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Author Topic: Academic vs Non-Academic  (Read 14212 times)
nigel
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« Topic Start: September 18, 2008, 03:02:35 pm »

This thread hit me just now, thinking about the Familiars fiasco about Academic vs Non-academic sources. Is there a time and a place for a Non-Academic source? What should be classed as a non-academic source? (well besides things like Wikipedia)

Myself personally I think academic sources are either direct sources (such as myths, legends, things like that) and indirect sources (writings by scholars on the primary sources). These are useful when discussing general relgious terms and the like.

Then Non-academic sources is either UPG, or perhaps some one writing a book on the source though their profession isn't directly related to it. I think these are useful for when talking about practices, and in the case of UPG, when talking about personal practices. I don't believe they are mutually exclusive either, I think both are needed to have a well founded base.

So what are y'alls thoughts on the matter?
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« Reply #1: September 18, 2008, 03:20:19 pm »



Well, the distinction between academic and non-academic books is fairly simple:  peer review, peer review, peer review.  Smiley  If it hasn't been sent out to be vetted by other academics in the field, it ain't academic.  (That's why academic books tend to lag behind non-academic works, in terms of publishing times -- not only is more research done, but the peer review process takes a long time.)  For something to qualify as an academic work, it has to go through a formal process of vetting by qualified people; the publishers that do that sort of thing are almost always university presses, though there are a few exceptions (Sage, if I remember correctly, is one).

Myths, folktales, etc., are NOT academic sources:  they're primary sources.  (Scholarly work ABOUT those texts = secondary sources.)  Of course, one can publish an academic anthology of primary sources; in that case, what gets vetted is the supplementary materials (introduction, etc.), and the choice of texts.  Jack Zipes's book The Trials and Tribulations of Little Red Riding Hood is an example:  it's primarily an anthology of LRRH texts, but it has an extensive essays about the stor(ies) in the beginning.

As for what should be used:  it depends entirely on the purpose.  If what you need is accurate, in-depth info coupled with extensive, supportable interpretation, etc.  academic works are the way to go.  However, most academic books are aimed at scholars, so if you just need an introduction to the topic, a well-received non-academic work (sometimes even written by an academic) is just fine.  Non-academic works are also incredibly useful for *practical* considerations:  it's all well and good to read Hutton's The Triumph of the Moon for accurate info about the historical bases of religious witchcraft traditions, but for the most part it isn't going to teach you HOW to practice religious witchcraft.  For any kind of how-tos, nonacademic books are usually more useful.  Also, if it's a really recent topic or issue, you may not *have* any academic sources to choose from. 
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« Reply #2: September 18, 2008, 03:25:58 pm »


Heh true, can't forget the Peer Reviewing. And ya, it is true that in the strictest sense Myths, Legends and the Like are not academic sources. However, again I was playing with a looser definition, perhaps trying to strike up some kind of topic lol.

But ya, I always like it when you post Catja, always informative.
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catja6
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« Reply #3: September 18, 2008, 03:34:04 pm »

Heh true, can't forget the Peer Reviewing. And ya, it is true that in the strictest sense Myths, Legends and the Like are not academic sources. However, again I was playing with a looser definition, perhaps trying to strike up some kind of topic lol.

But ya, I always like it when you post Catja, always informative.

Smiley  Unfortunately, a looser definition of "academic" just doesn't work -- the term has an EXTREMELY specific meaning when it comes to texts, and any attempt to stretch that particular usage renders it meaningless.  Academics decide what 'academic" means -- it's a very particular term of  professional standards.  Any other usage, when one is talking about books/articles, amounts to false advertising. 

A broader term that might be useful is "academically-oriented" -- a work that focuses upon research, but is intended for a broader audience and has not gone through the peer review process. 
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« Reply #4: September 18, 2008, 04:26:06 pm »

A broader term that might be useful is "academically-oriented" -- a work that focuses upon research, but is intended for a broader audience and has not gone through the peer review process.

You have to be careful with some of these, though.  They can be written by an author with academic 'creds' who just goes off the deep end with a pet theory.  The lack of academic review means they can get it to the shelves fairly quickly, and the time-lag between someone being discredited in their own circles and that filtering out to the general public can be fairly long.

I've mostly seen this in books on First Nations spirituality written by anthropologists.  I've heard that Harner was basically repudiated by his school, but he's made so much money and established himself so firmly (franchises and everything) in the new age world that at this point it doesn't matter to most people.

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« Reply #5: September 18, 2008, 06:07:11 pm »

You have to be careful with some of these, though.  They can be written by an author with academic 'creds' who just goes off the deep end with a pet theory.  The lack of academic review means they can get it to the shelves fairly quickly, and the time-lag between someone being discredited in their own circles and that filtering out to the general public can be fairly long.

