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 mean to “complete a survey” for a “religious group”? How is one to define a “group”?
We have compiled a list of questions (a poll) that target specific areas related to any given religious entity (group, place, etc.). For instance, for the “Religious Group” poll, we ask about group 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.).
I would like to answer the “Religious Group” poll? How is one to define a “group”?
When you consider the unit of "group" for your entry, you will want to choose a conception of the group that is sufficiently circumscribed both spatially and temporally that you will not feel compelled to make many exceptions or multiple answers for single questions. (Multiple answers are indeed possible, where changes occur in space or time, but if you find yourself needing this feature to differentiate between two contemporary sub-groups living in the same space, you should consider separate entries for each. We're happy to help with this!) A "group" should have a fairly stable number of members through the time period you have chosen (preferably a span of less than 200 years), few if any divergent beliefs in supernatural beings, and the same religious practices. When you name your group, a very descriptive name seems to work best, for example "Alexandrian Christianity (late second century)" or "Ancestral Cult of the Han".
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", "field doesn’t know" or “I don’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 "Affirm/Challenge/Comment" function.
Any approved expert, while browsing other entries, can make use of this link to affirm a given answer, challenge it, or simply comment. This new response then sits in the DRH next to the original expert’s answer.
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, comments attached to each quantitative answer, and the ability to add images or other rich media to one’s entry.
How long will this take?
That very much depends upon the nature of your entry, how much of the poll 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 roughly two days of work to answer all of the majority of questions for a given religious group and add comments and sources. Obviously this estimate will depend highly on how comprehensive your source material is. However, 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 initial funding for developing and running the DRH came from a grant awarded to UBC by the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), supplemented with some funds from UBC itself. UBC has recently agreed to become the permanent institutional home of the DRH, ensuring that the site will continue to be maintained and expanded as funds allow. At the moment, DRH operations through 2020 are being funded by a generous grant from the John Templeton Foundation.
The DRH will always remain completely open to browsers and contributors, 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.
By contributing, you’ll have the ability to comment on existing entries and use our full suite of tools, including a planned built-in Analysis tool. You can also add a CV line for an encyclopaedia entry (considering the time investment required, this is not a bad deal, since actually writing an encyclopaedia entry would take longer), as well as credit on the website. All published entries are issues a DOI by the UBC Library, and we are working on becoming listed with the major indices. The site is also optimized for entry discoverability via web searches.
I would like to propose a new poll for the DRH, or use the DRH as a platform for inputting, publishing and visualizing my data and/or gathering new data. How does this work?
We are eager to share the benefits of the enormous investment that we have put into the DRH as a technical platform with other researchers and researcher groups. If you have data that you have gathered that would fit in a poll structure, feel free to contact us about having us mount a custom poll for you. The first of our external polls, focused on “Mystical Harm” such as witchcraft, were-creatures, etc., will be live soon. Several other research groups are proposing to use the DRH to host their polls, input their data, publish it to a worldwide audience, and take advantage of our browse and visualize tools.
I'd like to use the DRH in the classroom. How might this work?
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: