A journal of academic theology

September 1998 editorial

Award ceremonies for achievement in the performing arts have become an annual ritual in our society. Films have Hollywood’s Academy Awards (the “Oscars”) and palmes d’or from Cannes. Stage productions, TV shows, musical recordings, have their Tonys, Emmys, and Gramophone awards. Nor is the written word neglected–from the prestigious Nobel awards, to the Pulitzer prizes, to recognitions by the National Book Critics. Despite the media hype associated with some of the ceremonies, the recognition is well deserved.

In my musings recently in the library’s periodical room, I started to fantasize about the possibility of an annual international award for the best theological journal. Reaching agreement would not be easy. We would need an unbiased jury, clear criteria, and agreement on which publications qualified. Unwilling to go to all the trouble of setting this process in motion, I appointed myself as a jury of one. I would choose from my vantage point what I consider today to be the top 20 theological journals internationally. After all, every critic in entitled to his or her own list of the yearly best.

Those eligible to compete would be journals publishing articles and reviews of Christian systematic or doctrinal theology, hence not religious studies (especially not comparative studies of Christianity with other living faiths). I would further exclude journals devoted to church history, biblical studies, or pastoral studies, as well as publications specializing in ecumenism, liturgy, mission studies, the Christian East, canon law, or ethical studies. Nor would I include useful publications of haute vulgarisation such as Chicago Studies, Theology Digest, or Priest and People. Obviously, the winning journals would be well edited, notable for publishing far-reaching articles pertinent for renewal of theology, church, and society.

Modesty demands of course that I not include in this listing our own journal, Theological Studies, although I hope readers would graciously insert us among the chosen few.

And, in order of achievement, my winners are… :

  1. Revue thèologique de Louvain (Louvain la Neuve)
  2. Revue des sciences philosophiques et thèologiques (Paris)
  3. Recherches de science religieuse (Paris)
  4. Theologische Quartalschrift (Tübingen)
  5. Journal of Theological Studies (Oxford)
  6. Zeitschrift für katholische Theologie (Innsbruck)
  7. Ephemerides theologicae Lovaniensis (Leuven)
  8. Freiburger Zeitschrift für Philosophie und Theologie (Fribourg, Switzerland)
  9. Thomist (Washington)
  10. Catholica (Paderborn)
  11. Bijdragen (Nijmegen)
  12. Asprenas: Rivista di teologia (Naples)
  13. Pacifica: Australian Theological Journal (Melbourne)
  14. Heythrop Journal (London)
  15. Horizons (Villanova, Penn.)
  16. Nouvelle revue thèologique (Brussels)
  17. Münchener theologische Zeitschrift (Munich)
  18. Communio, International Catholic Review (Washington)
  19. Theologie und Philosophie (Frankfurt)
  20. Gregorianum (Rome)

I can hear the grumbling already. Why did such and such a journal not make the list? Why have some venerable journals slipped from the top ten lower in the scale? Why are the choices still so North-Atlantic, still so dominated by the linguistic trio: French, German, and English, with a mere smattering of Dutch and Italian? Twenty-five years ago the Nouvelle revue thologique would have been much closer to the top, but demographics, diminished size of faculty, and other factors have created a new situation. I myself was personally disappointed that, in the final analysis, no Canadian journal made the short list despite the strengths of Eglise et thologie (Ottawa), Laval thologique et philosophique(Quebec), Toronto Journal of Theology (Toronto), and Science et esprit (Montreal). They obviously deserve honorable mention, but occasionally publish material not quite at the cutting edge. The Jesuit sponsored Heythrop Journal and Theologie und Philosophie have slipped in my listings principally because they now publish a large proportion of philosophical articles. Concilium is not included because, at least in the U.S., it qualifies as a monograph serial not a journal. Am I insufferably chauvinistic to include Gregorianum, without signaling the strengths of other journals published in Rome such as: AngelicumAntonianumDivinitasLateranumLaurentianum, and Salesianum? I stand by my choice.

Yes, there is an pronounced North-Atlantic axis of preference. Will the situation be different 30 years from now? Perhaps we need now special achievement awards for journals that perform well but in more particularized contexts. In India I would single out: Vidyajyoti: Journal of Theological Reflection (Delhi), Bangalore Theological Forum (Bangalore), and Asia Journal of Theology (Bangalore). In Africa I recommendAFER: African Ecclesial Review (Eldoret, Kenya). The social and political upheavals of Africa in the last decades have created severe problems for promising reviews now even threatened with extinction. Latin America can be justly proud of an ever increasing variety of quality journals such as Revista eclesistica brasileira (Petropolis, Brazil), Estudos teolgicos (So Leopoldo, Brazil), Nuevo Mundo: Revista di teologia latinoamericana (Buenos Aires), Revista teolgica Limense (Lima), or Revista latinoamericana de teologa (San Salvador, El Salvador).

We probably need also another special category for relative newcomers who may soon achieve high status. I have in mind publications such as: Journal of Hispanic/Latino Theology (Collegeville), Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion (Atlanta), and Josephinum: Journal of Theology(Columbus, OH).

And to add to the complexity, the best theological article for a calendar year (how could one ever adjudicate that choice?) may well appear in a more specialized journal or in a less prestigious publication. The object of my imaginary exercise has not been to hurt feelings or produce invidious comparisons, but rather to help us celebrate gratefully a sizeable and growing presence of theological thought and research in our midst.

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