Saturday, July 12, 2014

Plagiarism in Religious Studies

Continuing from my last blog it has to be said that in contrast with Theology the situation regarding plagiarism is quite different in Religious Studies. In Religious Studies plagiarism is comparatively common. 

For example, one well known Religious Studies scholar misquotes an Indian religious text in exactly the way described in the previous blog. And he does so in at least five of his books. Yet no one has even commented on the “typographical error” in these citations. Nor, have they pointed out that his “translation” comes from another scholar’s work where it is publish, along with the faulty reference. To make matters worse the preceding and subsequent passages in these works also come from the work where the original translation is given along with the flawed reference.
In another instance a Religious Studies scholar wrote a long description of a specific type of Indian philosophy that continued for at least three pages that were a direct quotation, without quotation marks, from a book by an Indian writer. Similarly another well know Religious Studies scholar produced a book discussing the views of one of the early founders of “comparative religion.” This book reads well until one checks the footnotes and compares the text against the work of the scholar whose views are being expounded. 

Once this is done it soon becomes apparent that the entire book is a continuous paraphrase of the earlier scholar’s work. While this is not direct plagiarism it is nevertheless a form of plagiarism because it presents the paraphrase as original scholarship without the addition of new insights or significant criticisms needed to interpret the original work.

The sad fact is that unlike in Theology and other well established disciplines, the field of Religious Studies, possibly because of its interdisciplinary nature, appears to suffer from a high level of outright plagiarism. This is an intolerable situation that must change if the field is to survive as a serious area of academic study.
To be continued ...

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Eric Sharpe's problem with sloppy scholarship

To appreciate the problem Eric Sharpe identified, imagine a well-known theologian publishing a new work on Biblical views of creation in which he provided his own translation of “Genesis 1.1.1” as “This is the story of how the universe was formed. When god began to form the universe the world was void, and vacant, darkness lay over the abyss.”

No doubt reviewers would quickly point out the typographical error in the references because  Genesis 1.1.1 does not exist. The correct reference is Genesis 1.1.

Then, no doubt someone would comment on the peculiarity of this translation. Most translations Genesis 1.1 read something like: “In the beginning God create the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void and darkness was upon the face of the deep” (RSV).
In fact, none of the major English translations use the word “abyss” for “deep” nor do any except that of James Moffatt take the liberty of moving Genesis 2.4 to the beginning of Genesis. Yet this where Moffatt places, that is before Genesis 1.1. in his "The Moffatt Translation of the Bible" (1926).

Further suppose that a particularly thorough reviewer was puzzled by this use of Genesis 1.1 with its strange beginning and faulty reference. Therefore, he does a Google search and discovers that in 1920 Moffatt actually published an article on the Biblical meaning of creation that contained both the citation and faulty reference. If upon closer examination he discovered that the preceding and subsequent passages were direct quotes from Moffatt’s article without the required quotation marks. Then he or she might reasonably conclude that the entire passage was plagiarized with the reference acting a signature that proves plagiarism beyond any doubt.

As far as I know Moffatt did not write such an article in 1920 or at any other time. Nor, has some enterprising theologian used such an article in the way described above because if they did the plagiarism would soon be discovered and exposed.
The situation is quite different in many works published by Religious Studies scholars… To be continued …

Friday, March 7, 2014

Picking up where I left off - the problem of inter-disciplinary studies in the study of religion

My last post on 31 March 2012 was published shortly after my wife's cancer operation and before she began radiation treatment. After that, as I noted earlier this week, my efforts at blogging came to a standstill. Now I hope to pick things up again. At the end of my last post I wrote:

"Sadly, although Eric Sharpe recognized that one of the main problems facing religious studies is its “inter-disciplinary” nature few people take his concerns seriously. In light of his identification of the problem of “credibility” it is no surprise to find that when Wilfried Decoo investigated academic fraud he found that “A person engaging in inderdisciplinary activities is  more likely to engage in academic misconduct …" and “new interdisciplinary fields” in particular, “are at high risk” (Decoo, 2002:27 and 30). Yet despite growing evidence that inter-disciplinary fields encourage academic fraud university administrators continue to rush headlong to establish inter-disciplinary programs (Decoo, 2002:14-30)." This statement needs further clarification.

Here I need to put my cards on the table. When I was awarded an academic Festschrift, its title was Border Crossings: The Explorations of an Inter-disciplinary Historian. Throughout may career, as the editors noted, I have engaged in, and published, inter-disciplinary work. So  why am I agreeing with Sharpe and criticizing inter-disciplinary studies?

The answer is simple. I believe that to engage in inter-disciplinary work one must qualify to do so by mastering specific disciplines, their literature, theories, and research methods. Here Decoo reminds me of Karl Marx's caustic statement "M. Proudhon has the misfortune of being peculiarly misunderstood in Europe. In France, he has the right to be a bad economist, because he is reputed to be a good German philosopher. In Germany, he has the right to be a bad philosopher, because he is reputed to be one of the ablest French economists. Being both German and economist at the same time, we desire to protest against this double error." ( Karl Marx, The Poverty of Philosophy, 1847).

The problem with "interdisciplinary studies" as practiced by many people today is that it is an excuse for not mastering any discipline and simply picking and choosing statements that confirm one's prejudices. It is this type of writing that Sharpe rejected.  In my next post I will provide some examples to put this claim in context ...

Decoo, Wilfried, 2002, Crisis on Campus.Confronting Academic Misconduct, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press. 

van der Heyden, Ulrich , and Andreas Feldtkeller, 2008, Festschrift: BorderCrossings: The Explorations of an Inter-disciplinary Historian, Stuttgart, Franz Steiner Verlag. 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Why no recent postings?

Visiting a Blog that has not been updated for almost a year can be discouraging. And this Blog falls into that category. The reason is quite simple: a series of family illnesses. Now, I hope, things are getting better and I can return to blogging.