A PERSONAL CODE OF ACADEMIC INTEGRITY
Developing as a biblio-academic scholar in the digital age is an arduous task. Not only is there the overwhelming endeavor of weeding through a few thousand years of biblical scholarship, but the scholar-in-training must worry of how his or her’s written words, spoken words, and actions – not only in the academy, but also in a public forum, e.g., social media – might affect one’s career prospects and reputation. Thus, rules of academic integrity must be set in place to minimize any negative feedback. Whether one finds him or herself in a university or a seminary, academic integrity is absolutely everything. Though by no means exhaustive, my own academic code can be summed up in five simple points.
1. Avoiding Plagiarism
Plagiarism should be the primary constituent to any personal code of academic integrity. An “honest” expression of nuanced views on such laborious topics, which are typical for biblical scholarship, is important to the development of the prospective scholar. Unfortunately, the rigor and time constraints of a “traditional” graduate school program often makes a short cut an appealing temptation. However, the scholar-in-training who rigorously toils over his own work, i.e., over every written word, takes part in the activity of real learning. In fact, it is often the kind of learning that sticks long-term in the memory. In fact, studies have shown that to plagiarize is to take a “cognitive shortcut,” which ultimately leads to no long-term memorization and the failure to develop the critical thinking skills necessary within the world of biblical scholarship.1 Moreover, plagiarism is the act of faking scholarship. Stealing the labor of someone else’s intellect leaves one as ignorant as when they first began.
2. The Importance of Peer-review
Upon the heels of plagiarism is peer-review, another important ingredient to any academic code. It is the academic process by which all scholarly claims are submitted to be reviewed by other credentialed biblical scholars. Larry Hurtado, former professor of New Testament Language, Literature, and Theology, at the University of Edinburgh, has pointed out, “genuine scholarly claims are submitted for review by other scholars competent to judge matters. This is how real scholarship works, not by rushing into print with some sensational claim (for which the author is scarcely qualified), by-passing scholarly review critique.”2
When I first entered academia (eight years ago), I was both credulous and naive. I was eager to write something that I was convinced no one else in the world of biblical scholarship had discovered. I gave no thought as to whether my claims displayed a naivety, which fell outside the norm of biblical scholarship. Of course, I quickly discovered that there is a process in place, in which one must subject his or her own academic work to be interrogated by both colleagues and professors. Thus, peer-review is critical to any scholar-in-training’s academic code, because without it, there can be no integrity in his or her work, i.e., there is often no real interaction with scholarly colleagues. Thus, what remains, is typically a useless piece of writing that will make no credible contribution to the guild.
3. The Importance of Listening to Dissenting Voices in Biblical Scholarship
Though dissenting voices can come through peer-review, what I have in mind here is something more specific. It has to do with allowing one’s own paradigm to be challenged. One of the shifts in the current post-modern climate of biblical studies has been its challenge to modernism’s historical concerns and its claim of reason-based objectivity. Thus, there has been a move away from historical-critical concerns to less “concrete” methods, such as deconstruction, structuralism, literary/narrative criticism, reader-response criticism, social, gender, feminist, and liberation. The central argument of many post-modern biblical scholars is that one’s own social context often predisposes them to a certain interpretational bias. Therefore, they posit that it is important to hear the interpretive voices of others.
For example, liberation theologians such as James Cone are only one out of many that have argued for an interpretation of Jesus from the perspective of those who are the marginalized in a society.3 Likewise, R. S. Sugirtharajah, Professor of Biblical Hermeneutics at the University of Birmingham, portrays Jesus as one who “walked on earth as the friend of the discriminated and marginalized sections of Palestine.”4 Thus, there is now a move among many biblical scholars to favor interpretations that include, “social justice for the oppressed, poor, minority, marginalized, or those who have been taken advantage of through socio-political, economic, and religious tyranny.”5
Throughout my academic career, I have come to appreciate the value of these dissenting voices, because in many ways, they are different from my own. Whether or not, I agree in totality with them is insignificant. The point here is that I must not allow my own presuppositions to go unchallenged. To do so, is the mark of immature and dishonest scholarship. Dialogue with dissenting voices is significant to the development of any prospective scholar.
4. Avoiding the False Left/Right Paradigm
A more personal inclusion into my own academic code of integrity is my insistence on avoiding the left/right paradigm. Simply put, I believe it is a false paradigm that brings nothing good to any scholarly discussion. Thus, just as in politics, I also implement this into my personal academic code. Within any biblical discussion, it is not uncommon to hear, “well he/she is just a liberal-far-left scholar and does not believe in God,” or “he/she is a far-right scholar and their opinion doesn’t matter.” It is a travesty whenever any conversation devolves into these forms of ad hominem. Moreover, the left/right paradigm often causes one to unconsciously buy into a host of other beliefs, i.e., commitment to a particular position is often perceived as a commitment to a host of others as well. Thus, individuals are often categorized into one group or the other, though they might not actually associate themselves with that particular group. For example, just because I might share in the majority scholarly consensus that Mark 16.9-20 is not original to the author of Mark, it does not mean that I am liberal, atheist, agnostic, or that I am out to destroy God’s word. In my opinion, adhering to this false left/right paradigm is the worst form of scholarship. Thus, one should be judged by the quality of their scholarship alone, not by their personal views. Furthermore, ignoring a critique of a colleague because they do not believe like you, does not invalidate their argument.
5. The Importance of Promoting a Genuine Academic Exchange of Ideas
Finally, I am firmly committed to a genuine academic exchange of ideas, i.e., part of my personal code is to always be a promoter of biblio-academic scholarship. Whenever one wants information on rock formations and fossils found within the earth, he or she asks a geologist. Whenever one has questions about organisms, he or she asks a biologist. Moreover, when one has a heart attack, an educated medical professional is desired. However, when it comes to religion, often one asks the most uneducated and unqualified person he or she knows.
Thus, it is always my goal to promote the work of biblical scholarship. A healthy investigation into biblical matters often forms the basis of belief for the church. Therefore, I have no interest in participating in anti-academic rhetoric. However, I also aim to not become so self-absorb in my ivory tower that I am of no use to anyone.
What I have outlined here are just a few examples of my own personal academic code of integrity. They are by no means exhaustive. I believe that incorporating these into one’s code will only serve as an aid to the scholar-in-training. These will help one to develop a real technical, deep, and hard hitting scholarship, followed by, the power and persuasion that comes from being a real expert in the guild.
Endnotes (which I hate, but do not know how to formatted footnotes into WordPress)
1 A. Pennycook. (1996), Borrowing Others’ Words: Text, Ownership, Memory, and Plagiarism. TESOL Quarterly, 30: 201–230.
2 Larry Hurtado, “Peer Review and Biblical Studies Scholarship,” Dr. Larry Hurtado’s Blog. http://larryhurtado.wordpress.com/2013/10/21/peer-review-and-biblical-studies-scholarship/ (accessed February 26, 2014).
3 See James H. Cone, God of the Oppressed (New York: Seabury Press, 1975).
4 R. S. Sugirtharajah, Voices from the Margin: Interpreting the Bible in the Third World (New ed. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis/SPCK, 1995), 115.
5 A phrase from my Vanderbilt University Hebrew Bible paper titled, “A Plea for the Historical-Narrative Hermeneutic: A Critical Examination of Dr. Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz’s, By the Rivers of Babylon: Exile as a Way of Life.”