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Barthian Reflections on the Role of Open Access and Electronic Publishing in Defining Digital Theology

Published onAug 06, 2021
Barthian Reflections on the Role of Open Access and Electronic Publishing in Defining Digital Theology
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Abstract: Anderson and Squires (2017) observed that debates around open access (OA) in scholarly communication often draw on a “theological imaginary” but have lacked a “proper theology.” This paper aims to address that lacuna by drawing on Karl Barth’s vision of a “proclamation-centered” theology to articulate a theological critique of closed-access models and theorize a disciplinary imperative for OA. In the process, both theology's oft-remarked status as a "minor participant" (Hutchings 2015) in the digital humanities (DH) and the emergence of a trans-disciplinary domain increasingly identified as “digital theology” are considered. Drawing on Anderson’s (2018) analysis of theology’s disciplinary distance from the main body of digital humanities work, this paper outlines a case for the distinctive primacy of digital publishing tools and open access commitments in digital theology, as compared with the broader suite of research tools and methods that constitute the “cultural capital” (Schroeder 2016) of digital humanities as generally understood. It concludes that, while digital theology and DH share much in common, the unique salience of OA and digital publishing to the concerns of theology as defined by Barth suggest that digital theology’s cultural capital differs sufficiently from that of DH to justify, if not demand, its constitution as a distinct community of practice.

Keywords: open access, digital theology, Karl Barth, scholarly communication, academic publishing


BARTHIAN REFLECTIONS ON THE ROLE OF OPEN ACCESS AND ELECTRONIC PUBLISHING IN DEFINING DIGITAL THEOLOGY1

Though the world’s first recorded universities were knitted together in the wombs of the Buddhist sangha (Jaulian Monastery, 2nd century CE), the Muslim ummah (University of Karueein, 859), and the then ‘undivided’ Christian church (University of Bologna, 1088) and were nursed at the bosom of theology when she was still ‘Queen of the Sciences,’ theology often finds itself an outsider to areas of high investment and dynamic development within the contemporary academy. Perhaps in no other area has this been so often commented upon as in digital humanities (DH), with Tim Hutchings observing that “[t]he study of religion remains a minor participant in the digital humanities [and] at best a marginal theme in digital humanities conferences and debates. … [M]ethods of large-scale data analysis, visualization, and publication remain largely traditional.”2 That Hutchings’ analysis is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of challenges for finding theology’s place in the Zeitgeist of the 21st century university is highlighted by the fact that, while he offered many fine suggestions for integrating “the study of religion” into current DH work, his proposals generally fell within the domain of religious studies, rather than theology. Similar concerns have been raised by Carrie Schroeder, who noted the irony that “[a]lthough the study of the Bible was central to early Humanities Computing efforts, now Biblical Studies and Religious Studies are marginal disciplines in the emerging field known as Digital Humanities” and posed the question, “what does it mean for Biblical Studies to be marginal to the Digital Humanities when DH is increasingly seen as the locus of transformation in the humanities?”3 For Schroeder, as for Hutchings, there was a compelling necessity that biblical studies and theology should “engage as critical participants or analysts” in DH.4

At the same time, the growing momentum of the Open Access (OA) movement within the academy offers another “locus of transformation” to which religion and theology have been marginal in quite a different way. Talea Anderson and David Squires have examined the presence of religious rhetoric and motifs in OA advocacy, from the coining of the phrase “archivangelism” to the commonplace comparisons made between protesting proprietary publishing models and Protestant contestation of the papal monopoly on indulgences.5 While the main focus of their work was to examine how such rhetoric can unwittingly serve the ends of the same neoliberalization that OA advocates generally conceive themselves as resisting,6 their treatment offered a point of departure for theological reflection insofar as they observed that:

[w]hen academics draw on this [religious] tradition to frame open access as a moral and political issue, they do so rhetorically, without methodically addressing substantive historical connections or analogical correspondences. For that reason, we identify a theological imaginary operating in open access discourse rather than a proper theology.7

The question is thus invited, is there a “proper theology” of open access, and does it bear any affinity to the question of theology’s place (or lack thereof) within DH? This paper suggests that, at least within the framework of a Barthian theology, there is and it does. In so arguing, the intention is not to stake a claim for the normativity of Barth’s definition of theology or his views on its relationship to other disciplines, but merely to stand within these for the sake of argument in order to gain perspective on the questions at hand. Like any good data tool, Barth’s theology involves both inputs and outputs. The first section of this paper will examine the inputs Barth envisioned as necessary for theology and the ways in which recent approaches to his method have created openings for enhanced engagement on this front with digital humanities. The second will examine the outputs that Barth hoped theology could produce, suggesting that the role of open access in enabling these outputs has been undertheorized and that, when brought into theological perspective, OA becomes central to the project of “digital theology” as a field of endeavor complementary to, but distinct from, digital humanities.

