FAQ

Why do we need the DRH? We’ve gotten along fine without an online, quantitative encyclopedia of religious history so far.

All of us, as historians, make generalizations about the historical record (e.g., “The early Chinese put ancestor worship at the center of their religious practices”). We tend to leave such generalizations un-referenced and unsupported.

What does it means to “complete a survey” for a “religious group”? How is one to define a “group”?

We have compiled a list of questions (a survey) that target specific areas of any given religious group's organization (membership, group size and structure, scriptural traditions, and religious architecture), beliefs (in a supernatural being, in the afterlife, etc.), practices, and institutional structures (educational systems, calendar, etc.).

How can I boil down my very detailed knowledge about this religious tradition into a series of check boxes? How can I shoehorn my tradition’s specific religious conceptions into these English-language, pre-set categories? Isn’t this reductionistic and crude?

Clicking boxes for "present", "absent", and "field doesn’t know" in many ways goes against everything we value as careful historians and linguists. We are used to nuancing our answers, and emphasizing how difficult it is to arrive at any definitive answer concerning the historical record.

For many of these variables, different scholars would give you different answers. How are you going to deal with scholarly difference?

We encourage you to note points where scholarly disagreement exists in your comment box while still checking one of the available answer boxes. The database is also designed so that alternative responses to a single question can coexist side-by-side, giving users a snapshot of the state of scholarly consensus (or lack of consensus) on any given topic. We are also hoping that scholars who disagree with existing responses will be motivated to contribute their own answer sets in order to have their interpretations represented in the database, a process now facilitated by our "Challenge Answer" button.

How are you defining “religion” for the purposes of this database?

We are taking a broad approach to the concept of "religion" in order to capture as much religious behavior throughout the world and throughout history as possible. The Oxford English Dictionary's definition 5b offers the closest approximation: "a pursuit, interest, or movement, followed with great devotion." Under this definition, both groups who have complex belief systems and those who focus more on practice and ritual at the expense of belief will be welcome. We hope to encompass groups who adhere to structures traditionally considered "religions" as well as philosophical traditions.

The DRH is described as a “quantitative and qualitative” encyclopedia. Where’s the qualitative content?

The long-term vision for the DRH is for it to consist of a core of standardized, quantitative data (the set of check-box answers in the entries filled out by experts) that will anchor related qualitative data. At the moment, this related qualitative data consists primarily of the recommended sources for each entry, as well as the comments attached to each quantitative answer.

How long will this take?

That very much depends upon the nature of your religious group, how much of the questionnaire is relevant and answerable (we ask you to simply skip sections that are irrelevant or outside your expertise), and the extent to which you want to include rich comments (we encourage you to do so). Our current best estimate is it will take you 3-4 hours to answer all of the priority questions for a given religious group, with comments, and more like 4-5 if you delve into the "Additional Questions" attached to each section. Doing this in one sitting may be onerous, so it's probably best to save your work frequently and come back to the site when you have a bit of spare time. Ideally, we are hoping that experts can complete their entries within 3 months.

Who is funding this? Who stands to benefit?

All of the funding for developing and running the DRH has, to date, come from a grant awarded to UBC by the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), supplemented with some funds from UBC itself. The DRH will always remain completely open to contributors, and in early 2017 will be opened to the general public, completely free of charge. It will never be put behind a paywall and will remain an academic, non-profit initiative responsive to its users’ needs. As opposed to contributing to an edited volume, academic handbook, or other more traditional mode of knowledge dissemination, no one will be making a profit on your work on the DRH, which will be shared freely with anyone with an interest in the subject.

What do I get out of it?

We are currently inviting contributions and are able to give honoraria to those scholars able to complete their entries within 90 days.

How do I cite data from the DRH?

You can cite both individual entries and the entire database itself. To cite an individual entry you can either click "cite entry" in the upper right of the entry page or use a citation following this style:

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