Kent State University Social Epistemology and the Sermon: Page 1 of 10
Social Epistemology and the Sermon:
Creating a Sermon Repository for Interdisciplinary Research
Submitted by Dr. Daniel Roland
The following proposal is a request for funding to create the CSIR (Center for the
Study of Information and Religion) Sermon Repository. The repository will facilitate
research into a single yet sizeable area in the social construction of knowledge.
Sermons are a unique and significant source of information for a sizeable segment of the
U.S. population. It is estimated that 20% to 40% of people attend a religious worship
service and thus listen to a sermon in any given week (Newport, 2004; Hardaway &
Marler, 1998). Sermons are used to communicate the thoughts, beliefs, and
interpretations of individual clergy members who are traditionally viewed as reliable and
influential sources of information within their communities (Agada 1989, Tanner 1992).
Sermons are usually based on particular texts from Scripture, which for many people
gives sermons an attribution of divine authority (Guelzo 1994). However, there is
anything but consensus of opinion as to the purpose, influence, and role of sermons
(Monson 2004, Vos 2005, