THATCamp AAR/SBL 2016 in San Antonio

THATCamp will be taking place this year at the AAR & SBL conferences in San Antonio, Texas. Plan on joining us November 18, 2016 from 9 to 5 PM for another fantastic THATCamp. Registration is through the AAR or SBL when you register for the conference. Its cost is $15 for the day to help offset the costs. We will have more information in the near future. IN the mean time, be sure to plan on joining us for a great days of learning and exploring the ways Technology can enhance humanities scholarship!

digital textbooks for introductory religion courses

I’ve been teaching introductory religion courses (Intro to Religion; World Religions) for about ten years now using a digital textbook I wrote.  It’s got tons of images, review questions, “read” and “listen” buttons, and interactive exercises, as well as automatic reporting so that as the professor, you can see the work your students have been doing.  I’d be happy to run a demo for anyone who is interested.  I’ve used it in online, hybrid, and f2f classes, all with success.  Students say they never want to read a print textbook again…  Two new titles are due to be released in 2016:  Revealing the Hebrew Bible by Barry Sang and Revealing the New Testament by Stephen Moore.

Talk / Teach Session – Building an Ecosystem for Open Digital Resources

This talk focuses on and our work in growing a community of scholarly resources for biblical languages. We will demonstrate the power of existing resources by using queries on a syntactic database to generate examples that illustrate the various uses of the Greek participle. We will also point to resources that are lacking, and discuss how we are organizing the community and motivating projects to create open resources. The first half of this session is a teaching session, the second half is a talk session to generate ideas for growing the community, helping people learn how to use available open content, and growing the corpus of high quality digital resources.

In 1995, the Perseus Project published the Perseus Digital Library on the World Wide Web, a large collection of classical texts with morphology, several lexicons, grammars, and a variety of related resources. The Perseus has been an inspiration for much of digital humanities, demonstrating that open content can vitalize a community of scholarship, in which the process of creating more useful open content together is one of the things that defines the community.

It’s time for the biblical languages community to catch up. Over the last few years, has been working to grow a community of computer scientists, Bible scholars, and linguists who are collaborating to create high quality open digital resources for biblical studies, focusing on materials related to biblical languages. We try to track resources that exist, create resources that are missing, and help people coordinate with others who are working on similar things to maximize interoperability and minimize duplication of effort.

These guidelines define what we mean by open biblical content:

  • Freely licensed. For content that is not code, we like Creative Commons Licenses. For code, we like MIT, Apache, and GPL -see We encourage licenses that require attribution, we dislike licenses that require asking permission – that just doesn’t scale.
  • Human readable formats like XML, JSON, or well structured HTML with metadata.
  • Unicode, using NFC normalization and UTF-8 when feasible.
  • Publicly available in source code repositories, so changes are visible and available, and it is easy to track issues and suggest improvements or corrections.
  • Designed to be used collaboratively with other resources.
  • Uses existing standards like TEI, Epidoc, and OSIS when they are a good match for the domain.

For Greek and Hebrew, resources freely licensed in open formats include:

Here are some things we are doing to build the community:

  • We have created a Technical Advisory Board for those we work with most closely, and Technical Liasons to other projects.
  • We are using Slack to coordinate our efforts, and are experimenting with Trello for tracking status.
  • We are asking the community to write tutorials showing how to use open resources using various kinds of tools.
  • We are working together with GERT to sponsor SBL sessions that encourage people to develop digital resources, and coordinating with Perseus and Alpheios on the creation of Greek resources. For instance, this year’s Corpus-based Computing/Linguistics for Ancient Greek session focuses on growing the corpus.

We are passionate about creating an open ecosystem for digital content, and want to see this community grow. After the presentation, we will have an open discussion to discuss the best ways to make that happen.

Ritual, Theology and Pedagogy in Gaming

gowA session for gamers or those interested in gaming to explore their experience of game playing as a theological exploration – are there elements of ritualised practice within the game environment; ways of commemorating or memorialising; how about sacrality? I know a couple of games now where there are specifically religious chatrooms (usually Christian) and even game spaces which are set aside for worship. This has always been the case in virtual environments such as Second Life and often it reflects social practices which are external to the game. But what does it mean to act like this inside the game environment, inside the ludology and practices which make the game work. Is there a disjunction between playing game of war and being a Christian IRL (if that phrase isn’t too stupid to use)? Is there disjunction between killing one another’s soldiers and then praying together. What is going on?

