring educators who don’t have the time to explore new aspects of technology into contact with some practitioners who live at the frontier of innovation in digital media.
Tier Four is “The Big Fantasy,” the dream-come-true funding opportunity for a visionary philanthropist. The Big Fantasy would be a theo-technology center for the practice and enrichment of the use of technology in teaching religious studies and theology.
The ideal Disseminary Center (or “The Wozniak (or whoever) Center for Technology and Theology”) comprises office and presentation space, and ideally housing for resident and visiting faculty. The Center should be in an area with at least one teaching institution with a theological library, with convenient air and auto (and rail?) access. One alternative would be floors in an office building, as a studio or loft space; that would probably entail limiting the amount of faculty living space. Another alternative would be a building or complex of buildings, but that would tend to exclude metropolitan areas. A rehabbed warehouse would be great; so would a complex of buildings in a campus setting.
The importance of offering living space involves both visiting and residential faculty. One of the cardinal characteristics of the work cycle of a research and teaching center is fluidity — but if faculty must dwell miles away from the Center, the effects of working odd hours on their family and social lives would begin to erode the flexibility of the Center (“flexibility” being especially important for a technologically-oriented research and teaching facility).
Were the timing (and realities!) different, it would have been a spectacular opportunity to work out an arrangement with Union Seminary in New York City. Office space and housing may be at a premium in Durham, as they surely are in New Haven (though YDS has unused bulding space), Cambridge, DC/Northern Virginia, Atlanta, the Bay area, and Los Angeles. Rochester NY might make a powerful combination of possible facilities, cost, and cultural setting.
The ideal Center will have a core residential faculty of from two to four theologians and one technologist. These would provide the continuity, the human repository of experience, discernment, and transmission for the Center's functions, ensuring that the Center (part of whose work it would be to not know exactly what it’s doing) would not be assembling every year, every semester, as a team of possibly-mismatched or oddly-matched blind dates, but would form a smoothly-cooperating core to buffer differences among visiting faculty and facilitate (and pass along the benefits of) effective research when visiting faculty pursue divergent research agendas, or encounter discordant personalities.
The residential faculty would draw from distinct theological domains, to the extent possible, although they would need to work comfortably with one another. They would, in other words, share a sense of mission relative to engaging the intersection of emergent technologies with the study and practice of religious traditions, while engaging that mission from various disciplines in their studies.
The residential technologist would concentrate on overseeing the Center’s relationship with technologies it has already adopted, and also keeping an eye on the technological horizon for further possibilities. Her job would not involve introductory hand-holding, for the most part (that would more cost-effectively fall to work-study students), but would probably involve mediating the Center’s experimentation with and adoption of new technologies. This would be a great job for a classic geek, provided that he understood the cooperative dimension of the position (and did not exploit it as a venue for self-interested gadget-chasing).
The Center would need staffing including a Director (which position might fall to one of the residential faculty), office manager, and a variety of assistants (some of whom might be drawn from local seminaries, colleges, and universities). The staff would exercise the leadership in bringing order to the research plans of residential and visiting faculty, their schedules, travel plans, the presentations and teaching work of the Center’s site, budget, supplies, and so on. The staff are the sensible people who sustain the diesseitigkeit of the Center’s visionary work. While the faculty’s feet may not always stay on the ground, the staff keep the faculty’s ankles within reach.
The Center would invite a cadre of visiting faculty for each semester or for one-year terms, providing a locus for research and development. This opportunity would benefit faculty, whose ordinary work schedule permits no opportunity for such development and would disseminate the understanding of technological possibilities for faculty to take back with them to their various home institutions. One would not want too great a disparity between the number of visiting faculty and the residential faculty, lest the two bodies develop distinct, disintegrated senses of their identity and work. With a residential faculty of four, the Center might effectively house a visiting faculty of seven or eight, but a ratio closer to one-to-one would be more desirable.
Ad Hoc Faculty/Staff
The Center might decide to take on specific projects of limited duration, for which faculty and staff would be recruited. These faculty and staff would remain with the Center not on a term-by-term basis nor on long-term contracts, but as their specific project’s need dictates. The Center might, for instance, commission several teachers and programmers to develop a walk-through animation of particular religious sites or events: the Temple in Jerusalem, a hajj to the Kaaba, a visit to the Temple of the Tooth, a circumambulation of the monumental stupa at Borobudur, a Capacocha sacrifice.
The Center’s Mission
The Center would take on the mission of conducting fundamental experimentation and exploration of the relation of technology to teaching in the area of religious studies and theology.
One element of this mission involves end-less fiddling with technology to see what happens. The faculty would be expected to work at a level of technological sophistication that would permit them to converse with technologists, but without necessarily sustaining programming or soldering skills. They would be, in the words of one IT department, “expert users.” In order to sustain and cultivate their expertise, the Center would expect them to devote some of their time simply to playing with technology.
Another element to this mission involves teaching. Since the Center exists to serve the end of enhancing teaching through technology, its faculty should be dedicated teachers. The Center should offer classes, presentations, lectures, and other educational activities on a regular basis, affording its faculty the occasion to demonstrate and sustain their teaching abilities. The Center may, on occasion, assign faculty to the work of institutional classroom instruction (making the proximity of an educational institution all the more desirable) — though it is not by any means assumed that this constitutes the norm for education, especially for technologically-mediated and -enhanced education.
Another element of the Center’s mission involves demonstrating the possibilities for technologically-enhanced education. In certain respects, this would follow the Disseminary agenda; in other respects, it would involve workshops with visiting faculty and others (whose home institutions might pay for the opportunity for them to come learn what’s going on at the Center).
Another element involves the faculty’s own ongoing research (not necessarily “technological” research). Faculty would be expected to maintain their participation in the scholarly discourses of their fields, and the Center would respect the need for time dedicated to research and writing in these fields.
