The Merchants of Heavenly Grace: On Academic Journals and Cultural Difference



Abstract: The increasing standardization, specialization and monetarization of academic publishing is designed to foster quality in research and expression. But these tendencies also pose serious challenges to the expression of cultural difference, particularly with regard to philosophy and religious studies. Scholars from various cultural backgrounds outside of mainstream universities often find themselves marginalized when the quality of their work is judged through the metrics of mainstream academic publishing. Smaller journals which give a forum to local research are gradually disappearing or becoming irrelevant. The corporate control of publishing limits the access and distribution of information making it difficult for smaller regional universities to access and conduct research. But these challenges to the expression of cultural difference also reflect the deeper tendencies of the information age. To approach this problem, we need to consider the conflict between culture and spirit on the one hand, with the flows of information and capital on the other. I will introduce this problem through an idea of hermeneutics presented by George McLean. I will then discuss the approaches to this problem by such writers as Michel Serres, Jean Francois Lyotard, Giorgio Agamben and Jacques Derrida. I will show that these latter writers devise strategies to reach something outside of the cybernetic flows of information in the media age, but that their solutions are incomplete because they rely on intellectual concepts of redemption and ignore the concrete practices of spiritual redemption. The issue that cross-cultural journals must consider is how to emphasize something beyond the merely intellectual; how to amplify practice within its expression. I will address this issue in the spirit of a poem by Emily Dickinson entitled “Publication – is the Auction” which supplies the title of this essay.


Keywords: Academic Publishing, Cultural Difference, Spirituality, Cybernetics, Practice