My colleague Roger Schonfeld and I launched the religious studies project at Pitts Theology Library at Emory University on January 7 and 8 with the first of two methods training workshops for our institutional collaborators. With funding from lead sponsor the American Theological Library Association (ATLA), as well as the Society for Biblical Literature (SBL) and the American Academy of Religion (AAR), the religious studies project brings together local research teams from eighteen higher education institutions to investigate the needs of religious studies scholars and will result in local reports authored by each collaborating institution and a final report on the state of the field by Ithaka S+R. This project is part of a series a new projects launched by Ithaka S+R this fall to study the research practices of scholars by discipline in close collaboration with libraries and scholarly societies. The next project in the series, Agriculture, will launch this spring.

Emory Workshop picture


The training workshop focused on the qualitative research methods that the research teams from the collaborating institutions will use over the course of the project. As each team will conduct approximately fifteen semi-structured interviews with religious studies scholars from their institutions, the first day was devoted exclusively to developing semi-structured interviewing techniques. The second day of the workshop introduced the project’s secondary research technique, creating a photographic inventory of scholar’s research spaces and materials, and also explored approaches for coding and analyzing the data towards writing the local reports.

The researchers involved with the project have a variety of backgrounds and include subject librarians in religion, librarians affiliated with theology and divinity school libraries, anthropology graduate students, and outreach, assessment, and user experience librarians. For many participants the project is the first time they will be utilizing qualitative research methods, and for almost all this is the first project they will be conducting to study the practices of religious studies scholars. The workshop was designed accordingly to be informative for both beginners and for those with more intermediate knowledge of qualitative research methods.

In addition to providing methodological training, the workshop was also a great opportunity for participants to foster relationships with one another towards developing future collaborative projects and outputs emerging from this project. The second training workshop will be held at Columbia University on February 11 and 12. Ultimately, findings from the project should be available December 2016.