The recently inaugurated Julian Gwyn prize is offering an opportunity for ACBAS to highlight its central commitment: the promotion of scholarly research in the field of Baptist and Anabaptist Studies. Designed to encourage and recognize emerging scholars, the award also acknowledges the research contributions and longtime ACBAS service of Dr. Gwyn. But what is the process we use to arrive at a decision?
It begins in February, latest March, when the committee begins to reach out to a constellation of journals, research networks, and scholarly associations, appealing to them to advertise and promote the award. And full disclosure: the appeal is hit and miss. Some respond enthusiastically, some respond with lukewarm interest, and…some don’t respond. In the world of academe, where everything is basically a non-paying ask—from book reviews to article evaluations to external assessments of applications for promotion—this is not surprising. Journal editors are besieged by requests for promotions, not to mention by aspiring scholars (as well as long-established ones) to consider their requests for permissions, read their articles, and promote their essay prizes. Part of the Julian Gwyn prize committee’s task, then, is to get the attention of those who can alert prospective applicants to the mere existence of the award. We are happy to report that, on balance, our efforts have paid off.
In fact, we’ve attracted the interest of a wide variety of scholars. The committee has examined submissions that have addressed a range of perspectives, from those utilizing critical literary theory and biblical exegesis to others wielding their knowledge of scriptural theology and historical sociology. Each has in common an interest in the lived experience of those professing the Baptist and Anabaptist traditions. In fact, this is a theme that the committee now foregrounds: the historical and empirical basis of Baptist and Anabaptist thought. This focus has produced some impressive results, including award winners Sarah K. Johnson’s “Hubmaier’s Milk Pail: Anabaptist Baptism, Rituals of Resistance, and Liturgical Authority” and Maxwell Kennell’s “Violence and the Romance of Community: Darkness and Enlightenment in Patrick Friesen’s The Shunning.”
But back to our process. Once the deadline is passed, we distribute the submissions and independently begin to work through them. We pay close attention to the quality of the research, the clarity of thought, the precision of language, the plausibility of theory, and the effectiveness of argument in each article. We then convene a meeting, usually in midsummer, to discuss the submissions. Each member of the three-person committee arrives with a provisional ranking, but that’s when things get interesting. This is a collaborative process, so despite our inclinations, each committee member makes a case for a given top contender, but each listens carefully to the arguments presented by another. In other words, we don’t always agree! More than this, each member brings unique expertise and perspective to the process, which amplifies the need for a cooperative approach to reaching a final decision. And considering the diverse quality of the submissions, some elements of a given essay fall outside of our collective knowledge.
In some cases, we are learning as we go, which is one of the enjoyable and rewarding aspects of participation on this committee. Our rubric remains the same, however: does this essay speak to Baptist or Anabaptist thought, theology, spirituality, ritual, or experience from a historical perspective? Once we’ve arrived at a decision—and this can take some time—we send the results to the executive board for ratification. Once this decision is approved, the Director of ACBAS has the distinct pleasure of notifying the candidate. A bit of ACBAS history is made each time we do so.
The essay prize is still in its infancy, but it is quickly becoming one of the more distinctive and exciting aspects of the Center’s activity. That’s because it provides us an opportunity to link to a key sector of the academic community: emerging scholars and researchers. Although the dollar value of the award is modest, it’s in some ways invaluable for the winner, since it provides acknowledgment of their achievement beyond their immediate academic environment. So, if you are eligible, we encourage you to apply and to take pride in simply doing so. And if you are curious about what it is we are doing over the summer (in addition to our own research), we’ll be reading and discussing your soon-to-be-published work. After all, that’s something to which every academic aspires.
For more information about the prize, click here.
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Respectfully submitted by Michael Dennis