Yet another element of the Center’s mission could include consulting to educational institutions with regard to institutional deployment of technological resources. The Center could offer disinterested consulting grounded in its own experience and experimentation. Such consulting conducted by salaried members of the Center team could raise funds for the Center.
The Center’s facilities would of necessity be shaped by its technological focus. Residential faculty would work with CPUs replaced on a regular cycle; visiting faculty would be encouraged to bring up-to-date equipment from their home institutions. The budget for hardware acquisition would be higher than might be the case were the Center not committed to an exploratory mission; the Center should be in a position to showcase best practices in technology acquisition and deployment.
Well, none in particular at this point — but contact one of the Disseminary directors, if you know someone who might be interested in funding such a center.
We use a variety of tools in constructing the Disseminary. As the vast preponderance of other designers, we constantly use the Adobe family of Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign (though AKMA prefers Macromedia Freehand to Illustrator). Trevor likes to use Macromedia Dreamweaver; AKMA likes to use PageSpinner. We rely on a variety of shareware utilities in our work: PopChar X, Default Folder X, NetNewsWire and TigerLaunch (by our Cornerhost neighbor Brent Simmons) among them.
Of course, our weblogs are powered by the remarkable Moveable Type.
The Disseminary typeface is FontFont Scala.
The principal Disseminary color is #336600.
About the Disseminary
This page will point toward important aspects behind the scenes of the project. Here we’ll keep notes from the progress of the project from vague notion to whatever it turns out to be, our plans, our colophon, credits and acknowledgements. Think of it as a sort of museum case in the lobby, with “Employee of the Month” plaques and diplomas and certificates.
Not all publications useful for teaching in theology and religion need the rigorous examination of peer review. Materials to supplement classroom (or personal) instruction, conference proceedings, interviews, reprints of classic sources, all merit distribution, but do not necessarily require searching scholarly examination. The Disseminary will publish these under the sign of the hoopoe.
The hoopoe figures in numerous legends, parables, and magical discourses from around the world. It’s easily recognizable for its prominent crest (with eyes on the crest’s feathers). And Linux already had taken penguins, and Penguin Books had pelicans, too; Bolchazy-Carducci had taken owls. So the hoopoe stood out as a distinctive and recognizable alternative, and if Idries Shah comes after us, we’ll call the series Epops (the Greek name for the hoopoe).
In this section, we’ll catalog and describe our series of peer-reviewed publications. We adopt the emblem of the wheel for this series as an allusion to Ezekiel’s vision of wheels within wheels on the divine chariot, to the wheel of Dhamma, to the Epistle of James’s reference to “the wheel of generation,” to the quadriga of medieval biblical interpretation, and many other wheels that cycle through religious and theological discourses.
We envision offering publications of varying scales, from articles or chapter-length essays to monographs. We will commission academic studies and teaching resources, which we will then mark-up for publication online, in PDF format, and in print from a partner on-demand publisher). We’ll also try to make available MP3 files of our publications.
Academics write much all the time, for very little return. The Disseminary will commission works and publish them for distribution online. While some will quickly point out that online publications would fail to draw high-quality writing from estimable authors, we respond that the advantages of online publication would provide an attractive incentive for possible authors. Not every prominent scholar need contribute — but once one or two participate, the prejudice that online publication lacks scholarly heft will quickly evaporate.
Commissioned publications may vary in scope from full monographs to topical essays to chapter-length introductory treatments of fundamental topics. We especially look forward eventually to commissioning textbook chapters for use in introductory classes; teachers (and learners) may compile a collection of chapters to use as a single textbook, or select particular chapters as worthy of attention. The Disseminary can commission alternate chapters on the same topic, so that a teacher could choose a chapter on “Eschatology” (for instance) from among a range of available options.
There exists on the Web a significant amount of highly-useful resources for religious and theological education. However, these resources are widely dispersed and while some indices (notably the “Wabash Center Guide to Internet Resources”) do exist, these indices rarely provide more than basic commentary. The Disseminary will commission five study guides that will direct the reader through a course of study that comprehends its entire subject area. For instance, a study guide on “mysticism” will note that the translations of Pseudo-Dionysius’s Mystical Theology available online are of significantly lower quality than that available through the Paulist Press Classics of Western Spirituality series. It would also note that the work of Maximus Confessor is not available online, and that the serious student should consult a print edition of his Chapters on Knowledge. The purpose of this would be to augment the study of figures such as Teresa of Avila and Catherine of Siena—of whose works good online editions are available—with the guidance necessary to enrich a student’s learning. The study guides, in effect, teach a subject rather than provide a list of information and links. To some extent, the study guides acts as a small, but reputable secondary resource on its subject. The study guide will also refer to other reliable secondary resources both on- and off-line.
A Note on Online Publication
The Disseminary project envisions not only the online distribution of its commissioned work (and edited classical sources), but also distribution in print. To that end, the text will follow a carefully planned mark-up scheme, such that a print-on-demand publisher could produce a limited-run edition of a selected text with only minimal set-up. Such print editions stand to return to their authors royalties over and above the initial commission.
Online publication offers a number of signal advantages. For instance, the potential audience for a work published by a standard theological publisher would number in the tens of thousands at most, with only a slender chance that a casual browser might come across it. On the Web, however, a project published online at no charge might easily attract the attention many thousands — potentially, anyone anyone with a connection to the internet — and a reader with casual interest may easily come upon the work by using a standard search engine. Internet users from any continent will have ready access to the work, in a variety of forms, and it will not go out of print. These advantages weigh enough that some authors will choose online publication over print publication — and as more authors choose the Web, the perceived distinction privilege of print publishing will dissipate.