Journal for the Study of Spirituality: The JSS story
JSS celebrated its 10th year of publication in 2020
In the video above, editor-in-chief Cheryl Hunt and other members of the JSS editorial board reminisce about the inspiring and sometimes rocky journey of the journal from original concept to the well-regarded publication that it is today.
More than 130 peer-reviewed articles were published in JSS during its first decade, including 20+ in the 'Forum' section. Introduced in volume 2, this section invites the submission of forms of writing other than a full-length academic journal article which raise new issues and questions relating to spirituality and/or outline plans and ideas for new research. Over 90 books were also reviewed.
In issue 1.01, all the articles were from the UK. Issue 1.02 included articles from Canada and Sweden. The international reach of the journal subsequently continued to expand with published contributions between 2011-2020 from: Argentina; Australia; Canada, including francophone Canada; Denmark; France; Germany; India; Ireland; Italy; Malaysia; Malta; the Netherlands; New Zealand; Norway; Spain; Sweden; Switzerland; and the USA. Approximately 55% of published articles in the journal's first decade came from the UK, with more than 10% from Canada and Australia, respectively, and the USA close behind. Since 2017, the proportion of international articles to those from the UK has shown a marked increase.
Our original hope that the journal would not only become international but also a space where studies of spirituality might be brought together regardless of disciplinary or professional boundaries has clearly been realised. Within the pages of JSS, up to and including volume 10, spirituality has been considered in relation to art; autism; compassion; critical reflection; dementia; ecology; endurance running; the European Union; forgiveness and reconciliation; funerals; happiness; mathematics; music; the natural environment; near-death experiences; organisations; pastoral care; pilgrimage; politics; retreats; ritual practices; sexuality; science; and social media. It has been examined in the professional contexts of chaplaincy; creative therapies; education; leadership; medicine; mental health; nursing and midwifery; palliative care; several professions allied to medicine; social work; spiritual direction; and voluntary work. Consideration has also been given to spirituality in the specific contexts of atheism and the ‘New Atheists’; the work of the Brahma Kumaris; Celtic traditions; indigenous communities; the Salvation Army; the Shaker movement; and Sufism.
Genealogies of the term ‘spirituality’ have been traced and conceptual confusions addressed, including links between spirituality and consciousness; existentialism; paranormal and exceptional human experiences; religion and new religious movements; secularism; silence; and wisdom. Questions have been raised about how spirituality is experienced by different age-groups; by those dealing with bereavement or serious illness; and by those for whom their social context makes the expression of personal feelings and beliefs difficult. Spirituality in the lives of historical figures such as Bede Griffiths, Thomas Merton and Evelyn Underhill has been discussed.
Contributions to the journal have come from established scholars; new researchers; doctoral students; and practitioners working with spirituality in different ways and contexts. Articles have included findings from large-scale surveys, small phenomenological studies, comparative studies, case studies, and historical research; some have presented new models. Various styles of writing have been represented, including autoethnographic, critically reflective, narrative and scientific.
It is a success story which nearly didn't get started!
How it all began ...
The British Association for the Study of Spirituality (BASS, now INSS) was founded in 2009 following a series of informal discussions over the previous eighteen months. The Association's two strategic objectives at that time were to convene a conference (which was subsequently to become biennial) and to establish an interdisciplinary, inter-professional journal. The intention of both was to bring together studies and discussions about spirituality which were proliferating in many forms and different contexts but mostly within separate 'silos' with little opportunity for cross-fertilisation. Margaret Holloway (University of Hull) took the lead on the development of the first conference; Cheryl Hunt (University of Exeter) had already begun to develop a formal proposal for a journal. The two projects dovetailed in May 2010 when it was announced at the First International BASS Conference that the Journal for the Study of Spirituality was to be published the following year by Equinox Publishing.
The passage of the journal into production was not quite as straightforward as the previous sentence implies. The initial proposal received much favourable comment but was, nevertheless, rejected by several well-known commercial publishers on the grounds of financial viability and the nature of the field. Feedback included:
- ‘cross- or inter-disciplinary appeal does not tend to lend itself to widespread adoption by the library market.’
- ‘It’s certainly an enormous area of popular culture, but personally I’d have my doubts about its richness as a field of rigorous academic study (that is, apart from being an object of study and criticism in fields and journals that are already well represented).’
- ‘…I tend to feel that the occasional paper is all that the market would take at the moment.’
By the time of the BASS launch in January 2010, however, there was cause for optimism. Agreement had been reached with a small publishing company to develop a journal with the rather long-winded title International Journal for the Interdisciplinary Study of Spirituality (1). The constitution of the Editorial Board had been agreed in principle and a mock-up of the cover approved. Unfortunately, before publishing arrangements could be finalised, the company was taken over by a larger organisation. This had different priorities and interests which did not align well with the original vision of the journal - and all plans for publication had to be abandoned.
JSS owes its existence to Janet Joyce, founder and Managing Director of Equinox, an independent academic publishing company then based in London. Having considered the proposal, Janet made a rapid decision not only that Equinox would publish the journal - but that its launch should be announced, and an initial call for papers issued, at the BASS conference the following month! The journal’s current title and the print cover (which represents the colour of water and its life-sustaining properties) were determined at that point. An international Editorial Board was also established, comprising 25 well-known researchers and scholars in the field who had agreed to be named in the original proposal (more than half of whom continue to serve as members of the current board). The first issue was published exactly a year later, in May 2011. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Except ... as Arnold Toynbee is alleged to have declared, history is just 'one damned thing after another' - and the history of JSS contains a few such things!
Coming up to date
Following a very successful start with Equinox, a company merger and subsequent de-merger with Acumen Publishing almost brought about the collapse of the journal. Its fortunes revived when it was acquired in 2013 by Maney Publishing, a small independent academic company based in Leeds, UK. The format of the print copies changed at that time to their current 10x7 inch size (from 9x6). And, more importantly, with the title Journal for the Study of Spirituality now jointly owned by BASS and Maney, the reputation and circulation of the journal increased rapidly.
Maney Publishing was sold to Taylor & Francis (T&F, part of the multinational Informa group) in June 2015. JSS was fortunate that Rebecca Hill, who had been its Managing Editor throughout its time at Maney, also transferred to T&F. She guided the journal successfully through and beyond all the technical changes of the transitional period and, in 2016, oversaw the acceptance of JSS for inclusion in the Emerging Sources Citation Index (ESCI), an additional Web of Science database that had recently been launched by Thomson Reuters.
As JSS moves into its second decade, it would seem that doubts about the 'richness' of spirituality 'as a field of rigorous academic study' and the viability of a journal aiming for 'cross- or inter-disciplinary appeal' may have been unfounded!
(1) Click here for an account of the first meeting which was arranged by Peter Gilbert, a founding member of BASS and later an Executive Editor of JSS. The style of the journal still owes much to Peter, who died in 2013. He was adamant that, although the academic quality of the journal must be paramount, it should also be of interest to practitioners — to people who did not want simply to ‘study’ spirituality but to live and work spiritually. As he put it: ‘Spirituality, in whatever form it takes, is a vital dimension of our humanity’ (Gilbert P [Ed]  Spirituality and Mental Health. Hove, Sussex: Pavilion, p.42).
(Cheryl Hunt, Exeter, UK. November 2020)
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The INSS is a unique international network for people interested in bringing the study of spirituality to life through research, scholarship, education and practice.
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