Religion Department Statement on Scholarship

What forms of scholarship define the work of those in your department at their best?

For clarity, we prefer to use the broader category “significant professional activity” to define standards for scholarly engagement in order to reflect the criterion for evaluation of faculty as defined in the Faculty Handbook. Scholarly research and writing is one aspect of professional activity, but not the only one, and certainly, in the field of religion, not the only important one. “Scholarship” in religion is based on original research and writing, and includes presentation of that research in journals and books and classrooms, at conferences and invited speaking opportunities, in critical textual editing and translation, and through applied research and public programs. Other significant professional activity includes work with professional societies; service as a referee, reviewer, evaluator, or editor; sharing research with a wider community (forums, workshops); and expanding one’s ability to do original research (e.g., new research language acquisition). We see three overlapping categories within an active research program: original research; scholarly activity and public scholarship; and professional development. Original research is the foundation for the other two, and a sine qua non of professional activity.

Original research:

●        Papers submitted for publication in local, regional, national, and international journals.

●        Presentation of competitively selected papers at local, regional, national, and international professional conferences.

●        Invited papers, journal articles, encyclopedia articles, book chapters.

●        Publication of monographs, critical translations, or critical editions of texts.

●        Invited lectures or presentations to local, regional, national, or international academic bodies.

●        On-going projects that result in course development, collaborative research, or interdisciplinary experiences for students.

●        Selection for competitive grants for collaborative work, course development, and research that may not result in traditional publication.

●        Papers or presentations on scholarship and teaching in the discipline.

Scholarly activity and public scholarship:

●        Workshops, invited lectures, consulting, or writing for community, ecclesiastical, issue, or service-based organizations (e.g., peace, environmental, justice societies).

●        Presentation of research to non-specialist audiences, in local, regional, national, or international settings.

●        Published book reviews.

●        Reviewing manuscripts for publication or papers for presentation at professional societies or interdisciplinary publications or conferences.

●        Preparation and publishing of textbooks or anthologies in the discipline.

●        Service as moderator of conference session, respondent to professional papers, conference planner or organizer.

●        Service as officer of professional society or discipline-related committee or board (e.g., denominational or religious body, peace or justice network).

●        Service as professional evaluator or evaluator for scholarly organizations or conferences.

●        Collaborative research with colleagues or students.

●        Public speaking engagements (non-academic).

Professional development:

●        Active membership in professional societies, attendance at international, national and/or regional meetings and involvement in professional networks.

●        Participation in local, regional, national, or international workshops on teaching, academe, or related issues.

●        Selection for participation in conferences to represent Luther or one’s discipline (competitive).

●        Expansion of research or teaching areas; acquisition or enhancement of research language skills, development of web-based learning or other ways to enhance use of technology in the classroom, archaeological or field experience, travel-course development.

What forms of peer review—including those beyond the Luther campus—are appropriate for that work?

The most prestigious form of peer review is that by major academic publishers and refereed journals in the field. Unlike many disciplines, the field of religion has no universally accepted hierarchy of professional journals. There are many specialized journals; selection for these journals in the sub-disciplines of religion is as prestigious as for the journals published by the umbrella societies of the AAR and SBL. Acceptance rates for journals and conferences in religion vary widely. A second layer of peer review includes competitively selected papers for regional, national, and international conferences. A third form of peer review is invitation, because of reputation or expertise, to present lectures, workshops, or panel discussions, or to serve as a moderator, respondent, or evaluator at professional or interdisciplinary gatherings.

How can you encourage and enable your colleagues to see that such work bears fruit in their teaching?