Input

Clifford Anderson drew on Schroeder to examine DH not just as a toolkit but as a form of “cultural capital” arising from its community of practice and thereby elaborated how theologians’ and biblical scholars’ “specialized tools exist at the ‘margins’ of the digital humanities” in the sense that they “have shown scant interest … in the tools for linking data, mapping, network analysis, text mining, and visualizing information that are fueling digital scholarship in other disciplines,” largely “see[ing] them as irrelevant to theological inquiry.”8 This claim requires some unpacking, however, amidst the debates within DH over what counts as digital humanities. In particular, it may be observed that digital libraries and archives are absent from Anderson’s list, while these form the centerpiece of Kent T. Gerber’s elaboration of theological and biblical/religious studies engagement with DH;9 while Gerber did helpfully highlight some theological/religious studies initiatives that engage text mining, GIS tools, and other forms of DH work,10 his review both began and ended with the creation of digital collections and archives.11 While few would dispute that such work falls within the “big tent” remit of DH, the big tent is not embraced by all DH practitioners and, even among those willing to pitch it, digital libraries and archives are increasingly seen as the low-hanging fruit of the field, particularly as the development of ready-made software with low access barriers for digital archive construction, such as Omeka, has (nearly) eliminated the need for coding skills in the basic work of that area. Indeed, much of the DH avant-garde seems to view this domain as already passing toward the condition of prior revolutionary digital tools described by Matthew Ryan Robinson: “while email and word processing make [scholarship] more efficient, they hardly count as work in digital humanities.”12

Anderson’s point is thus specifically directed at tools and techniques that go beyond making sources available in digital form and which extend into the use of computational methods for analysis. In this context, Gerber’s list was, to some extent, one of exceptions that prove the rule, particularly as the majority of the projects he cited in this category pertained more to religious studies (where engagement with sociology and other social science fields has helped to build bridges with more mainstream DH work) than to theology. It is in the notable absence of theology proper from the more restricted list of projects hinging on computational analysis that Anderson’s characterization of attitudes within the field becomes intelligible and reflective of the general pattern of real-world developments, despite the best efforts of DH evangelists to propose other forms of engagement (as Anderson himself did―a point to which we shall return).

To understand this phenomenon requires us to face a fundamental definitional problem in the relationship of theology to the digital humanities―namely, is theology a “humanities” discipline? The American Academy of Arts and Science includes among the humanities “programs in the comparative, nonsectarian study of religion; studies of particular religions; history of religion; [but] does not include programs in theology or ministry.” At the same time, however, it acknowledges that some institutions “count all theology and ministry courses as humanities instruction.”13 For his part, Anderson observed that “[t]he general consensus … is that theology does not line up on one side of the divide between the sciences and the humanities…”14 paying particular attention to the views of Karl Barth, who argued that theology’s existence as a distinct discipline is paradoxical in light of its lack of a distinct domain of study, since the purview of theology theoretically touches upon every point of Creation.

Kevin W. Hector offered one of the clearest treatments of Barth’s understanding of theology vis-à-vis the academic disciplines. In this reading, theology is the discipline by which the Church holds itself accountable for the integrity of its proclamation, ensuring that the word it preaches remains identical with the Word given by God in Christ and conveyed through the apostolic tradition.15 Crucially, this means that theology “does not have to begin by finding or inventing the standard by which it measures. It sees and recognizes that this is given with the church”16—in other words, the Word of God is the only possible standard or normative rule against which the truth or falsity of a theological claim can be measured. Barth therefore rejected

the idea that theology should aspire to be a ‘science’ (Wissenschaft), where scientificity is a matter, roughly, of conducting critical inquiry into a publically assayable object, and doing so by methods that are recognized by a wider academic public. … ‘Theology along these lines,’ he says, ‘must be flatly disowned as theology. … Whatever may be the concept of science, this object of knowledge cannot be handled in this way’ (CD I/1, p. 10). … Barth takes it that the peculiar object of theology (namely, the word of God) is such that theology can either do justice to that object or submit itself to the norms of academic science, but not both…17

To submit theological inquiry to the standards of evidence or the methodological rules of either the humanistic or the scientific disciplines (both of which are included within the German term Wissenschaft) was, for Barth, a violence against the unique nature of theological inquiry—a nature necessitated by the transcendentally unique nature of that inquiry’s object.

