Hawaii Conference

I will present my paper, “Death and Dying in the Satanic Worldview” at the Hawaii International Conference on Arts and Humanities this week. Click on the photo to view full program details.

On the itinerary are watching lectures, blowing off other lectures, lounging on the beach, snorkeling, hiking a volcano, sleeping in, lounging by the pool, attending a luau, drinking at Tiki bars, mailing postcards to make people jealous (jealous, oh so jealous!), and finally, applying sunscreen, thickly and often. How do you say “academia score!” in Hawaiian?

Research for the Masses

Reprinted from Concordia NOW

Next week is Open Access Week, a global event promoting the growing movement to make academic research readily available to everyone. It also marks the second anniversary of the founding of Spectrum, Concordia’s very own online open access research repository.

In 2010, shortly after Spectrum went online, Concordia’s Senate passed its landmark resolution on open access, which established the university as a leader in the open access movement in Canada. “There was overwhelming support at every Faculty council and at Senate for the resolution,” recalls University Librarian Gerald Beasley.

The resolution affirmed Concordia’s commitment to open access, and positioned it as a leader in the movement in Canada. But the work to make the university’s academic research readily available to everyone doesn’t stop with resolutions, Beasley says. “Some people think that open access is going to grow inevitably, but it won’t grow without effort. We actually have to put our shoulder to the wheel and demonstrate our commitment to it again and again.”

To this end, Concordia recently launched an Open Access Author Fund to cover author’s publishing fees charged by some open access journals. The fund is so new that it’s impossible to gauge what effect, if any, it is having on open access publishing at the university, but Beasley insists it’s an important aspect of Concordia’s strategy to encourage researchers to allow open access to their peer-reviewed work. As he explains, there is still some resistance to open access publishing among academics.

“The big claim against open access is you’re giving this stuff away. What about my academic freedom? What about my right to publish my work wherever I choose? But open access does not infringe on these rights and authors often retain more rights by taking the open access route,” Beasley says.

A contract with an academic publisher may stipulate that the researcher has to surrender his or her copyright. When they then want to distribute their research to students, load it on their webpage, deposit it somewhere else, or anthologize it, they can run into problems, because they no longer own the rights to their own work.

Beasley recommends that authors retain copyright when requesting a licence to publish their work in an open access environment. Even if they insist on these things, there’s a good chance they will still be accepted for publication in the journal of their choice.

“I think [open access] creates a balance,” he says. “It actually protects the creator, the author, the artist, and their rights, because it does not take any of their copyright away from them.”
In Beasley’s opinion it only makes sense that academics make publicly funded research publicly available, because it’s the public that funds their research efforts in the first place. “You pay for it through your taxes because it’s publicly funded, and again through your taxes when the library takes out a subscription to a journal. How often do you want to pay for it? It seems a bit odd to me.”

Beasley says he is personally committed to open access, because it falls in line with the values he holds as a librarian. “Open access is in line with traditional library values of openness, access to information, elimination of economic barriers to education, a social commitment that goes beyond academics reading academics, towards disseminating research that benefits developing nations and underprivileged communities in all countries. With open access all people need is an internet connection to have access to high quality research, whether it’s produced at Concordia or elsewhere.”

As a result of its Senate resolution on open access, Concordia was recently invited to join a prestigious group of institutions dedicated to promoting open access, known as the Coalition of Open Access Policy Institutions. The list of 22 universities and colleges in the coalition includes Harvard University, Stanford University, Duke University and MIT.

Just last month, Concordia’s Senate approved a recommendation from the Academic Planning and Priorities Committee that President Lowy sign the Berlin Declaration of Open Access. In doing so, the university joined a list of 300 leading international research, scientific and cultural institutions from around the world. The ninth edition of the Berlin Conference, The Impact of Open Access in Research and Scholarship, will be held in Washington, D.C. next month, the first time it is being held in North America.

Beasley says while the membership in the coalition and international recognition from other open access pioneers increases Concordia’s prestige, disseminating Concordia’s research is more important. “I assume Concordia’s research is making the world a better place, so I want the impact of Concordia’s research to be improved.”

