This is my first issue as editor. I want to thank Rhys Williams for what seemed like a relatively smooth transition—thanks in part to his editorial assistant, Stephan Groschwitz. Rhys was the editor for five years and his commitment to quality scholarship has benefited the journal. He accepted all the papers that appear in this issue. Rhys established an editorial board and I want to thank the members of that board for their dedicated contribution; a newly constituted board will be in place for Volume 48. We have made other changes as well. In May, we moved to an on-line submission process provided by Manuscript Central; the move will increase our efficiency in finding reviewers, tracking manuscripts, and making timely decisions. Our goal is to publish the best theoretical and methodological social scientific treatments of religion in a timely manner.
The beginning of a new editorship is a good time to take a fresh look at JSSR, who we are, and what our editorial goals will be. During the last decade, the study of religion has expanded into congregational research, politics and civil society, race and ethnic relations, immigration, and health and well-being. None of these is a new topic in the study of religion, but we are asking different questions. New disciplines have joined the study of religion: economists (http://www.economicsofreligion.com) and political scientists (Wald and Wilcox 2006), for example. The growing interest among social scientists in studying the influence of genetics on human behavior has introduced new questions as well (as an example, see Bradshaw and Ellison's article examining the influence of genetic factors on religious life in this issue). A conversation once dominated by interchanges primarily between sociologists and psychologists (although some would say neither side was listening very well) has become a cacophony of voices. JSSR records that conversation and has no theoretical or methodological preference. We publish the most interesting and insightful social scientific research being done.
Visit the main menu of our Manuscript Central website (mc.manuscriptcentral.com/jssr) where you will find the following mission statement:
JSSR is a multidisciplinary journal that publishes articles, research notes, and book reviews on the social scientific study of religion. Published articles are representative of the best current theoretical and methodological treatments of religion. JSSR typically does not publish reviewed articles or articles geared toward clinical or other practitioner audiences. Substantive areas include both micro-level analyses of individuals' experience with religion and macro-level analyses of religious organizations, institutions, and social change. While many of the articles published in the journal are the work of sociologists, the journal also publishes the work of scholars in anthropology, economics, health sciences, religious studies, psychology, and political science. The journal does not publish theological treatments of religion.
According to Mauss and Hammons (2000), the dominance of sociological research in JSSR reflects the dominance of sociologists in SSSR membership. JSSR invites manuscripts from scholars of all social scientific disciplines. I remain hopeful that the now primarily multidisciplinary conversation will at some point become truly interdisciplinary.
For many years, the Society has hoped for a more global perspective on religion. The articles in this issue move us toward this goal by reporting on a variety of populations (in this issue, for example, we have research based on data from the Netherlands and Northern Ireland) and focusing on global issues (see Bloch's “Whisper of Peace,” and Hsu et al.'s “Estimating the Religious Composition of All Nations”). As another signal of the move toward a more global perspective, we are inviting scholars from around the world to join the new editorial board.
Now, about the criteria we use to select manuscripts for publication. In the move to Manuscript Central, I gave some thought to how reviewers would evaluate the quality of a manuscript. Since this information is not readily available to authors, let me describe the criteria. First, reviewers assess the importance of the manuscript to the field or discipline by selecting one of five possible responses:
- •Potential to be a classic contribution.
- •Carves out new territory/adds a new perspective.
- •Contributes to an already established perspective or field of enquiry.
- •Scholarship is competent, but little new to report.
- •Unlikely to have an impact, even with a revision.
I am unlikely to publish a manuscript characterized as “unlikely to have an impact, even with a revision” or “competent scholarship, but little new to report.” Instead, JSSR is interested in manuscripts that, at the very minimum, contribute to an already established field of enquiry. I am most likely to publish a manuscript that carves out new territory or makes a classic contribution to the field.
Second, reviewers respond to four questions, choosing “yes” or “no” for each.
- •Does the paper make a substantial theoretical contribution?
- •Are the data new and innovative?
- •Is the empirical analysis (quantitative or qualitative) of high quality?
- •Is the paper clearly written?