I've mostly seen this in books on First Nations spirituality written by anthropologists.  I've heard that Harner was basically repudiated by his school, but he's made so much money and established himself so firmly (franchises and everything) in the new age world that at this point it doesn't matter to most people.

Absent

*nods*  I totally agree that this can be a problem.  Sometimes an academic's reason for publishing non-academically can be benign -- they're capable of explaining their topic to a general audience, and see a need for it. (I was contacted by a mainstream press after I spoke at a conference, about publishing my dissertation with them, because they felt it had mainstream appeal; however, as a junior not-yet-tenured scholar, i need peer-reviewed publications, so I didn't follow up on it.)  Related to my experience, it's usually the secure tenured scholars who go that route, because they don't NEED those academic publications for their careers any more, which can be good.

But just as often, as you said, it's because the academic has a pet theory that simply can't stand up to academic interpretation, and they want to bypass that critique process.  So it's always worth finding out WHY they did so; usually, there's some kind of preface or introduction that will give clues.  If they use it to squawk about how narrow-minded academia is, with their "standards" and "evidence," that's a bad sign.  Cheesy  And I am totally not surprised that Harner is one of these sorts. 

In both cases, the fact that one has a much better chance of making money with a mainstream press than an academic one can be a factor; academic presses are usually pretty shoestring, and don't have NEARLY the kind of advertising and promotional budgets mainstream presses do.
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« Reply #6: September 19, 2008, 09:31:59 am »

Heh true, can't forget the Peer Reviewing. And ya, it is true that in the strictest sense Myths, Legends and the Like are not academic sources. However, again I was playing with a looser definition, perhaps trying to strike up some kind of topic lol.

The problem that arises with that, though, is that those primary sources tend to be seen as "gospel," without a thorough examination of the material as a source (see Bible literalists). This is extremely critical to the discipline of history, for example, where I could find in the archives an eyewitness account of an event. However, to take that account as factually true in every way without trying to verify the account from external sources (other accounts, archaeologic record, etc.) is a big misstep. (If you've ever been an eyewitness to a crime and later called to testify in court, you can find out just how shaky memory can be!)

Primary sources need to be carefully examined to place them in the correct context (e.g., taking Greek philosopher's writings as a representation of contemporary popular Greek religion would lead you far astray). They also need to have their authenticity verified; there are numerous forgeries, both ancient and modern. Another thing to take into account, as I'm sure Catja can attest to, is discovering whether multiple accounts/stories were at one time in existence but have since been lost, leading to other questions about why certain versions have survived and others haven't.

There is a whole field of textual criticism that exists to critically examine these texts. In talking about ancient manuscripts, you have to classify manuscripts according to the errors they have in them (usually copying errors by monks), where additional text has been inserted at a later date, or where text has been ommitted (either by error or by design). Dealing with translations makes the problems even more tricky, and that's why certain versions of primary sources are preferred within the academic community.

What Catja said about peer review is crucial; secondary academic works have gone through a rigorous process before they ever get published, and become part of the scholarly debate on a particular subject, often spawning multiple reviews and journal articles. (In particularly contentious areas, they spawn multiple books--see Martin Bernal and Mary Lefkowski for the "out of Africa" debate.)

Primary sources such as myths or histories don't qualify automatically as academic sources. For instance, if I were to use Herodotus and Thucydides as my sole sources in writing a book of ancient Greek history, I would not have produced a scholarly work, even though H & T have been proven in many instances to be remarkably accurate.

However, that doesn't mean that primary sources aren't valuable, even if they are factually inaccurate. Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, for instance, is no longer read as a factual historical account; however, he is very important to the discipline of historiography.

Sasha

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« Reply #7: September 19, 2008, 09:45:14 am »

Heh true, can't forget the Peer Reviewing. And ya, it is true that in the strictest sense Myths, Legends and the Like are not academic sources. However, again I was playing with a looser definition, perhaps trying to strike up some kind of topic lol.

Now that I've talked about scholarly terms, I'll address your topic in a different way.

When you consider myths, legends, and other primary sources as documents important in a religion, the way in which you examine them is going to be different from the way you would if you were an academic (although that perspective certainly can inform religious views--hence reconstructionists).

When examining a myth or story, I'd be more interested in what purpose the story served to its original audience. For instance, what can I glean from Sophocles' Antigone that tells me about religious observance (e.g., burying your dead properly is very important!)? What can I glean from Hesiod that tells me about how the gods relate to one another? What can I learn from Euripides' Hippolytus about what gods expect from humans?

Myths and stories take on a very important role in the formation of religion (both to the original worshippers and to the modern reconstructionists). In new religions, they form a system of transmission and illustration of these important ideas.

