Science in Christian Perspective

Letter to the the Editor 

Reply to Book Review
David O. Moberg

From: JASA 25 (June 1973): 77-78.

It is obvious from Jerome Drost's review (Journal ASA 24:118, Sept. 1972) that my preface and other
information in the International Directory of Religious Information Systems were not sufficiently clear about several details.

First of all, the Directory was not based upon a conventional survey. It was a product of a study on the feasibility' of establishing a consortium of information systems related to religion. The 600 questionnaires which resulted in "only 77 replies" identifying 80 information systems were not sent to agencies known to have information systems because there was no information anywhere as to bow many such systems were in existence. The questionnaire attempted to discover and describe such systems. Those who had none or who received a duplicate copy were asked to pass the survey instrument on "to someone else who is an appropriate respondent."

Secondly, the criteria for determining inclusion in the Directory were relatively open, depending more upon the respondent than upon the editor. It is indeed true that this is an "unbalanced directory," but that fact reflects abysmal ignorance of everyone about the existence and location of religious information systems at the time the study was made. Through it and studies reported in Aris Newsletter we now have identified a large number of them. The instructions given in the questionnaire were as follows:

You have received this questionnaire because of the possibility that you have an information service, data archives, or electronic storage retrieval system related to religion. We plan to publish a Directory of Religious Information and Data Systems with listings and descriptions of as many such systems as possible.
We believe that church edminstrators, scholars, and religions researchers can gain much by cooperation, svlsich will reduce costly duplication of effort An advisory hoard with representatives from more than a dozen pertinent agencies is helping to explore the nature and types of possible cooperative relationships that will be for the mutual benefit of all who work together. A first step toward effective sharing is identifying the religions and information systems that arc already in existence or in various stages of planning.
If you already have established or are planning an information service, data bank, or storage and revival
system with religious content, please complete this ques-tionnaire to the best of your ability and return it to the address below as soon as possible.

Third, Drost's review implies that a religions information system must be for the purpose of" the recovery or retrieving of data concerning all phases of religion." Actually our concern is not limited to those systems (if there are any!) which attempt to cover oil phases or aspects of religion. Rather, we aim to contribute to cooperative working relationships among the numerous systems which deal with various segments of religion, whether topically, denominationally, by academic discipline, by particular administrative need, or in some other way. Each information system has something that can be of use to others, so we hope to stimulate development of a synergistic or symbiotic relationship among these systems, possibly eventually through some type of clearinghouse or coordinating system. As Drost implies, small systems which are manually operated, as well as those using sophisticated electronic equipment, are important; they can he building blocks or stepping stones toward larger ones.

Fourth, Drost refers to an example of an agency which has information storage that is "an abstract of some form which is not clear." This category represents one response to the question,

Check each format in which information is stored:
Published books____; journals____; computer tapes____ computer discs____; IBM punch cards____; microfilm____; microfiche____; fugitive documents (reprints, letters, mimeographed reports, etc. )____; abstracts____-; others____.

Fifth, agencies like FERES, which publish Social Compass, were not ignored. FERES was given a questionnaire and failed to return it, probably because it does not have an information system in the conventional sense of the term. If it were listed, all other journals which include articles relevant to religion also should have been. (Actually, it was only after considerable deliberation that I finally included The American Scientific Affiliation because it completed and returned a questionnaire. In so far as the ASA serves as a clearinghouse of information to which questions about science and Christianity may be sent for reply or referral, it can be thought of as an information system.)

Sixth, reference is made to the Religious Research Association as an information system which should have taken precedence over Psychological Abstracts. The latter indexes a broad range of psychological and psychologically-related journals, and it includes numerous references to religion in every issue. The RRA, of which I am completing a term as Editor and a member of the Board of Directors, serves no such function. It is a professional association with no information system other than its journal, aside from the sharing of information that occurs at the annual meeting. If we produce another edition of the Directory at some future date, it is possible that a section will he devoted to professional associations relevant to religion. Certainly information about such organizations would be a pertinent part of the content of a comprehensive system, as would also the two or three dozen indexing and abstracting services for periodicals in the field of religion.

In summary, Drost's conclusion, "The directory is very limited in comprehending and understanding the extent and complexities of religious data," is indeed true. That was not its purpose. Its purpose was to identify and "publicize" information systems pertinent to religion as a step toward the goal of establishing and improving relationships among all of the services and agencies involved.

As a means to an end as much as an end in itself, the Directory has already contributed greatly to meeting its goals. In spite of its limitations, it is serving as a valuable resource for many people. It has contributed to the establishment of the Association for the Development of Religious Information Systems (ADRIS). It has stimulated interagency communication and aided many research efforts. We are grateful for Mr. Drost's suggestions for its improvement, which will be considered carefully if we produce a revised edition.

David 0. Moberg Dept. of Sociology and Anthropology Marquette Unicersty Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53233