A “no” on any one of these signals doubts that the manuscript belongs in JSSR. A substantial theoretical contribution and new and innovative data trump other indicators and the empirical analysis must be appropriate to the question under study. Quality of writing stands as a signal to reviewers and to me that the author can make good on the opportunity to revise and resubmit a manuscript. In the end, I ask myself whether to let a good paper go, considering the possibility that some other journal will publish the paper. I ask myself, how badly do I want this paper to be a JSSR publication? More often than not, the answer is to let the manuscript find a different home. My goal is to keep the acceptance rate at or below 20 percent of all submitted manuscripts. This will ensure the articles published in JSSR represent the best social scientific scholarship on religion.
Finally, reviewers evaluate whether to “reject,”“encourage a revise and resubmit,”“publish with minor revisions,” or “accept outright.” Reviewers are often more generous in these evaluations than they are in answering the questions listed above. By the way, an “encourage to revise and resubmit” is not a promise of publication. If an author does not sufficiently address the concerns of reviewers, a manuscript can still be rejected upon resubmission.
As the interest in religion grows, the number of manuscript submissions will increase. Submissions are up this year; we have projected a 20 percent increase for the year over 2007 submissions. Given that page budgets are likely to remain the same, the manuscript quality will increase over time as the selection process becomes more discriminating.
Some editors make it a practice to deflect manuscripts on a regular basis. These manuscripts may be insufficiently developed or may not be an adequate fit for the journal. Martin Kilduff (2007), current editor of the Academy of Management Review, recently published the “top ten reasons why your paper might not be sent out for review.” While I recommend a quick read of his top 10 list, as a general rule I do not deflect manuscripts unless there is an obvious misfit with the journal (e.g., a literature review that reads like a chapter from someone's dissertation, a theological treatise, or a very underdeveloped manuscript). The review process not only improves the quality of manuscripts published in JSSR, but also gives scholars feedback that hopefully improves the quality of papers that will eventually be published elsewhere.
Now some advice to you authors looking to publish in JSSR. First, be sure to position your paper within the rich social scientific literature on religion. We sometimes receive a manuscript that incorporates religion but does not take into account the rich literature available about religion. Such manuscripts “add religion and stir.” Reviewers are highly critical of these manuscripts because they do not build on available social scientific knowledge.
Second, JSSR is primarily interested in theory-based (broadly defined) analysis. Your paper must take into account or build upon available theoretical frameworks. Quantitative analyses must do more than report the effects of a set of variables on a dependent variable (although we sometimes publish such analyses as a short research note). Qualitative papers must do more than describe social phenomenon. Papers must always frame a coherent argument, challenge current knowledge, or pursue a new perspective.
Inquiries come, typically from psychologists, about the possibility of publishing confirmatory factor analyses or a paper that reports the development of a new measurement scale. Yes, this kind of research is valuable and has a place in JSSR. Given the variety of fields represented in JSSR, we can only select the very best of such papers for publication. Moreover, papers focused on scale development must situate the scale development within the rich tradition of measurement that already exists in both sociology and psychology.
Third, keep in mind JSSR is a multidisciplinary journal. Your paper may address any issue related to the social scientific study of religion at either the micro or macro level, but you must write the paper to a broader audience of religion scholars. This often means taking the time to define terms, explain why a particular statistical analysis is appropriate, and describe the implications of your findings for the study of religion more generally. A narrow, discipline-focused manuscript is not likely to become a JSSR paper.
Fourth, follow the submission guidelines, particularly guidelines regarding manuscript length. Space is at a premium in JSSR. While we process over 200 manuscripts a year, we publish less than 40 full-length articles a year (not counting research notes). We ask that you double-space your paper with one-inch margins and using 12-point font. A well-written abstract that positions your manuscript in the study of religion is more likely to attract our best reviewers. More importantly, a well-written paper that implements word economies is shorter; a poorly written paper introduces unnecessary length. A good copy edit that removes passive voice can reduce the length of a manuscript by 20 percent or more.
Finally, seek out scholar friends who can read your paper and provide feedback before submitting the manuscript to JSSR. A paper read by your scholar friends is better conceptualized and the kinks have been worked out. However, remember to acknowledge these scholar friends on the title page or in your submission letter. A double blind review means that the author does not know who the reviewers are and the reviewers do not know who wrote the paper. In turn, reviewers should reveal a conflict of interest if they know the author(s) of the manuscript.
A new job is always both exciting and daunting, but working with authors and reviewers is a new direction for this long-time professor and feels full of promise. I look forward to discovering the possibilities for JSSR.