The study of religions and open access journals

Finding the right journal among all the available open access alternatives can be challenging. This article provides an overview of journals with a focus on the study of religions. You also find some reflections on what you can do if you cannot find a suitable open access journal for your publication.

Open access publishing – that is to say publishing in a way that allows your work to be freely read, used and shared – has many advantages. By publishing open access, you can potentially reach a larger audience. You also make sure that important findings are not hidden behind paywalls. In this way open access also supports scientific equality and openness. Many studies also show that open access publications are cited more often – there are however differences depending on field.

A challenge with open access publishing is that there in many areas is a lack of journals to choose from. Another challenge is the status of the journals. More and more established journals are changing to an open access format, but many open access journals are new and not highly ranked, if they are ranked at all. So-called predatory journals also have a negative influence on the field. These are journals that charge considerable amounts for fast and open access publishing, but without guaranteeing the quality of what is published.

DOAJ: The Directory of Open Access Journals

When looking for an open access journal, DOAJ – The Directory of Open Access Journals – is a good starting point. To get included in this directory, journals have to be open access in accordance with the principals of DOAJ. This, among other things, entails that the material has to be openly available as soon as it is published. The journals also have to have directives for how submissions are reviewed and follow clear reviewing processes.

In DOAJ you can find many journals with a focus on religion. If you search on religion in journals publishing articles in English or Nordic languages you currently receive 740 hits. However, topics are not evenly covered in these journals. Many of the journals have religion as one of many focus areas. Among the journals with a clear focus on religion, several deal with Islam and particularly questions of law and economy.

JuFo: Publication forum and ranking

You can also check the status of a journal by for example looking up how it has been ranked in Julkaisufoorumi/Publication Forum, which is maintained by the Finnish scientific community. Doing this, it first becomes apparent that few of the DOAJ journals focusing on religion are ranked, and, second, that the ranking is usually on base level 1. That a journal is not ranked in Publication Forum does not as such say anything about its quality as only journals in which Finnish scholars have published or journals that have been suggested to the forum are ranked. However, the base level 1 ranking suggests that the ranked journals are not considered to be among the foremost journals in the field.

Many focus areas but few alternatives

Though there are challenges, the situation regarding both open access and ranking are fairly good in the areas of the study of religions that have interested many Nordic scholars. Several Nordic journals with a general and wide interest in the study of religions are published open access. Temenos – Nordic Journal of Comparative Religion, which is published by the Finnish Society for the Study of Religion (SUS), publishes articles and thematic issues that deal with aspects of religion and culture. The focus is on the Nordic countries, but articles dealing with methodological and theoretical issues beyond the Nordic frame are also included. The language of the publication is English and the journal has the highest possible ranking in Publication Forum, that is to say 3.

Scholars in the study of religions that write in Swedish of Finnish can also publish in Uskonnontutkija/Religionsforskaren which is also published by SUS. Those interested in publishing a thematic issue in English can turn to Approaching Religion which is published by the Donner Institute, who also publishes the conference publication Scripta Instituti Donneriani Aboensis.

If one is looking for a journal with a broad focus on religion outside of the Nordic context Religions can be an option. Religions publishes articles and thematic issues on many religion related topics. The publisher of Religions, MDPI, is specialized in digital publishing, but has a varied report. Publishing in Religions is not free of charge and the costs are not always clear and transparent. However, the journal does have a so called DOAJ Seal which indicates that one follows best practice principles.

Regarding thematic journals, the choices are more limited. Open access journals with a strict focus on the sociology of religion are few. In Publication Forum there is only one ranked journal, Journal of Religion and Society, which is published by Creighton University in the USA. There are no open access journals listed in DOAJ that has psychology of religion as a main focus and a ranking in Publication Forum. However, the field of psychology is well represented among open access journals and many ranked journals have published articles focusing on religion, for example Journal of Social and Political Psychology which is published by Psych Open. For researchers interested in the field of religion and media there is Journal for Religion, Film and Media published by Karl Franzens Universität Graz in Austria. Journal of Religion and Film, which is not to be found in DOAJ, is a ranked open access journal that is well-known in religion and film studies.

For researchers in Jewish studies, Nordisk judaistik/Scandinavian Jewish Studies is an alternative. The Donner Institute is responsible for the publishing of this journal.

Islam is, as mentioned, a common theme for open access journals. However, few of the journal have a ranking in Publication Forum. One exception is Nazariyat: Journal for the History of Islamic Philosophy and Sciences which is published by ILEM in Turkey. Few open access journals focus on other religious traditions than Islam, Christianity and Judaism. In English there is only Journal of Global Buddhism registered in DOAJ. There are however journals focusing on geographical and cultural settings that one can turn to, such as Indialogs: Spanish Journal of India Studies, International Journal of Sino-Western Studies and Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, all ranked in Publication forum.

Two open access thematic journals that relate to areas of research that interest many Nordic scholars are Correspondences: Journal for the Study of Esotericism which is published by Arem Roukema and Secularism and Nonreligion which is published by Ubiquity Press. Thematically the second journal is unique and it has gathered together many well-known scholars.

When open access journals are not an alternative

What do you do when you cannot find a suitable open access journal? Open access publishing is important, but the journal most suited for one’s research is not always open access. The costs that can come with open access publishing are sometimes also too high for individual scholars. Though publishing open access is often free of charge, some journals have APCs, article processing charges.   Thus, open access is always worth striving for, but it is not always an alternative.

However, it is well-worth remembering that many university libraries have agreements with journals and publishers that can mean lower or even no charges for open access publishing for researchers connected to the university. This includes both open access journals and so-called hybrid journals that can make material available for a fee. Researchers connected to Åbo Akademi University can find more information about vouchers and discounts in Libguides.

Where do you publish?

What are your experiences of open access publishing? Which open access journals have you published in? How did you experience the process? What would you encourage young scholars to keep in mind? And what about the journals ranked in Publication forum? Are all essential journals in your field ranked? Did you know that it is easy to suggest journals for Publication forum? (More on this topic in a later article).

Please share your experiences! Together we can become better at open access!