Part of the answer to this question is to recognize that an active research program is itself intellectually stimulating, and that the connection between research and teaching may lie more in the intellectual stimulation itself rather than in specific content connected to use in classes. Much of what we do is more technical and not appropriate for undergraduate students. The fact of being engaged in the process of inquiry and collaboration bears fruit in the excitement and engagement with learning that can translate into enthusiasm and depth in the classroom. Another part of the answer is to value research that appropriately can be connected to courses as part of the legitimate professional and scholarly program of the faculty. Research that is geared more toward development of expertise in a new area or depth or breadth in aspects of courses already taught may benefit both faculty and students. More broadly, creating an environment of teacher-scholars that encourages faculty to conduct research that excites them is essential. This involves providing support in terms of time, funding, and discussion among colleagues. In addition, in some cases, faculty may involve students in some aspects of their research, providing the possibility of a mentoring relationship between faculty and student. The department should encourage the development of collaborative projects with students and/or colleagues that may bear fruit in public presentation or publication.

What depth and range of achievement in scholarship at the third year, tenure review, and application for promotion to full professor should distinguish the work of Luther faculty?

Acceptance rates for journals and conference papers vary widely, as does the availability of venues for the various research sub-fields in religion. It would be counterproductive to our attempts to balance research and teaching, and to value both, to set a standard for the number of publications or presentations expected at each level of review, beyond the minimum expectation that, indeed, some publication is expected and some form of peer review of that work required for tenure and promotion. That said, what may be appropriately expected and encouraged is an on-going research program that results in some written publication and some peer or publicly reviewed product (lecture, manuscript, panel invitation, etc.), at a frequency that demonstrates a continuing scholarly interest and to an increasing breadth of audience. This may include geographical breadth, moving from regional to national; disciplinary breadth, moving from small or narrowly defined professional society to larger, more inclusive society; or applied or interdisciplinary breadth, moving from specialized research to broader application or collaboration on cross-disciplinary concerns, such as pedagogy, peace or justice or environmental issues, or denominational or interfaith leadership.

Third-year review (minimum expectation):

●        Completion of terminal degree.

●        A developing research program.

●        At least one public presentation of research, in the form of lecture, paper presentation, or publication.


Tenure (minimum expectation):

●        An active research program.

●        At least one public presentation of research at professional conference or other professional or academic forum since third year review.

●        At least one peer-reviewed publication.

Promotion to full professor (minimum expectation):

●        An active research program.

●        At least one presentation of research at conferences or meetings beyond the local and regional level.

●        At least one publication since tenure in academic or other professional journals or presses.

●        Extending communication of research or teaching beyond the scholarly discipline.

●        Involvement in connecting research and professional development to teaching; leadership and mentoring of professional colleagues in scholarship and/or teaching.

Not required, but enhancements:

●        Relevant publications outside the field or in non-academic professional circles.

●        Research geared to educate lay community.

●        Collaborative teaching or research projects with faculty from other disciplines.

●        Collaborative research projects with students.

●        Public speaking engagements.

●        Reviewing of books, papers, or manuscripts.

●        Research and presentation on teaching in the discipline or in interdisciplinary efforts.

●        Leadership and service to professional organizations, to academic conferences or workshops, or to wider religious or concerns organizations.

To summarize expectations concerning “achievement” in scholarship: We expect faculty in religion to be involved in original research, to seek active engagement with professional colleagues, and to have some affirmation of that work. Beyond these general expectations, the department intends the greatest degree of flexibility to allow faculty members to shape their own research and activity.

What distinctive forms of scholarship can thrive at a liberal arts college of the church?

Religion is an integrative discipline, one that intersects naturally with the various disciplines of the liberal arts. As such, it has much to contribute both to the liberal arts and to the mission of a college of the church, and it depends for its integrity on reaching beyond mere specialized inquiry. There are at least four areas in which scholarship in religion can thrive particularly in a liberal arts college of the church. These may, in fact, be distinctive contributions of a place like Luther College to the larger communities of religion and society.

