Theological Studies and Editorial Independence
Lisa Fullam August 30, 2011 - 7:44pm
NCR has published a report and an editorial on the Jesuit-run journal Theological Studies being pressured to run an essay without peer review. In 2004, Kenneth Himes and James Coriden co-authored an essay in TS calling for the re-evaluation of the Church's teaching on the indissolubility of marriage on grounds of a deep disconnect between the Church's doctrine and its pastoral practice. The new essay, co-authored by Peter F. Ryan and Germain Grisez, forcefully rebuts that call. Nothing new so far--theology is a discipline whose practitioners disagree, sometimes profoundly. Most of us recognize that it is precisely in the engagement with those who disagree with us that our arguments are tested and honed. Theological discourse is a testing ground for ideas, a place where we feel free to launch new ways of thinking about the tradition, trusting our colleagues to help us identify powerful new vehicles of understanding, and to help us see which of the new vehicles are just theological Edsels. Of course, recognizing the integrity and value of positions we do not hold ourselves is also a basic virtue of teaching. Good teachers do not expect ovine obeisance from our students, but thoughtful engagement with ideas. It seems eminently appropriate for differing voices to be heard in TS. What's troubling here is the apparent imposition of an essay without peer review and the consent of the editor. TS editor David Schultenover, S.J., has not confirmed that he was forced to publish this piece, but NCR reports:
After years of mounting pressures, exchanges, and at least one rejected rebuttal submission written by Jesuit Fr. Peter F. Ryan, the Vatican finally mandated that Theological Studies publish -- unedited -- an essay coauthored by Ryan and theologian Germain Grisez titled Indissoluble Marriage: A Reply to Kenneth Himes and James Coriden.
On a good day, peer review helps to insure academic merit, not by imposing ideological criteria, but through the advice of other knowledgeable professionals in the area. It need not imply editorial approval or agreement with the author's thesis, but only that he or she finds the piece worth discussion. Peer review and editorial approval are especially helpful when scholars read outside their own area of expertise, for example when a scripture scholar reads an essay in systematics. I might not agree with the thesis of a particular piece, but it's helpful to know that other scholars in that area feel the ideas are worth a look.And peer review need not shut down diversity of opinion. One of the hallmarks of TS is its willingness to publish back-and-forth from authors in the name of ongoing dialogue, with peer review at each step. Indeed, Grisez' work has graced TS' pages many times, with peer review. One of the unfortunate effects of side-stepping peer review is the risk that doing so may diminish the reception of this work by scholars leery of the process for this essay. So what to do? This essay is published with a superscript that indicates that "except for minor stylistic changes, the article is published as it was received." I'd hope for a more explicit label for pieces that are published without peer review (at least for items normally subject to that process.) That fact may not be apparent to the reader, and is relevant to the reader's--especially the non-specialist reader's--approach to the text.
About the Author
Lisa Fullam is associate professor of moral theology at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley. She is the author of The Virtue of Humility: A Thomistic Apologetic (Edwin Mellen Press).