Anderson has commented on the way in which Barth left this “proclamation-centered” aspect of his theological method underdeveloped, given that he critiqued from-the-pulpit pastoral proclamation directly in only one publication—The Theology of Schleiermacher—and Anderson therefore gestured toward Hector as a resource for supplying the deficiency.18 Hector’s account of Barth offered three “amendments” to Barthian theology meant to address perceived lacunae or contradictions across Barth’s oeuvre, with the second addressing this point specifically through Hector’s suggestion that

if a theologian means to hold proclamation accountable to the word of God, it would appear that he or she had better find ways of discerning what is actually going on with such proclamation… In other words, his or her theologizing had better include an ethnographic component… [T]here is nothing wrong with theologians holding theologies themselves accountable to the word of God, and thus practicing theology as a ‘debate of dogmaticians among themselves.’ But one cannot claim of such a theology that it thereby holds proclamation accountable. … Barthian theology is a practice of immanent critique, applied to the commitments implicit in Christian speech, thought, action, disposition, affection, and so on.19

It is on this basis that Anderson proposed a role for text mining in realizing the unfulfilled promise of Barth’s proposal that Christian proclamation is the Rohstoff (raw material) of dogmatics. “[M]ight the curation and text mining of a corpora of sermons,” he asked, “provide a scalable and reproducible alternative to adducing such empirical evidence through ethnography?”20

The employment of text mining and automated rhetorical analysis within the framework of Barth’s “proclamation-centered” method appears to answer handsomely to Schroeder’s and Hutchings’ calls for greater engagement of theology with digital humanities and enhanced representation for the field within the DH community. What follows, then, is not a critique, counter, or substitute for Anderson’s proposal, but (hopefully) the opening of a complementary vista on the unique affordances of “the digital” for theological work, drawing from the same fount.

Output

The research horizons opened by Anderson’s vision are vaster than any single scholar could dare contemplate in a lifetime, but they are nonetheless limited in engaging only one half of Barth’s project. In keeping with the analyses of Hector and other scholars, their focus remains entirely on the inputs to theological research. For theology to hold proclamation accountable, however, it is not enough for the theologian to have an accurate understanding of what is being taught in the pulpit (though this is vitally necessary); there also has to be an effective feedback mechanism whereby the fruits of theological work become available to the practicing minister. A critique unheard by its subject may be penetrating critique, but it is not accountability. To avoid becoming trapped in Hector’s “debate of dogmaticians among themselves”21 requires not only that dogmaticians debate something other than each other’s statements, but that their debate be heard by someone other than a dogmatician.

Associating theology to the humanities thus, from a Barthian perspective, involves a twofold danger. First, as remarked already, is the temptation for academicized theology to appeal to standards apart from or “beyond” those given with the Word to the Church. Close behind this, however, is the peril of academic siloing placing a cone of silence around theological discourse and breaking its feedback loop with the living practice of faith communities. Evidence from studies of scholarly communication in theology and religious studies suggests that both financial and cultural factors are, in fact, creating such a disconnect.

Andrew J. Keck’s study of discipline-specific content from academic publishers, for example, showed massive increases in costs for periodicals subscriptions and monographs since 2010, resulting in libraries purchasing “a declining portion of the scholarship” with each subsequent year.22 Elka Tenner, Amanda Thomas, Danielle Cooper, and Roger Schonfeld observed significant disparities in access to current work between leading and under-resourced institutions, singling out “standalone seminaries and historically black colleges and universities” as settings in which “a major barrier is not having institutional subscriptions… which necessitates workarounds.”23 A majority of schools in the developing world might reasonably be added to this list of disadvantaged institutions. Given the fact that Christendom’s demographic center of gravity is rapidly shifting into the developing world while long-established centers of learning and research in the Global North remain standard-bearers for theological inquiry (and possessors of a disproportionate amount of the key archival materials for such research), these disparities in subscriptions and database access compound barriers of language and educational culture to freeze what is now the majority of the Christian world out of many of the theological discourses emerging in the most prominent centers of Christian learning and scholarship. (Though the contrast is perhaps less extreme, a similar disparity might be found in the Islamic world, where the strongest demographic growth is occurring in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia while the most reputed centers of theological scholarship and publishing remain predominantly in the Middle East and North Africa.)

