Dear Colleague in the Academic Study of Religion,
In his 2015 Presidential Address to the American Academy of Religion, Thomas Tweed asserted that a “values approach can clarify divisive internal debates within the AAR, especially between those who identify with theology and those who identify with religious studies, and … disclose points of agreement as we refine the arguments we employ to defend the study of religion in the public arena and on our own campuses.” The four of us (signatures below) share that hope and invite you to participate in a survey – the VISOR survey – that will allow us actually to test Tweed’s claims.
The VISOR Project is grounded in our awareness that scholars in various disciplines who study religion have values of myriad sorts, some of which are at the very heart of their research and others tangential. We think it would be helpful for scholars who study religion – whether from religious studies, theology, anthropology, psychology, sociology, languages, biology, cognitive science, history, or other – to learn what their values are. Which ones are primary and secondary? Which are unimportant? Do values differ among scholars who teach in different kinds of institutions, e.g., a state university versus a theological seminary? If so, are the value differences non-obvious or do they reflect popular assumptions?
To collect data on these questions, we have designed an online survey built around standard (and well-known and validated) measures used to assess values. There are also demographic items and a couple of measures to help us interpret results. For some measures in the VISOR survey, participants receive instant informative feedback through graphs and explanations of results. All data are anonymous and no individual participant is identified, in accord with standard professional research guidelines.
We plan to recruit participants through a “snowball” method, i.e., through a network of contacts. Would you consider using your connections to help us reach people far and wide in the study of religion? We are hoping that you will take the survey, which you will find at www.visorproject.org, and encourage those in your network to do so as well. You are welcome to use this letter and even personalize it as you connect to those in your networks.
Apart from what is minimally required to invite other scholars to participate (using this letter as a template), we would ask you not to discuss VISOR with others. We are concerned that, if it should become a matter of general discussion or gossip before the data is collected, that could set up unnecessary concern, worry, or who knows what – the very moods and feelings that can invalidate our attempt to get clean, unconfounded data. For the study to yield valid information, it is important that the participants complete the survey in an ordinary comfortable manner.
Thank you for your confidentiality.
Psychology, Westmont College
F. LeRon Shults
Theology, University of Agder
Religious Studies, University of California – Santa Barbara
Wesley J. Wildman
Philosophy, Theology, Ethics – Boston University