This year, Open Access Week coincides with Concordia’s part-time faculty research showcase in the J.W. McConnell Library Building Atrium on Tuesday, October 25. The library will have a table for interested staff, faculty and students to learn more about Spectrum and the open access movement at Concordia.

What: Part-time faculty showcase
When: Tuesday, October 25, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Where: J.W. McConnell Library Building Atrium (1400 De Maisonneuve Blvd. W.)

Related Links:
“New Open Access Support for Researchers” – NOW, September 21, 2011
“New Coalition Promotes Open Access” – NOW, August 4, 2011
Berlin 9 Open Access Conference
Open Access Week

Graduates: Regarding Advisors and Advisees

The following article is reprinted from The Chronicle of Higher Education. The author, Karen Kelsky PhD, discusses the lack of support from advisers vis à vis graduate students. While academic advising is the focus, she laments that graduate students receive no professional advising; how to get work, how to build a CV, how to network, etc. In my department I can attest that this is a common occurrence. And, as I have heard from colleagues is different departments, if you have happen to have an adviser uninterested in students in general, you may not even receive that to a sufficient degree. Dr. Kelsky, a former professor at the University of Oregon, offers her own consulting services to fill this need: The Professor Is In.

I would disagree with Dr. Kelsky that professional services are the responsibility of the particular adviser. Instead, I would offer that the department and school itself should have resources available to students. Not simply a job post listing, but seminars and workshops and tools – applicable, transferable tools – at graduate students’ disposal. Recently my school, Concordia University, implemented a Grad Pro Skills department, specifically designed to answer to these type of needs. It is so far just beginning, but the possibilities and potential are great. Graduates should never simply expect to have immediate employment simply handed to them post-graduation – they have to work for it, hustle a bit, and demonstrate their competency. But there certainly needs to be more resources available in order to help transfer your acute ability to unpack complex, obscure, and ancient texts (in their original language no less) into employment that requires and heralds critical thinking.

The article is reprinted in full below.

September 28, 2011

To: Professors; Re: Your Advisees

Advising Illustration - Careers

Mark Shaver for The Chronicle

Enlarge Image

By Karen Kelsky

Dear faculty members: I sell Ph.D. advising services on the open market. And your Ph.D. students are buying. Why? Because you’re not doing your job.

Lest you think that by advising, I mean editing research papers and dissertations, let me disabuse you. I offer those services, but rarely am I asked for them.

A former tenured professor at a major research university, I am now running an academic-career consulting business. That’s right: I am doing graduate advising for pay. I am teaching your Ph.D. students to do things like plan a publishing trajectory, tailor their dissertations for grant agencies, strategize recommendation letters, evaluate a journal’s status, judge the relative merits of postdoctoral options, interpret a rejection, follow up on an acceptance, and—above all—get jobs. And business is so good I’m booked ahead for months.

As my own former Ph.D. advisees would happily tell you, I am not infallible. Your students don’t come to me because they think I’m the perfect adviser. They come because I’m available and you’re not. And because I don’t sugarcoat the truth and you do. When their work is bad, I tell them. Point blank. “Your essay is truly awful,” I’ve said. Or, “Has no one ever taught you how to write a grant?” Most important, I highlight the career stakes of their errors: “This job letter is no better than a B+, which in this job climate, may as well be an F. Do it over.” And they do.

When I ask them why they come to me—and not you, their Ph.D. advisers—the answers never vary. “Oh, my adviser? He’s supportive about the diss. But in terms of my career? I’m totally on my own.”

Why am I the pinch-hitter for an absentee professoriate?

Let me be the first to tell you, your advisees are working hard. They have certainly gotten the memo: Jobs are impossible, so publish before you finish. Network. Professionalize. They just don’t have the foggiest notion how to do any of that.

