Building an Infrastructure for a Resilient Future

27 March 2020

RESILIENCE is the name of a project to build a research infrastructure. But what is a research infrastructure, and how will it benefit the field of religious studies? Find out in this blog post by Hans-Peter Grosshans of the University of Münster.

What Is an Infrastructure?

As academics we normally do research, we have different projects and we teach. The precondition for doing all this is a functional infrastructure. With research infrastructure I mean all the facilities we need to do research and to be innovative in our research.

For example, I work in a position, where I teach and do research at the University of Münster. That position is part of an infrastructure. The university building is part of that same infrastructure and so are the books in the university library.

Why We Need a Research Infrastructure

All over Europe, there are deficiencies in the infrastructure for all those who are doing research on aspects of religion. This applies to faculties of theology, departments of religious studies, and anyone who studies religion. But it also applies to the fields of sociology, law, history or similar subjects.

We find that many sources are not available, and quite often it takes a lot of effort to get access to sources. The archives might not be open or they aren’t prepared for the public, and so on.

So, in a sense RESILIENCE is a reaction to these many deficiencies. It is an attempt to improve the infrastructural conditions on all religious studies and research on religion in all fields, all over Europe.

How Does a Research Infrastructure Come to Life?

The European Union has certain programs which function to support research. This includes direct project financing and support of the individuals, but I also learned some years ago, that they have an infrastructure program. It is called ESFRI, which is an abbreviation of European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures.

The original idea for creating research infrastructures came from physics. In nuclear physics, for example, a need for a particle accelerator arose. Now, even Germany cannot afford this on their own, because it’s too expensive to build and run.

So, all the European countries pooled their money and built it. Now researchers who have a good idea for an experiment there can gain access to it.

How Will This Apply to Religious Studies?

It is our idea to do something similar for religious studies.

The first element of a research infrastructure on religious studies, is that we want to create a structure which provides easier access to existing resources. Preferably this would provide researchers with online access. This would mean, that materials will be prepared in a way, in which people from all over Europe can get direct access to these sources from their desk.

The second element is digitization of the science. This doesn’t only have to do with scanning books. It also covers creating digital editions using big data, and to present it to the public and to combine it with other sources.

For example, we might want to publish a new edition of Gregory of Nyssa. In this case, proper digitization would give us the ability to link all quotations of the New Testament to a critical edition of the New Testament, which is being developed at the University of Münster as we speak.

In the end, we would have a web of digital editions, which are interlinked. And this does not solely apply to texts, but also to music, and other types of art.

In order to achieve this, RESILIENCE is applying to ESFRI, the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures, and to national ministries, in order to create a European research infrastructure, for the theologies, religious studies and all  research on religion in further academic fields, which will last for about 30 years.

– Hans-Peter Grosshans, University of Münster