- Hacking the System
Much has changed in the landscape of religious studies publishing in the past thirty years. Certainly, the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion (JFSR) has indeed made a significant impact not only in print material but also by creating conversations and networks of feminist and womanist scholars across the globe. New media, particularly social media, allow for even greater participation and ease of access as Gina Messina-Dysert notes in her introduction to this roundtable. While I certainly agree that “technology can be used as a tool to advance dialogue and expand movements committed to feminist ideologies” (136), such technologies are much more than a tool at this point. Given the form and use of social media, we are in a co-constitutive relationship with these technologies. As feminist scholars, we need to ask two questions: How do we exploit inclusive and democratic platforms to support feminist studies in religion? and How are the systems that build these spaces shaping our engagement?
On the one hand, there are those who would critique JFSR for “buying into” the established academic system of peer review, print publication. On the other hand, JFSR intended from the start to diversify what counted as scholarship and actively recruit a diversity of scholars, like publishing writings in the Living It Out section and producing roundtables that feature a variety of scholars across religious, racial/ethnic, seniority, and feminist stances. JFSR has also used its financial stability to host gatherings at academic meetings to expand its network of scholars, not to mention the number of scholars who have served on the boards. In this regard, while functioning within the establishment, JFSR has changed the academic system through publication of feminist scholarship and development of feminist scholarly networks. If we assume religious studies in 1985 was a patriarchal institution/discipline, JFSR sought not only to add scholarship and voices to the field but also to change the landscape of religious studies more broadly. As we move into a digital age of knowledge production, we as feminist scholars should continue to do what we do well and examine the full ecology of the system.
In technological language, JFSR used the peer-review journal platform to [End Page 140] provide new, diverse content; build stronger networks for feminist and womanist scholars; and in perhaps small ways, reengineer the platform by including art and poetry By the same token, JFSR (the journal and the people) has reinforced aspects of the platform that can be critiqued to which social media and digital publishing in particular are designed to respond. For example, peer-review supports wider academic communities’ standards of knowledge production that preference unique, original work written in language limited to experts that is slow to be published in a linear format that decreases the opportunity for critique and dialogue. Conversely, blogging provides a space for immediate publication and the platform tends to require more accessible language and encourages dialogue and critique through comments systems and free sharing of the published material. Anyone with an e-mail account and Internet access can publish a blog—so it seems that an example of a social media platform like a blog provides a utopic response to the closed systems of peer-review journals even when those journals publish content that aligns with feminist values.
With good reason, the system of print peer-reviewed journals and book publishing needs to be questioned as the primary benchmark for standards of knowledge production.1 On the one hand, journals can be exclusive, are subject to the personal politics of boards and advisors, and are increasingly shaped by capitalist market forces (just reflect for a moment on your most recent decision to assign, or not, an $80 course book). On the other hand, social media platforms have their own limitations that we ought not ignore. In fact, many of us make the mistake of assuming that the “open” nature of social media automatically means we are reaching a larger, more diverse audience. However, research related to social networks shows that they are much more homogeneous than most of us would like to admit. Recent findings in the General Values Survey by the...