Even so, students and faculty at higher education institutions remain among the most privileged, relative to their contexts, in terms of access to scholarship. The seriousness of the situation from a “proclamation-centered” perspective does not come fully to light until one considers the access barriers faced by religious professionals outside of academic settings. Where even seminary libraries cannot afford to maintain subscriptions to current content, the ordinary minister, parish Sunday school teacher, Christian aid worker, etc. faces far greater obstacles to access—obstacles which, for those living in rural areas or developing countries (whether as native residents or as missions workers) rapidly approach the insurmountable. Theological inquiry of the future could be informed by a wealth of ethnographic or text mining scholarship done on the proclamation of teachers, ministers, and missionaries such as these, but under the current paradigm little if any of it will ever trickle back down to impact their proclamational practice.

Even when it does, both market logics and academic culture presently distort the focus of the scholarship being done and the format in which it is presented. As Keck has noted, “[p]ublishing projects focusing on the Bible are going to tap multiple markets to a greater degree than publishing projects around ecclesiology.”24 To some extent, it is unavoidable that work of ecumenical interest will be more profitable for a publisher than work confined to particular confessional traditions. The distortion arises in the fact that secular studies of religion come, in the academic marketplace, to function as a kind of faux confessional position shifting the average—the ecumenical “center”—of the discourse even farther away from engagement with ministry and proclamation.

This market logic is compounded by academic culture and the way in which particular outputs and impacts are privileged in consideration for promotion, tenure, and other forms of professional development. Beth Bidlack, Matthew C. Baker, and Nisa Bakkalbasi observed that, among the academics they interviewed regarding scholarly communication practices, “[m]any expressed reservations about more public or popular forums for their work. … Only a few tenured faculty members were willing to explore… more popular venues (e.g., The Huffington Post or The New Yorker).”25 Tenner, Thomas, Cooper, and Schonfeld observed the same effects, writing:

While many scholars perceive that their work on religion has wider value beyond academia, their primary focus remains on traditional scholarly outputs due to the expectations associated with their professional development… Those who conceptualize their work at the intersection of theory and faith-based practice contend with achieving balance between academic and non-academic publishing activities. Engaging with society-at-large is not prioritized by most scholars despite their perceptions that their work … is of wider value. … Those who do so typically position these efforts as secondary to or in conflict with their scholarly publishing practices.26

They further found that the same systemic forces that discouraged academics from writing for popular and/or professional audiences also discouraged the production and distribution of work for non-Western audiences through “difficulties navigating the terrain of publishing beyond the West and lack of recognition at their institution for such endeavors.”27 This once again breaks down channels of communication between centers of theological learning within Christendom (and the Muslim world) and the ministerial fields that are seeing the highest growth and therefore the greatest demand for further resources and support for maintaining the theological integrity of their proclamation.

Even those close to the centers of scholarship, however, commonly find the products of academic theologians out of reach, whether because they are not a prioritized audience for them or simply because they lack the financial resources to access them. The result is that those tasked to proclaim the Word are increasingly cut off from the scholarly discourses that, in a Barthian understanding, are meant precisely to inform them and to help them to ensure the integrity of their message. The negative consequences of this for ministerial practice must, for want of space to develop them here, be left to discussions within the fields of missiology, pastoral counseling, homiletics, and related disciplines. Its negative consequences as a matter both of social justice and of lost opportunities for the expansion of knowledge have been critiqued by any number of authors, including Robinson, who has deftly articulated that “fair knowledge is essential to reaching the goal of good knowledge.”28 What the analysis offered here adds to these other critiques is a recognition that, seen through the lens of Barth’s framework, theological scholarship that is failing to reach the ministers of the church (formally ordained or otherwise) for the purpose of holding their proclamation accountable to the Word does not qualify as theology at all. Severed from its symbiotic relationship with the practice of the pulpit, the flower of theology withers and, if it manages to bloom again in any measure, does so as something other than theology, becoming a form of philosophy of religion or some other discipline. In this light, we might usefully extend Barth’s analysis of the difference between theology and the humanities. While he focused on the distinction between their loci of accountability, we might observe that extra-academic impact is desirable in the humanities, but constitutive of theology. History, art criticism, or English done in a silo may be unuseful or unhelpful, but they do not cease to be history, art criticism, or English. Theology in a silo, on the other hand, undergoes that alchemical alienation by which, in Marx’s famous phrase, “all that is solid melts into air.”