Cultivate a letter-writer? Do the elevator talk? Tailor a job letter? You are sending your Ph.D. students out onto this job market so unprepared that it would be laughable if the outcome weren’t so tragic. Meanwhile, when students ask for help with their job search, too many of you respond with some version of “not my problem” or “the Ph.D. is not professional training.” When one of my clients asked her adviser for career help, the professor accused her of trying to “game the system.” Incredibly, one of you told another of my clients, “Jobs come up all the time! It’s not like there’s a season for them!”

To be sure, my clients tell me that advising occurs—endless advising of “the dissertation project.” As if that project, and its minutiae of citations and shades of meaning, is the point of graduate school. It is not the point of graduate school. It is simply a document that demonstrates a mastery of a discipline and a topic. The point of graduate school, for the actual graduate students themselves, is preparation for a career. A career like yours, with benefits and a retirement plan.

That kind of career derives far less from a thick wad of dissertation pages than from the quantity of one’s publications, the impressiveness of one’s grant record, the fame of one’s reference-writers, and the clarity of one’s ambition. I don’t find it problematic to say any of that openly. But apparently you do. You reject it as “vulgar” and “careerist”—as if wanting to have health insurance is vulgar and wanting to not go on food stamps is careerist.

That is pure intellectual snobbery. To acknowledge your graduate students as people in a workforce requires you to acknowledge yourselves as workers, and to do that you must finally abandon the self-delusion of the ivory tower—that scholarly work is “above” capitalist exchange and anything as gauche as money. And that you will not do. The irony of faculty “work” (“I’m working on a project on death and the abject”) is its scrupulous denial of any acknowledged kinship to the actual wage-work for which you do, indeed, draw a salary.

For years now, many professors have used the abysmal job market as an alibi to entirely neglect career advising for their doctoral students. “Well, the job market’s impossible,” my former colleagues would say, airily, “of course I always tell them that.” And for too many professors, that’s where their sense of responsibility to their advisees’ career prospects seems to stop.

But I write this today to argue otherwise. Your responsibility to your advisees extends to telling the whole truth about the academic enterprise at this time. Tenure-track lines have been evaporating for years. Aiming for a tenure-track job is, for most students, unrealistic. For those students who wish to try, the effort requires years of methodical training and calculation of career chances, from the point of arrival in the graduate program through the dissertation defense and beyond. Your job is to look up from your students’ dissertations, and assist them in mastering those skills and calculations.

How? By teaching your Ph.D.’s how to write a CV; to cultivate prominent scholarly supporters; to pursue grant money with a single-minded purpose; to apply for national awards; to publish, publish more, publish higher, write a stellar application letter, and do the elevator talk.

And when, even after doing all of the above, the tenure-track job doesn’t materialize, as it often will not, instead of averting your eyes in shame from their so-called “failures,” you step up, professors, and work with your Ph.D.’s to transfer their skills into some sector of the economy that is not contracting as badly as your own.

Your job is to tell them the truth. And to extend an ethos of care beyond your advisees’ writing and research to encompass their material existence. Because your students need work, even when it’s not the coveted tenure-track job. Work is good. You work. So should your Ph.D.’s.

Karen Kelsky is a former professor of anthropology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of Oregon who left academe in 2010. She now runs a consulting business and a blog called The Professor Is In.

Google Maps Scholarship

From an article published by The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Imagine a Google Maps of scholarship, a set of tools sophisticated enough to help researchers locate hot research, spot hidden connections to other fields, and even identify new disciplines as they emerge in the sprawling terrain of scholarly communication. Creating new ways to identify and analyze patterns in millions of journal citations, a team led by two biologists, Carl T. Bergstrom and Jevin D. West, and a physicist, Martin Rosvall, has set out to build just such a guidance system.

This will be an extremely helpful tool, especially to locate research that is currently on the fringes of institutional and traditional venues for scholarship, such as mine.

As a prime example, when I got published in February of this year and achieved some media attention, I was contacted by several scholars working directly on my topic of expertise, Satanism. They would most likely never have heard of my work otherwise. While their approach was perhaps wider and focusing on different groups (such as the varying theistic Satanic religions), as soon as I published I am automatically in dialogue with other scholars on my topic. Every conclusion I draw or analysis I present is then, in a sense, a response to their conclusions and analysis. Even when we disagree entirely, it is our duty as academics to fully understand what we oppose, then offer another view.

