A Theological Motivation for Open Access Research

Kevin L. Smith, from Duke University’s Perkins Library, nicely addresses the relationship between open access research and the field of theological study. In an article titled “Open Access and Authors’ Rights Management: A Possibility for Theology” (Theological Librarianship 2/1 [2009]: 45-56), Smith writes:

This inability to insure access for all brings us to the other reason we can no longer rely on traditional methods of distributing scholarship, and it is a reason unique, perhaps, to theological studies: the study of theology, carried on as it is from within a religious tradition and with the aim of supporting and fostering that tradition, includes a missionary impulse that no other academic discipline feels in quite the same way. To be sure, scientists and lawyers want their work to be seen by as many people as possible, which is why they adopt open access, but theological scholars write for a public that is broader than a particular academic discipline; they write for a “church universal.” Pastors are trained and sermons are preached throughout the world, so the works of biblical scholars and theologians have an audience well beyond the subscription list of any journal. Whereas a researcher studying a particular genetic abnormality may really know the names of everyone else capable of understanding her work, a theological scholar cannot possibly know about all of the people whose teaching, preaching, and faith journey could be impacted by her article, except in the most abstract sense. Yet all of those people are the true and legitimate audience for theological scholarship. (p. 49-50)

I believe Smith rightly identifies that the same motivations which have long prompted the initiation of theological study, should now drive the Christian research community toward open access publication of these materials. So, if you are an author, I would strongly suggest that you consider publishing your research in a peer-reviewed journal that is open access, or at least a print journal that will allow you to make your work available online. Charles Jones, at The Ancient World Online, has provided a mind-blowing list of 1,051 open access journals devoted to the field of ancient studies.  That said, be wise. Select a good editorial board with a robust review process, and publish your work for the world to read. -