At a recent gaming as research conversation at Durham Uni, we discussed the possibility of games being used as pedagogical tools and one of my research students wants to explore the use of Minecraft for biblical literacy work. Are games best suited for play rather than pedagogy. But play is pedagogy. So is it possible to teach through the medium of games – teach the Bible? teach biblical languages? teach theology? What would it mean to teach theology in code?

Anyone game for such a conversation?

Talk/Teach Session: Using Bible Data in Education

Logos Bible Software includes a wealth of data on the Bible, the biblical world, biblical languages, and biblical studies. I’d like to engage with others in a conversation about how this data can support teaching the Bible and biblical studies, in both traditional and novel ways.

Our datasets and features include:

Based on the interests of those who attend, we can:

  • do a broad show-and-tell of different capabilities in Logos
  • discuss specific datasets and general strategies for using them in educational contexts
  • do a deep dive into one or two datasets
  • discuss other ways to collaborate around these resources (for example, annotation projects using existing datasets as standards)
  • brainstorm additional datasets that would be valuable for educational goals in biblical studies

Note: I’m a researcher and developer with direct involvement in the creation of many of these databases. Though Logos is a commercial product, I’m not a salesman, and this isn’t a sales pitch.

Teach Session: Podcasting and Public Scholarship

We left academia and became voices on the radio.

Now we produce the programs Things Not Seen: Conversations about Culture and Faith, and the daily two minute Religion Moments podcasts. (We also produce video documentaries for PBS).

Broadcasting and podcasting offer fantastic opportunities for “public theology” and “public scholarship.” But too often projects start, and flail, and are abandoned. Other times, the programs never gain an audience because they remain “insider conversations” for a few.

Media relies on storytelling, and even the most bare-bones interview is a story.

In this practical teaching session, we’ll talk about the basic questions you need to ask to make your idea for a podcast marketable, sustainable, and above all, listenable.

We’ll also talk about some of the bare bones gadgetry you might need to make a podcast or a radio show work, even on a limited budget. (We will bring recorders and other visual aids that you can look at.) Seriously – if you have an iPhone and GarageBand, you can make a radio show or a podcast. We’ll help you figure out how.

If folks are really interested, we can also do a sidebar talk session on how to make this a pedagogical tool (class projects and such.) But really, we’re more interested in supporting the public theology angle. So there you go. Vote for us.

David Dault and Katy Scrogin both work as executives at the Chicago Sunday Evening Club, which has been around since 1908, and pretty much invented religious broadcasting on this continent. Seriously – if you ever wondered why the PTL Club and the 700 Club were called “Club,” it’s because they “borrowed” the idea from us to give themselves street cred. All to say, when it comes to public religion, we know our stuff.

Kicking the Carbon habit on tech

Frustrated that universities have been so slow to transition their energy use, I have switched my at home energy feed (i.e. food for technology) by purchasing electricity through REC, renewable energy certificates. I would like to see an effective organization of academics apply collective pressure on land grant and private colleges to switch to the REC market.

According to, 10 metric tons of carbon are emitted daily by the twitter sphere alone. Any questions about using iPads in classes, new applications, and encouraging engagement through social media are part of our disproportionate per capita generation of greenhouse gasses as long as our universities and their infrastructure, including dorms and libraries, rest content to pay for energy from fossil fuel utilities.

American colleges and universities are the place where we know what climate change is and what its impending increased cost and volatility means for biological diversity and the security of our most vulnerable communities. Could THATCamp AAR/SBL2015 help turn this behemoth (American higher ed) around in two years time?

When my role as co-chair of Feminist Theory and Religious Reflection is over in 2018, I will quit attending the AAR due to the un-sustainability of air travel. Jet fuel burns approximately 38,000 calories per gallon, and once in flight a plane gets approximately 4 miles to the gallon.  As a person I need 2000 calories a day, but I am a God of calorie consumption in my flight. If we picture the earth as a carbon banking system, with calories as the unit of measure for the release of stored carbon, our gross depletion of the carbon banks and gross production of greenhouse gasses (tweet farts) appears. As consumers of energy, we are utterly devoid of any recognition of our use of carbon banks, which is calculated at one million times faster than the the carbon banks can restore themselves (thanks to our clever technologies, including combustion engines).

I feel like a frog in a slowly warming pot in my desire to learn about new technologies and how to apply them for research and teaching. Does anyone else want to grieve for a moment over the horrific loss of biodiversity and consider how to catalyze and harness collective intelligence in our universities so that using energy-intensive technology is not mindless and ignorant exacerbation of the greatest challenge humans have ever faced?

I have never organized anything but I know it is time to do so. I am wondering if there are THATcamp people who want to discuss the connection between the energy sources that power our work with technology and the crisis at hand.