I bring this up because if those scholars had not contacted me, I would still be ignorant of their work as most of it does not appear in databases. As an emerging field (a field that, perhaps, could be labeled as “occult”) that is already a subset of a lesser field (New Religious Movements), there is some lingering reluctance to consider it legitimate scholarships, as it does not fit neatly into the longstanding and recognized studies on world religions; that is, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and (that somewhat reductionist umbrella term) Eastern Religions.

Trapped in disciplinary valleys, surrounded by dense forests of information, researchers have a hard time seeing a lot of scholarship that might be relevant to their work, especially if it’s not published in the places they already know to look. The work of Mr. Bergstrom and his colleagues is a response, they say, to the problem of how to work with an overwhelming and ever-growing amount of information.

The Google map of scholarship is terribly exciting stuff to someone like me, who essentially becomes the expert on my topic; my supervisors and professors know only what I present, not necessarily the overreaching area from which it stems. That means that when I come across an issue, I explain it to my supervisor, and then tell them how I side. Although their knowledge is considerable and valued, their commentaries come from an external base of knowledge. The scholarship map could potentially link my research with content editors specifically catered to my topic. Even if they disagree with my findings, they can provide an extensive and critical rebuttal. Such things are absolutely necessary to move academia forward with new ideas.

Scholar nerds know what’s up. This is meta.

Feminist Hermeneutics Are Somehow Not As Titillating

Derek Abma, from Canada.com, was also in contact with me regarding my research. He asked for a spokesperson from within the Church of Satan. Since I cannot ethically provide that information, I informed him that he must ask the Church of Satan administrators directly. I also sent an email to the administrators informing them that I had spoken with Mr. Abma. I do not know if direct contact was ever made. Mr. Abma’s piece here contains an interview from Scott Robb, a self-identified Satanist from the Canadian-based Satanist Church.

He is, however, not a member of the Church of Satan.

In order to help explain what this means, I will reprint a section of my study’s methodological approach:

My initial research into the Church of Satan began in 2006 with a short paper designed to illustrate the inherent problems in conducting Internet research on New Religious Movements [NRMS]; inconsistencies, contradictions, schisms, mudslinging, inaccuracies, and inflammatory accusations from journalists, ex-members, anti-cult groups, and various critics of NRMs all contributed to a murky and overwhelming area of research. There are scarce academic sources for reference on the CoS, and the few existing scholarly works are surface studies based on Satanic Literature, Internet research, and pan-Satanism sources (Lewis 2001, Petersen in Lewis and Petersen 2005). The Church of Satan website, commenting on James R. Lewis’ efforts at Internet research for a “Census of Satanism”, states that, “we think it worthwhile that true Satanists should steer clear” as Lewis involves other groups that self-identity as Satanists that are unrecognized by the Church of Satan (Church of Satan, Pages/News44, 2010). There are a number of these disparate groups that self-identity as Satanists. The great majority of these factions are theistic Satanists, that is, they believe in the existence of a spiritual Satanic entity. As such, they are diametrically opposed to the atheistic stance of the Church of Satan, which views Satan as a symbol and as a metaphor for how they see themselves. As far as my research has ascertained, theistic Satanists are primarily (although not exclusively) active on the Internet, as opposed to physical assembly, have several unorganized divisions with multiple nuances of how the entity of Satan is perceived and understood, and have ephemeral philosophies that are influenced by the writings of Anton Szandor LaVey and other occult authors (Lewis 2001, xiv). As such, the various theistic Satanic groups are omitted from this paper because their understanding of ritual, death, and the afterlife is then atypical of members of the Church of Satan.

