Incoming Editor Essay

Psychology of Religion and Spirituality Journal

Moving forward for the Div. 36 journal.

By Crystal L. Park, PhD

Just nine years ago, there was no Psychology of Religion and Spirituality (PRS), and outlets for research in the psychology of religion and spirituality were few. The need was clear, and the journal was born. Since its debut, PRS has become a highly-recognized and respected journal for top scholarship in our field. I see PRS as the leading journal for the top scholarship in the psychology of religion and spirituality. As such, I see it not only as an outlet for scholarship but as an important influence on the shape that our field takes moving forward. Thus, PRS serves as a tremendous forum for examining emerging trends, discussing controversial issues, highlighting clinical applications and suggesting future directions.

PRS is on a solid trajectory of healthy and sustainable growth, and I plan to keep it on that prosperous path. As editor, I am hoping to find ways to improve PRS and increase its success. One of my first orders of business is to gather information and feedback from the journal's stakeholders: associate editors, editorial board, reviewers, authors and readers. Thus, I outline some of the issues that we face in the coming years and some of my thoughts regarding these issues. I greatly welcome your input.

Increasing the Journal's Prominence and Impact

The best way to increase our influence is to publish the highest-quality papers relevant to the psychology of religion and spirituality. I would like our journal to be the go-to journal for relevant papers above other journals that might share the subject matter of the paper. For example, a paper on religious cognitions could go to PRS or to a journal on cognition; if it is a top-quality paper, we would like the author to consider PRS as a more desirable outlet. Ideally, PRS would be increasingly read and cited by authors in other subdisciplines of psychology as well as in other areas (e.g., religious studies, public health).

Many strategies can increase the influence of the journal. For example, special issues or sections can heighten visibility and attract attention. It is important to keep the topics of interest to regular readers of PRS but also to consider topics that may appeal to those who are not regular readers, drawing from a broader universe of psychologists and other scholars. We already maintain a policy on special issues or sections so that we have clear mechanisms for how these issues and sections are proposed and developed, and I will endeavor to maximize their quality and select topics of high interest and relevance.

Another method for increasing influence is publishing more papers that offer explicit guidance for the field. For example, in APA's analytics of the most widely-cited PRS papers, measurement approaches and scale development, reviews and meta-analyses, foundational theoretical pieces and clinical applications appear prominently.

We may also borrow or adapt features from other journals to increase the influence of our journal. For example, some journals have mechanisms for increasing visibility of articles to the media, helping to promote not only that article but also the journal and the field. Some journals require authors to submit a brief bullet-point summary to catch readers' interest, some require a PowerPoint slide summary that can be easily downloaded for presentations by others with appropriate citation. Some have online dialogs or commentaries that extend the published article's reach and vitality. Some invite commentaries for certain articles to expand on an article's clinical or policy implications. I am open to learning from other journals' approaches and creating new ways for PRS to interact with the broader world through technology and social media.

Journal Operations

The day-to-day conduct of the journal is important. One area that is ripe for improvement is the review process. We strive to maintain a reputation for providing a positive experience for authors, including a fair and fast review process. Delays in making determinations about manuscripts do happen, although we can take some practical steps to increase the functioning of the review process. We need an editorial board willing and able to provide reviews and a fuller roster of reviewers in our database with accurate and adequate keywords so that editors can identify them. All manuscript submitters should be required to be part of the reviewer database and to select useful keywords. Many other journals have implemented this system. For those already in the database without keywords, we need to request that they supply them. I have rarely seen a call for reviewers, and this call might also help bolster our team of willing reviewers.

I plan to rely on my associate editor team to help improve our journal. Their collective experiences represent much wisdom, and I would like the associate editors to be more involved in sharing what we learn, brainstorming new approaches to topics or handling of reviews and so on. I will create a forum for doing so, based on what the editors are comfortable with (e.g., quarterly tele-meetings, on-line discussions or resources, etc.) Associate editors are very busy, but they take their role seriously and are committed to the success of the journal.

The editorial board is also under-utilized. Being on the editorial board involves agreeing to provide a minimum number of reviews per year, yet many of the board members do not review this minimum number, either because they are not asked or because they decline. Editorial board members are also ambassadors for the journal, promoting it and being on the look-out for potential reviewers. I would like to ensure a well-qualified board that is willing and able to provide solid reviews and to feel their work is important and appreciated.

