DH Reflection 2: Data in Religious Studies

In my first semester of graduate school, I took Debates in Method and Theory with Dr. Russell McCutcheon. In the second half of the course, we read Constructing “Data” in Religious Studies, which was (at the time) the most recent addition to the NAASR Working Papers series. If you have time to deep dive into what it means to ‘do data’ in Religious Studies, then this collection of papers is a must-read. Data is broken into the subcategories: Subjects, Objects, Scholars, and Institutions. Each scholar takes a step back to reconsider the ways that data is constructed and not discovered. 

In Digital Humanities in REL, which I am currently taking, we were asked to reflect on what counts as data for the study of religion. It kind of feels like cheating to bring in a powerhouse source like Constructing “Data” in Religious Studies, but then again, it would be just plain wrong to neglect it. Data — as I have repeated endlessly in other blog posts and in almost every class discussion — does not speak for itself, and beyond that, data does not exist by itself. This is why these subcategories of Data can exist. Social actors employ tools (like subjects, objects, scholars, and institutions) to construct data. 

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DH Lab 6: Assessing Data

We’ve somehow made it to mid-semester already. And while the workload certainly supports that observation, the time itself has flown by. Getting halfway through an upper-level course often means the focus shifts towards a final project, which is exactly where my Digital Humanities course is headed.

For our lab this week, the class was asked to evaluate a data set that might be used as a source for our final projects. The goal of the project is to formulate an argument based on the comparisons of two different datasets. One of the datasets must be the Longitudinal Religious Congregations and Membership File discussed in a previous blog post. The other source can be one of our choosing. Which is great unless you have a brain like mine that basically runs like an internet browser with too many tabs open. I’ve found one rabbit hole after another and (as often happens) have been slightly derailed from my long-term goal. This is where small goals become especially handy; as this blog post will hopefully help move me in a step closer towards finalizing my ideas for my final project.

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