Scholars of New Religions Movements (such as James R. Lewis), as well as theistic Satanists, have tended to refer to the Church of Satan as LaVeyan Satanism to distinguish it from theistic Satanism (2001, xiii-xiv). It is, however, significant to note that members of the Church of Satan do not self-identify as LaVeyan Satanists but simply as Satanists. Since the Church of Satan was the first organized Satanic religion, founded and based on the book The Satanic Bible by Anton Szandor LaVey (first published in 1969), the members of the Church deride the need to use labels applied by external social scientific categories or their theistic Satanic detractors (Gilmore in Shankbone 2007).

Current High Priest of the Church of Satan, Peter H. Gilmore, explains, “We don’t think [theistic Satanists] are Satanists. They are devil worshippers, as far as I’m concerned” (Quoted in Shankbone 2007). Perhaps more delicately phrased, the Church of Satan concludes that since they were first to codify Satanism as a religion, they hold the rights to the moniker of Satanist and the strong symbolism and responsibilities attached to the label. As James R. Lewis writes in his book Satanism Today: An Encyclopedia of Religion, Folklore, and Popular Culture,

“However one might criticize and depreciate it, The Satanic Bible is still the single most influential document shaping the contemporary Satanist movement. Whether LaVey was a religious virtuoso or a misanthropic huckster, and whether The Satanic Bible was an inspired document or a poorly edited plagiarism, their influence was and is pervasive” (xiv).

For these reasons, within this essay the terms Satanism, Satanic, and Satanist will refer solely to members of the official Church of Satan, as established by Anton Szandor LaVey, and systematized in the prime text, The Satanic Bible.

Mr. Robb claims to be an ex-member of the Church of Satan, and left to begin his own church. Given that my study included solely Church of Satan literature and interviews, I cannot vouch for Robb’s statements as I have not studied pan-Satanism. I do not protest Mr. Robb’s inclusion in the piece, but I do object that it is unclear that my study is outside the auspices of Mr. Robb’s comments. It is the equivalent of asking a Baptist to comment on Catholic dogma. Although I fully understand that journalists who are not engaged in the academic study of religion would not necessarily be able to distinguish this nuance.

I have written many papers on differing topics over the years, none as titillating as the Church of Satan, and I am aware why this “sensational” topic garners so much attention. There is a certain, understandable, journalistic salivation surrounding this whole thing. Part of me chuckles at the thought of asking reporters if they want to hear my comparative analysis of medieval exegetes and contemporary feminist hermeneutics on the book of Esther. Somehow I doubt that that conversation would make it into print.

CNN Coverage: On The Importance of Precise Terms

CNN has picked up the story, and rewrote their own piece. This reporter/blogger (Eric Marrapodi) has clearly actually read the original study. Refreshing.

I realize just how much of an academic I have become as I read through the viral internet commentary. For instance, Marrapodi uses the term “faith” to describe Satanism. This is an inaccurate use of the term. I do not mean to accuse Marrapodi of negligence, as he obviously did his homework. I am simply stating how much my own perspective has changed regarding the precise use of terms; my training has cemented the fact that I must use exact, clear, and appropriate terms for my study. “Faith” is inaccurate because there are no base presuppositions that Satanists are required to believe; there is no extraordinary claim that requires faith. There is simply a statement that, in all likelihood, there is no god, no devil, and no spiritual dimensions to humankind. I could not apply the term theology either, as there is no theos.

Dogma, philosophy, and that wonderful polyvalent social scientific word, worldview, are more appropriate to apply to Satanism.

If I have had seven years of higher education (so far, many more to come) wherein professors push you to become better by being critical, explicit, meticulous, and make absolutely certain that your claims are unambiguous, well defined, and properly supported, I realize just how much of a nitpicking snob I can be when I read misuse of terms, even when I have no other issues with the text; the CNN piece is fair and balanced and well written. Bravo.

Considering that I am a person who has lived in places with no plumbing, that I dropped out of high school at 14, and worked full-time as a nanny for a decade, I am constantly surprised as how my person has changed and become something entirely unexpected; from welfare brat to this bizarre place wherein my cloistered study in an area few people even knew existed is now on CNN’s website. Life is funny like that.