In discussions with Editor Ralph L. Piedmont, I have learned that there is a balance between high rejection rates and needing enough material to fill the journal's pages. I do not have a problem with a high rejection rate but hope that as quality submissions increase, it may go down. On the other hand, many submissions I have seen are not of high-enough quality to warrant publishing in PRS, so the rejection rate depends on both the numerator of high quality submissions and the denominator of total submissions, and as our visibility increases, rejection rates may go up.

More Engagement with Early Career Psychologists (ECPs)

Early career psychologists are our future, and their involvement with the journal is essential for maintaining its relevance and vibrancy. ECPs should be well-represented on the editorial team as well as in our roster of reviewers, given that they often have more direct experiences with cutting-edge statistical techniques, methods and content areas than some more senior people. Developing mechanisms for encouraging and increasing their involvement will be useful for the journal and the field. For example, some journals have explicit programs for mentoring advanced graduate students in conducting reviews. I need to learn more about the needs and concerns of ECPs before determining what might work best.

Values of the Journal

The readership of PRS is diverse and competing interests of different constituencies remains in an ever-shifting balance. Under Ralph Piedmont's leadership, the journal has maintained a fairly neutral stance regarding many potentially divisive issues, and I believe that this impartiality is important to continue. Although there is some pressure within the field for alternative approaches to science, I feel strongly that as a science, psychology should not and cannot admit into its domain non-empirical approaches such as theistic psychology. The unit of analysis in psychology is the person, and it is well within our discipline to study people's beliefs, perceptions, motivations and behaviors, so if someone believes he was touched by God, the focus of empirical study would be the belief, rather than whether God really touched him. On that point, psychology cannot make claims and thus, it would be inappropriate to attempt to do so in our journal.

Diversity is another value that our journal has embraced. We endeavor to publish articles dealing with diversity in various aspects of religion and geography as well as race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status and sexual identity. We can do more as a journal to encourage submissions by, for example, advertising our journal more broadly and doing more outreach to solicit quality submissions focusing on these topics. In addition, associate editors and reviewers can do more to encourage relevant articles to address diversity issues in their analyses and discussions. Having a diverse editorial team will be important in ensuring we have a broad array of perspectives, ideas and social networks.

Encouraging international perspectives through submissions to PRS will further the field and our readership coverage. Yet international submissions often pose challenges. The deficiencies in training in conducting research and writing in English can be substantial drawbacks, as can the lack of understanding of what is and what is not appropriate for a scientific journal. We can do better at including international perspectives. One possibility is to have a mentoring process for manuscripts deemed potentially publishable but in need of substantial work, which would require expertise and time. One possibility is to have a group of potential mentors willing to help write the manuscript in exchange for authorship, in an order appropriate to their contribution. Mentoring may be a role that some early career psychologists would like to fill, or it might require more seasoned scholars. Another possibility is to either write or invite an article that lays out the basic requirements and the aspirations for PRS articles. This article could be a useful resource for directing authors to for guidance if their work requires improving to meet the standards of our journal. Referring authors to the journal article reporting standards may also go a long way towards improving submissions as well.

In PRS, the topics covered and the methods used to cover them are diverse, and I encourage this diversity. Qualitative as well as quantitative empirical articles are acceptable, but qualitative articles should be conducted with just as much rigor in design and analysis as quantitative ones. Many of the articles in PRS explicitly focus on religion, but some are more concerned with spirituality. This breadth reflects the interests in the field, which in more recent years has gone by the name psychology of religion and spirituality. I am in favor of the broader title, rather than just “of religion,” for our division and our journal because it opens us up to topics that are closely related to religion and help to illuminate these phenomena and their relationships. That said, there need to be some, probably fuzzy, boundaries. This issue of boundaries might be a useful article to write and refer to in providing guidance to authors prior to submission.

Summary

Generally, I feel that PRS is in very good shape. Editor Ralph Piedmont's leadership and the collective work of many associate editors, board members, reviewers and authors has gotten us to a good point. I am hoping that this transition to new leadership will be relatively uneventful, and I will be working closely with Ralph over the next year as he steps back and I step up. Any changes I implement will be introduced gradually and with input from my associate editors, editorial board, our readership, Div. 36 and APA. I feel proud of what our journal has become in just nine short years, and I am honored to be entrusted to shepherd its continued growth and development in coming years.