Toward a Theology of Open Access

It is in this context that we can move toward filling the lacuna identified by Anderson and Squires by articulating a “proper”, non-rhetorical theology of open access. One must be very careful, however, not to suggest that OA is any kind of panacea for the communications breakdown between academic theology and applied ministry. It has been repeatedly observed that scholars aware of open access and even sympathetic to its potential benefits continue to avoid publishing in OA outlets because of concerns about tenure and promotion.29 These are deep-seated cultural issues that cannot be blithely resolved by appeals to altruism, and even under parameters such as those proposed by open access frameworks like Plan S, which aims to strong-arm greater acceptance of OA within the academy through tying funding to OA publication requirements, issues would remain with the undervaluing of translation, critical editing, and co-authorship as well as of works aimed at professional or popular audiences.30

It is also important to recognize that versions of “gold” OA fueled by article processing charges (which includes many of the models that Plan S favors) are a solution in one direction only. Insofar as they eliminate price barriers for access to content, they enhance the reception of academic theological work by professional and faith-based communities and can also help to encourage recognition and support for scholarly outputs aimed at popular and professional audiences by raising the visibility of those audiences’ use. The ability of those audiences to contribute back to theological conversations, however—their capacity to make their own account of their proclamation, to ask directly for feedback and critique on it, and to respond to that critique (including challenging it when necessary)—is not enhanced when laypersons and notoriously underpaid (or unpaid) pastoral and missions workers are expected to pay sums often in excess of a thousand dollars out of their own pockets to participate by publishing their own work. A full realization of Barth’s vision for the relationship between theology and proclamation can be achieved only by “diamond” OA models, in which there are fees neither for reading nor for writing.

Even the more modest effects of gold OA, however, would go a long way toward encouraging the accountability for which Barth called, yet it will readily be observed that open access is not unique in supporting the agenda outlined here. A robustly Barthian ecology of theological research would also be furthered by increased use of altmetrics, reform of tenure requirements, and a variety of other fashionable causes. It may well be asked, “Why focus on open access particularly?”

The answer proposed here is that open access is the paramount digital affordance for theological work. Anderson’s fundamental insight into digital humanities as an emergent discipline is that it is not actually constituted by the digital tools that make it up but by the “cultural capital” of the community of practice that has formed around those tools. That community has come to see computational methods as more central to its identity than digital libraries and archives in part because the kind of work computational methods has enabled is a unique affordance of the digital; the distant reading, visualization, and data linking that digital tools make possible could not practically have been accomplished otherwise. Digital libraries and archives, on the other hand, while indisputably valuable tools for the humanities, are largely perceived there as simply making conventional collections work easier, faster, and more accessible.

This is not the case in theology. It has been widely remarked that theological scholars make far less use of computational tools than of digital collections,31 but the decisive difference in demarcating a community of practice for digital theology is that, because of the dependence of theology on dialogical interaction with non-academic audiences, the unique affordances of the digital in creating globally accessible libraries, archives, and publishing platforms with minimal (or at least greatly reduced) overhead is not, as in the humanities, merely a quantitative shift; it is a qualitative one. Enabling a local historian in Zambia to access a new article in a history journal for free online does history better, but enabling a local minister in Zambia to access a new article in a theology journal for free online does theology differently. Indeed, within Barth’s terms, it is what enables us to say we are doing theology at all.

If computational methods of analysis are what made digital humanities meaningfully different from analog humanities, such as to justify considering them as a distinct field of scholarship, the radical opening of the Church’s (in that term’s broadest meaning) access to theological discourse by technological means (which is rendered moot without equally open licensing) is what makes digital theology meaningfully different from analog theology and, at the same time, meaningfully different from digital humanities. We need not be Barthians, or take Barth as our chief authority even on just the specific issue of defining theology, to recognize through his approach that, in a digital age, open access is a valuable asset to the humanities but something close to the very heart of theology. His insights into the relationship of theology to the lived proclamation of the Church suggest that there is, in fact, a “theology of open access” and that it does indeed, as activists have long been suggesting, create moral imperatives for us as practitioners of theology as a discipline.