"Public” scholarship:

●        This category may be broadly defined as bringing the insights of religious inquiry to contemporary organizations, issues, and debates. It is based in research and expertise in a particular discipline, but applied to a non-specialist audience. Rather than being additional to the vocation of a scholar of religion, public translation and application of the discipline is itself a form of scholarship, in that it requires an original application of research to a particular topic or issue. It is perhaps more “synthetic” than “original,” but nevertheless employs the kind of research and expertise required in the traditional university model of “discovery”-based scholarship. It can also be more “risky,” for it exposes the scholar to critique from audiences beyond the experts and involves her or him in more potentially controversial public debate. It also integrates the skills of scholar and teacher, translating the more arcane discourse of scholarship into the language of popular discussion. But it serves as a needed corrective to the tendency of modern “scholarship” to be a world unto itself, and it returns to an understanding of scholarship as intellectual service to the larger community. “Public scholarship” may take many forms, including but not limited to bringing one’s expertise to bear in writing, lectures, forums, workshops, or committees that focus on contemporary debates on issues of justice, faith, interreligious dialogue, denominational concerns, or social and political issues and events. Indeed, both developing courses and providing public leadership on applied areas of ethics and ideology are important manifestations of engaged scholarship in religion.

Scholarship for church (or religious community):

●        In a college of the church, the institution may be more explicit than some other academic institutions in encouraging or recognizing scholarship done from within, and for, a particular faith community—as theologians, ethicists, religious historians, textual critics, etc. The institutional identity of the college allows it to value various forms of intellectual leadership for the church or other religious bodies as legitimate scholarly activity (e.g., publications, workshops, or lectures for church leaders; elected denominational offices or committees; invitations to speak to a religious conference or meeting on an issue related to one’s expertise)—in particular for the ELCA but more broadly to include any denomination or religion. In addition, what a liberal arts college of the church can provide that other religiously based academic institutions, such as seminaries, cannot, is the context of cross-disciplinary and ecumenical and interfaith inquiry among scholars in various disciplines that can inform, deepen, or challenge the perspective of the theologian, ethicist, historian, textual scholar, or philosopher. Theology and religious scholarship for the “church” can thrive in this context.

Interdisciplinary inquiry:

●        Interdisciplinary work can uniquely thrive at a college of the church, for the college’s identification with a particular faith tradition gives it a common set of questions, especially revolving around beliefs, ethics, and values. Religion scholar/teachers are trained to explore underlying questions and assumptions about human knowledge and belief, and, perhaps more to the point, are accustomed to writing, speaking, and teaching with these in mind. Scholars from many disciplines may engage in interdisciplinary inquiry, but theologians, historians of religion, and religious textual scholars, shape this inquiry around questions of what is right, what is true, what is good. In a liberal arts college, interdisciplinary work in general may thrive, because of the natural interaction of scholars from various disciplines. In a college of the church, religion faculty may lead in efforts to connect this interdisciplinary work to questions of meaning, ideology, faith, and responsibility—both to do this for the college classroom, and to model it for other academic institutions as well as the larger communities of church and society. Such interdisciplinary work involves research outside one’s own expertise (in the other disciplines) and creative collaboration in both research and pedagogy—work that often is not recognized as “scholarly.” Where this work results in lectures, papers, publications, or other leadership roles, it belongs in the category of original scholarly work.

Faith and learning:

●        There is what amounts to a crisis in contemporary society about how to talk about religion in a pluralistic world, and more specifically about the place of religion (or faith) in the public square. How can one take faith seriously, and yet accept the faith of others? How do we think about the various religions or faith in general in a post-modern, multicultural and global reality? Here scholars of religion can make an important contribution. Moreover, it is precisely in a college of the church, where faith is taken seriously and a particular religious tradition is valued, that scholars of religion may develop and practice the tools for addressing this challenge. If we value the integration of faith and learning, then development of expertise in that process should be recognized as a form of professional activity and scholarship that offers a distinctive contribution to both academy and society.


Scholars of religion will choose their emphases differently. Some will devote their energies to traditional forms of scholarly inquiry and publication. Others will commit their energies to more synthetic, interdisciplinary, or pedagogical forms of scholarship. In a liberal arts college of the church, both should be valued, and the college should seek to maintain some balance of these interests and activities among its faculty in religion.

(April 2021)