Friday, March 21, 2008
  How "open" are theological ideas?
Nichthus has a post (which originated in the "Composing free and open online educational resources" course he is following, and from which I will take one paragraph out of context - for the context read his full post, and probably the others in the series) in which he discusses "openness":
I certainly perceive that the future will be a more open place, thanks to what is already happening online. I prefer to think, though, that we might achieve this alongside our 'professional thinkers' with academic tenure and, dare I suggest it, the ivory tower perspective. I question the extent to which ideas are currently 'closed', as I am free to examine others' ideas now - I just need to be careful not to pass them off as my own, or to misrepresent them.
While I have much sympathy with what he says, I think also that it reflects a priviledged Western point of view. Ideas (in disciplines like education and theology - Nichthus' areas of professional interest currently) are open, because as he says "I am free to examine others' ideas now". What he does not say, but presumably assumes, is that this implies that I can either buy the book or journal in which these particular ideas are circulated, or have access to a library or online database (like EBSCO) from which I can access the material. In a Western academic context this is (more or less*1) true. Where I have been working recently access to these commercial databases is not available, even Colombo Theological Seminary, which has superb facilities and a good library compared to what is possible at KKBBSC. In such places the cost of a subscription even to a minimal Journal database is simply not affordable.

A scholar or student here is limited to those ideas which are available locally, or freely online - since both sites have Internet access. Any other idea, even when published in a Journal like JBL*2 which is very widely available is not "open" here! Ideas which must be bought are not "open" but restricted, access is determined by priviledge or wealth!

As long as most publication is in books and closed-access journals, Western education and scholarship is fundamentally something which is bought and sold, and not something which is "open". Theological (and educational) ideas are only "open" to the rich or priveledged, or if their author has chosen to publish them in an open journal!

1. It is more true in well-endowed institutions, like large public universities, or "rich" private colleges, it is less true in other places. Access to journal articles outside the "normal" theological disciplines is for example much less easy and quick for me now that I have access only to the Carey library resources, than it was last year when the University of Auckland library offered a much broader collection for my use. Even in the West many theological training institutions can not afford to offer the level of access that Carey does. [
2. As an example of this a Google search for "Journal of Biblical Literature" leads directly to the
JSTOR page - I no longer have access to JSTOR, so I can see the journal details, but not the article for which I was searching - it is NOT "open" to me. By contrast anyone with an Internet connection can read Philippe Guillaume, "The Unlikely Malachi-Jonah Sequence (4QXIIa), Journal of Hebrew Scriptures 7: Article 15 (2007) [RETURN]


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