Friday, June 23, 2006

Blogging as theological reflection answers

Now my answers to Francis Ward's questions:

1. How long have you been blogging?

Since September 2003.

2. What got you started?

Reading Paleojudaica and realizing that the blog format would help me a great deal with managing my NT Gateway website which had been on the web since 1997. I realized that I could merge several aspects of the that site (Logbook, Featured Links, etc.) into the blog and could at the same time add comment on much more.

3. Do you have a history of diary/journal/log writing beforehand?

I had a logbook on the NT Gateway, which this blog replaced. And yes, I used to write a personal diary for years, from about age 12 to about age 25. (I stopped when I got married). But this blog does not resemble a diary except on the relatively rare occasions I add a work-related travel diary here.

4. How in your own mind do you negotiate the boundary between private and public? E.g. are there things that you would not put on your blog that you would put in a journal?

I like to avoid relating personal information on this blog because I see it as self-indulgent and I don't imagine that my readers, who are here because of the academic NT theme, will be interested in my taste in music, sport, film, TV, etc. It is largely a professional blog and so I try to keep it focused. Nevertheless, I realize that the occasional pieces of personal reflection can keep the blog lively since, after all, it is not an academic journal or a published book. But the key thing for me is to keep those to a minimum and to resist the temptation to self-indulgence. But my wife has a blog too, called The Americanization of Emily and that is a very different kind of blog from this. The focus is on our recent move from the UK to the USA and occasionally I add a guest post there. Also, I know that some of the readers of that blog are readers of this one.

5. How do you decide? What criteria do you use for inclusion/exclusion?

It's about relevance to the topic of academic New Testament studies, and that is the key criterion. Related topics come in too, e.g. matters of broader interest to the British or American academic community (because I've worked in both countries and many readers are British and American academics), the New Testament in film and media (a matter of related interest, and in which I have been involved myself), academic blogging, ancient history. But the joy of blogging is that you make your own decisions about what goes in and what does not. That freedom brings a kind of responsibility, as I see it, of keeping the content interesting and relevant to your readers. There are so many blogs out there now, and dozens in the New Testament area alone, that you keep your readers' loyalty by not abusing the privilege of having the platform you have gained.

6. How much time, on average, do you spend blogging each day or week?

It varies wildly in my own case, so I can't speak of an average. I like to blog every day and my ideal is to post two or three posts a day. But there are several key constraints: (1) There are others blogging in the area and they cover a lot of the material that I might have covered if they were not there. I avoid simply repeating material covered by others. (2) There are times when I can't get to the blogging machine, and more so since we moved to the States because we have more longer-stay visitors coming over and we take longer trips away from home. (3) The email mountain often makes blogging tough. (4) I don't get enough sleep.

7. How many other people do you actively engage with – e.g. are part of your blog community?

Yes, there are is a loose community of bloggers in the area of academic Biblical Studies, and you can get a feel for the kind of people doing this by going to Biblioblog.net and Biblioblogs.com. There are also others I engage with who are not, strictly speaking, in the Biblical Studies area, but most of those I engage with are what have loosely been called "bibliobloggers". I used to read everything published on all those biblioblogs, but now I am lucky to be able to read more than five or six of them on a regular basis -- I just don't have the time to devote to that.

I organized a session at last year's Society of Biblical Literature on biblioblogging and about seven of us involved in blogging spent a couple of hours reflecting on our experiences (You'll find lots on the blogs about it from last November). One of the interesting outcrops of that session was some talk about issues of identity, of inclusion and exclusion, and in particular the issue of gender. The panel at the session was all male and there was some real concern that we were effectively setting ourselves up as a kind of in group and excluding others. As time has gone on, these concerns have dissipated a bit because the biblioblogging community (if one can still call it that) has grown out of all recognition. There are now many more women bibliobloggers, and the massive expansion of the biblioblogging community has illustrated that even if there ever were problems about identity / inclusion / exclusion, they are not here now.

The most important recent development in this area is the regular Biblical Studies Carnival. Every month one of the bibliobloggers gathers information from all over the Biblical Studies blogging community and publishes what s/he regards as the best posts of that month. It's been a great help for those like me who have lost touch with the ever expanding blogging community in the Biblical Studies area.