Sasha
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« Reply #8: September 19, 2008, 03:01:22 pm »


Heh I think I need to back up and explain myself cause I think I am coming off as "Well it's all good" this is what I get for not preplanning this. However, I think my original question can be boiled down to, is there a time and a place to not need to be pedantic when discussing religion, or should you always be pedantic about it, or should there be a mix of the two.
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« Reply #9: September 19, 2008, 04:28:18 pm »

Heh I think I need to back up and explain myself cause I think I am coming off as "Well it's all good" this is what I get for not preplanning this. However, I think my original question can be boiled down to, is there a time and a place to not need to be pedantic when discussing religion, or should you always be pedantic about it, or should there be a mix of the two.

That's going to depend on the siruation and the individual.  For example, someone casually saying they worship "Hecate, the Greek crone goddess" in a general conversion is still going to get people tired of seeing Hecate represented to say something here.  A lot of people don't like this (it has driven a numbe5r of people off TC over the years) but a lot of people don't like to see their deities misrepresented either.  I'm not sure their is a solution that would make everyone happy.
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« Reply #10: September 19, 2008, 05:38:26 pm »


That's my thinking too, that there really is no best solution. However, I think there are times in which mixing the two (so say they say "I worship Hecate, the goddess of *correct things*") is the best solution. However, I also think that there are times where a non pedantic approach works like using myths and legends as a framework for your beliefs.
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« Reply #11: November 19, 2008, 06:30:36 am »

Dissertation SPAM. 
« Last Edit: November 19, 2008, 07:15:23 am by RandallS, Reason: SPAM. » Logged
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« Reply #12: November 19, 2008, 07:19:12 am »

Dissertation SPAM. 

As far as I know there's never been a Spam recipe one could consider "intellectual", so I gave up on finding an appropriate recipe in response to a "dissertation" spam.

SPAMUSHI

http://www.spam.com/eatspam/contest_recipe.aspx?recipeid=69
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« Reply #13: November 19, 2008, 10:40:16 am »

This thread hit me just now, thinking about the Familiars fiasco about Academic vs Non-academic sources. Is there a time and a place for a Non-Academic source? What should be classed as a non-academic source? (well besides things like Wikipedia)
Myself personally I think academic sources are either direct sources (such as myths, legends, things like that) and indirect sources (writings by scholars on the primary sources). These are useful when discussing general relgious terms and the like.
Then Non-academic sources is either UPG, or perhaps some one writing a book on the source though their profession isn't directly related to it. I think these are useful for when talking about practices, and in the case of UPG, when talking about personal practices. I don't believe they are mutually exclusive either, I think both are needed to have a well founded base.
So what are y'alls thoughts on the matter?

I've got myself into deep doo doo more than a few times because I disagree with academic sources concerning ancient history and religious practices. Grin     

When dealing with ancient history I don't care how many scholars agree, if something doesn't sound right to me or is downright ridiculous, I am not going to agree with the theory, because that is what most of it is -  theory.  I'm going to give you a couple of examples here.

When I was in college I was told in more than one class at more than one university that the Aztecs used stone balls to play a type of football because there was no evidence that they knew how to make soft balls. What the - - - Huh  That theory has since be invalidated.

A few years ago I attended a museum exhibit on an exhumed frozen Wolly Mammoth, after seeing a digital replica of an ice age city made of Mammoth bones and hide, (sort of a cave-man's New York), any idiot could see that man played a big part in the Mammoth's extinction. The exhibit denied this by flat out stating that there was no evidence that man played any roll in the animal's demise. However, now I have seen recently in the news that scholars are admitting this.

There was also a book I read one summer about North American Native Americans. Although a work of fiction, the author had lived among the people. One section dealt with a college student coming to the village to write her thesis on the people she had learned all about in books and classes. She was wrong on a lot of points and refused to see things any differently than what had been presented to her academically.

All this is just my way of saying, if you have a brain, use it.  If something doesn't seem right to you no matter who is spouting it, trust yourself and do your own research. You might be surprised to learn that some academic theories get more press than others for various reasons and there can be other conflicting academic theories out there as well.  It is tough to get newer theories recognized by the academic community that disprove older ones, in the mean time old stuff is still being passed off as correct. There was a great article in Smithsonian Magazine on this back in the '90s.
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« Reply #14: November 19, 2008, 12:49:49 pm »

When dealing with ancient history I don't care how many scholars agree, if something doesn't sound right to me or is downright ridiculous, I am not going to agree with the theory, because that is what most of it is -  theory.  I'm going to give you a couple of examples here.

I think of peer vetting as a kind of continuum.  As new information emerges, old theories are pruned away.  This used to take many years, often beyond the lifetime of the original theorist.  I think such theory reversals in academia happen less now than back (for example) in Margaret Murray's day, maybe because there are currently more people within a given area of study to poke holes in a theory right away.  I also think the expectations are higher.

Brina
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