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The new St. Andrews Encyclopædia of Theology hopes to make complex theological topics accessible for people of all backgrounds

Over the coming few years, scholars, religious leaders and interested lay people will have a new source for overviews of theological topics — a long-form, open-access, peer-reviewed and regularly updated online compendium, the St. Andrews Encyclopædia of Theology. The project, based at Scotland’s oldest and most prestigious university and initially funded with a four-and-a-half-year, £3.3 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation, will offer rigorous yet accessible articles on key theological topics, beginning with Christianity, Judaism and Islam and eventually expanding to cover other major religious traditions including Hinduism and Buddhism. The Encyclopædia will be modeled on its philosophical analogue, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, which was launched in 1995 and today today features nearly 1,600 articles on philosophical topics as general as metaphysics and as specific as the concept of personhood in the Akan culture of present-day Ghana. 

“For years the John Templeton Foundation has been interested in supporting the development of something like the Stanford Encyclopedia, but focused on theological topics and other examples of what Sir John Templeton termed ‘spiritual information’ — insights gained from individual and communal religious practices across cultures and history,” says Alex Arnold, the Templeton Foundation’s senior program officer for philosophy and theology. “With Brendon Wolfe, Steve Holmes and the team at St Andrews and elsewhere, we’ve found an excellent set of partners to create a resource with broad and lasting value for readers around the world.”

Accurate, accessible, updated and global

The plan for the Encyclopædia was developed over the past several years, and includes prioritizing what the project leaders term an “emic” perspective — aiming to have articles that are comprehensive and even-handed, but written by authors who come from within many of the religious and theological traditions covered. Its articles will be tailored to be academically rigorous but accessible to non-theologians — making them useful to a broad audience that includes students, teachers, journalists, religious leaders and laypeople. Its online-only, open-access approach will make its content easily expandable and updatable, and available to a global audience, including users in the developing world for whom standard printed or paywalled theological references are difficult to use. 

In addition to Brendan Wolfe and Steve Holmes, the Encyclopædia’s senior editors include N.T. Wright and Christoph Schwöbel (focusing on Christianity), Lejla Demiri (focusing on Islam) and Oliver Langworthy (academic editor). They have been working with a board of editorial advisors to identify topics, recruit authors and additional senior editors representing a broad range of traditions, and work with them to shape the work’s coverage according to the project’s editorial guidelines. As core articles are written, peer reviewed and revised, they will begin to appear on the project’s site, with an estimated 10 appearing in the first year, 30 more in the second, 75 in the third and at least 210 published by the end of the grant period — with plans to add hundreds more articles in the years after. The hope is that, 25 years after its launch, the St. Andrews Encyclopædia of Theology will still be relevant and growing — just like its forerunner at Stanford.

STILL CURIOUS?

Learn more about the St. Andrews Encyclopædia’s vision for cataloguing and making theological knowledge accessible by reading an outline of the project’s editorial standards.