The further definition and fulfillment of those imperatives may take different forms. For instance, as a Protestant, Barth often seemed to assume proclamation as a work of the universal priesthood of all believers. The arguments presented here thus develop themselves most readily in faith communities where the work of proclamation is, in at least some respects, “open”—Protestantism, Sunni Islam, or Sikhism, for example. In communions that have stricter mechanisms for formally authorizing or licensing the work of proclamation, such as Roman Catholicism or the Bahá’í Faith, the imperatives for theology as a discipline could be argued to be satisfied by providing access to more targeted populations (priests, missionaries, study circle leaders, etc.) through institutional means. It is likely, however, that even in cases where the necessity of OA to theological work is thus reduced in ecclesiologically contingent ways, OA will remain the simplest and most efficient way of providing the needed access, with its opening toward the broader public seen (much as in the humanities) as greatly beneficial even if less central. Further work will have to be done from within the ecclesiological frameworks of specific traditions to determine just how widely open OA has to be to ensure the theological integrity of a given community’s scholarship in relation to its proclamation.

Conversely, one might question whether, even in the most egalitarian communions, the aims of a proclamation-centered theological practice can truly be realized merely by dropping subscription fees to traditionally organized journals. Reception of content and response to content are not two cleanly separated functions. Often, response is a critical element of reception, such that, to the extent that existing paradigms of scholarly communication are uninviting or inaccessible to professionals or the public for reasons other than cost, the result may be not only a loss of valuable “ethnographic” inputs to the theological process but a diminution of the impact of the outputs also—a mutual dependency beautifully captured by Thomas Renkert in his conjunction of the phrases “‘social research’ or ‘citizen theology’.”32 Renkert and his colleagues—Arne-Florian Bachmann, Rasmus Nagel, and Hanna Reichel—identify a number of possible extensions of digital affordances to open access publication. For example, recognizing that religious professionals and lay theological readerships may not have the time, need, or skillset to respond to academic scholarship in the form of full articles for publication, their treat curated comments as a form of scholarly literature, to be assigned DOIs individually where appropriate and to be integrated into an open peer review process. Innovations such as these gesture toward a deepening entanglement of OA and electronic publishing in the core of digital theology’s cultural capital, and thus a still starker differentiation from digital humanities as that field is coming to understand itself.

Conclusion

It would be both disingenuous and counterproductive to drive too impermeable a wedge between digital humanities and digital theology. The staff of Durham University’s CODEC Research Centre, which may be the only research institute in the world dedicated specifically to digital theology, often describe the object of their inquiry as a kind of subdiscipline within “big tent Digital Humanities”33 and not without reason. The overlap between the two with respect to tools, methods, and insights is extensive, and it would be unrealistic (not to say ungrateful) to pass lightly over their deep mutual implication. To assert that the cultural capital lying at the heart of digital theology may be fundamentally different in focus from that constituting DH’s community of practice is not, then, to erect a wall between them, but to propose that their relationship should be seen as lateral rather than hierarchical—a symbiosis more akin to that between theology and religious studies than to the relationship between any of the humanities disciplines and their overarching heading.34

In giving ourselves space to stand conceptually outside DH, we can recognize once again the distinctive features of theology as a discipline that place it outside the remit of the humanities and that do not become less salient when both theology and the humanities are digitized. Indeed, in some ways, the difference may become more acute as the trajectory of digital humanities draws it closer to computer science while the trajectory of digital theology (if one accepts the sketch of it offered here) draws closer to library science. Of course, library science and computer science are themselves intimately intertwined disciplines, but the way in which those two fields maintain distinct identities while leveraging one another’s insights and tools to answer questions that, though often similar in phrasing, remain quite different in intent, may also be taken as a useful analogy for the relationship of digital humanities to digital theology.

Postscript

This comparison may also suggest the opportunity that a proclamation-centered vision of digital theology affords for positioning the theological library at the center of its department and, in keeping with many decades of reflection on theological librarianship as a ministry, establishing the theological librarian not merely as a subject specialist but as a theologian. This is something toward which Robinson has already gestured with respect to the “inputs” of digital theology, insofar as he identified potentials for “embedded librarianship” as an integral part of the ethnographic work needed to inform theological discourse, particularly with respect to the underrepresented “key theological development zones” where new forms of theological reflection are emerging in the developing world.35 Barth’s framework makes possible a complementary articulation of scholarly communication as, in itself, a form of scholarship and theological praxis with respect to the “outputs” of the discourse—a redefinition that stands as one of the most distinctive potentials of digital theology as defined here, even while such a manoeuvre stands self-consciously within that broader valorization of what were once seen as mere “support functions” for scholarship that is certainly one of the finest legacies of DH.36


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