8. Who is your readership – literally; as far as you know?

My regular readership, in so far as I can gather from the correspondence and comments, is made up of academics, graduate students and a few undergraduate students in the area, but by far the biggest constituency is the "interested layperson", those looking to keep up with the area, or to develop their interests in the area. That includes a number of clergy too (I know it's odd to call them "lay", but I am speaking, of course, with respect to the professional academics and otherwise, not church and otherwise). I have about 2,000 visitors a day to the NT Gateway site as a whole (including the blog) and I would say that the majority of those come through Google searches.

9. and metaphorically? Do you imagine someone to whom you write/with whom you engage?

Not really. I try to make sure that I write clearly and in a way that can be understood by anyone intelligent and reasonably well informed, but if one spends too long trying to visualize one's audience, one would go nuts. To be honest, I don't like to imagine too huge an audience or I get too self-conscious. One useful lesson I have learnt too is that one should never assume that a scholar one is criticizing will not look at one's blog. There have been occasions when I have been flattered to discover that a scholar I am engaging with here has actually read what I am saying. So the moral is -- and this is something that helps with all scholarly writing -- don't write something you wouldn't be happy saying to someone's face.

10. What counts as successful blogging?

That's too big a question, really, and so many things go into good blogging. What I would say is that one needs to work hard to get the balance right. One simply cannot realistically expect a scholar's blog to have the same degree of careful research and reasoned argument that one would find in published work. The blog is often a place of experimentation and enjoyment, a scholarly playground, as it were. If one can't toss out the odd idea and try out different things and comment on what one happens to be interested in, then it is hardly worth it. But at the same time, one can be too frivolous, over-opinionated, and one has to watch out for that. It's easy to relax too much when one is blogging. For me, a professional blog is a university Senior Common Room; it is not the bar. We are drinking coffee while we blog and not beer.

11. What does blogging offer as a method of theological reflection?

To be honest, I am not very good at theological reflection and my own blog tends to veer more towards items of historical interest. That's just a reflection of my own interests. As stated previously, blogging gives one the opportunity to try things out in a more relaxed, informal kind of atmosphere, with a readership outside the four walls of one's own university. I like the democratic medium of blogging, as of the internet generally. People are judged by the academic quality of their posts rather than by their credentials, and that's one of the reasons that you get some star bloggers who are amateurs (amateurs in the sense that they are not paid academics, or graduate students in the area).

12. What potential do you see for blogging as a method of theological reflection?

See previous. Just look at the best of what's available in the current scene and imagine how that can be consolidated and strengthened.

13. Do you know of examples of theological education programmes where students are required to keep a learning journal and blog as a form of journal?

No. I've toyed with the idea myself, but I am not persuaded that it would work well. I think it would be too gimmicky.

14. Blogging and gender: do you think gender makes any difference to any of the above questions?

No, though note the above comments on when the issues was raised in the biblioblogging community. It is of course the case that women are still woefully under-represented in the guild in general, and there are also many fewer women bloggers than male ones. But I am optimistic and look forward to seeing the balance change, and doing everything I can myself to help to change things.

4 comments:

Whit said...

Mark, you said in #8, "but by far the biggest constituency is the "interested layperson", those looking to keep up with the area, or to develop their interests in the area. That includes a number of clergy too (I know it's odd to call them "lay", but I am speaking, of course, with respect to the professional academics and otherwise, not church and otherwise)."

As one of your clergy readers - it makes perfect sense that you should call me a lay person. It is sort of like professional and amateur astronomers. Some do it for a living (and hopefully love the work) and some do it for a hobby (also because they love it).

I hope that like astronomers sometimes us amateurs in Biblical studies can contribute to the field.

steph said...

Francis' number 13 is a dreadful idea. I'd have dropped out rather than expose myself on a blog. Others can do it well. I read them. You can do degrees in all sorts of silly things, so make a degree of Blogging official but don't make blogging a degree requirement!

crystal said...

I'm one of the intersted lay persons ... your blog is great for learning more about NT studies in a non-threatening manner.

Pete Phillips said...

We are experimenting with Francis number 13 and it looks like being a quite important avenue of research...don't knock it!

Pete