When I started blogging I had two readers: my mom and some random dude in Sweden. To say the least, I was a HUGE hit (with that said, my mom did read my posts multiple times, thus amplifying my stats. Thanks mom!). Several years, and multiple blog platforms, later my reach has expanded to include readership across the world and provided opportunities to speak regularly on real-world issues and impact opinions, discourse, and action concerning global Islam, Islam in the U.S., religion and popular culture, and religious literacy in general. It’s been humbling, to say the least.
As an academic — that is, someone who is actively engaged in the academic pursuit of religious studies — I feel that my role as a blogger has never been so important. I also believe that it has never been more pressing for more academics to be engaged with blogging.
There are many reasons and many other academics, involved in religious studies and otherwise, who provide their “why” for blogging as an academic. Dan Cohen, the Executive Director of the Digital Public Library of America wrote, “shaped correctly, a blog can be a perfect place for that extra production of words and ideas.” Russel McCutcheon, Chair of the Religion Department at the University of Alabama, said, “[Blogging] seems to me a logical extension of what I do in all of my professional life: work with others to model a certain way of thinking about human subjects, what they do and what they leave behind after they’re gone — doing that modeling on a public catwalk without a net, where others can be the judges, deciding if they like my style or which struts of their own they’d prefer to use.” He also added that it democratizes the academic discussion of religion and other topics. Finally, I quote Adam T. Miller, a PhD student in the History Religions at the University of Chicago about being a young academic blogger, “I think it’s a good idea to start a blog…to find conversation partners, build a social network, and so forth.” In other words, it might help you get a job. Oh yeah…that.
All of these are relevant and wonderful points when it comes to the why of blogging as an academic. For me I started my blogging career in 2009 with the express purpose of combatting religious illiteracy. Inspired by Stephen Prothero’s Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know — And Doesn’t and goaded by the results of Pew Research Center’s survey of religious knowledge I wrote of my original blog (Ubuntu Spirit), “this blog’s intention is to raise awareness concerning religion, to educate those who desire to understand more about other religions and prayerfully increase dialogue between people of both faith and non-faith in an effort to better understand one another in today’s (post)modern age.”
The game is still the same. I write for the same reasons and I am actively working on inviting, encouraging, and prodding other academics in the field of religious studies (or related fields such as history, anthropology, sociology, cognitive science, psychology, etc.) to start blogging as well.
Recently, I had the opportunity to share the why, what, and how of academic blogging at a Digital Humanities Seminar at the University of Florida. I’m happy to say that three or four new academic blogs are emerging out of this seminar in addition to students and instructors looking to integrate blogging and the use of social media into their classroom experience (thanks in large part to discussion material from Michael J. Altman, kudos sir). The topics will range from religion, embodiment and performance to intentional communities and material religious culture. In other words, they are all going to be très interesting and bloody brilliant! Plus, they are going to contribute valuably to a vital conversation concerning religion and culture.
More still needs to be done. In fact, maybe you need to start your own blog. With increased attention being given to the integration of digital humanities into the academic toolkit, the ubiquitous nature of technology in academic contexts, and the increased relevance of social media to news dissemination and analysis it’s the perfect time to do so.
Are you an academic — employed or otherwise, young or seasoned, tenure-track or adjunct, armchair or in-the-field? Get engaged. Start a blog. Become part of the conversation. Here’s what you can do and how you can get started:
1) Jump on a platform.
- Pay or free, individual or group, cross-platform?
- Options for platforms: Wordpress, Squarespace, Blogger
- Options for groups: Patheos, Huffington Post, Sacred Matters, your own department blog
- Whether you go “lone ranger,” start your own group blog, or join up with a strong platform, you need to work on establishing your voice, so…
2) Design your blog & establish your brand.
- This is the fun part -- make it yours, but make sure it looks good. Grab someone with some sense of graphic design and get feedback from students. Trust me, you want to look good.
3) Connecting with resources.
- Start social media accounts to amplify your voice (Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, etc.)
- But don’t just start accounts, be social on them — engage with other users, build a network, like, share, retweet, and post stuff other than your blog
- Get to know things like RSS feeds, mail subscription services, F-reading, SEO tools, and other strange-sounding, but really relevant, interwebs terminology.
4) Start writing!
- Get writing. I write everyday. I don’t post everyday, but I write everyday.
- Most blog posts should be between 800-1200 words (at most).
- Work the three “Ps”: be POPULAR — write for more than four people and try to write on relevant issues, engage with pop culture and the headlines and connect them to broader themes or deeper topics in your area of expertise; be POLITICAL — not right wing or left wing (unless that’s your thing), but take a stance and stick to it, don’t nuance your topic to the point where no point is made; be less PEDANTIC — communicate in common language, while you don’t want to “dumb it down,” don’t be afraid of slang, breaking some “academic writing rules” and referencing Urban Dictionary. For realz.
- One last piece of advice for writing — stay away from your core research topics until you’re ready to publish. Why? Because you don’t want to come off undercooked and you absolutely don’t want someone to snipe you’re idea. How rude!
- Also, don’t be boring. Please.
So that’s that. The WHY. WHAT. HOW of “blogging like an academic.” I could probably write more, but I want to stay within my own expressed word limit. So peace. I’m out. Go start a blog already.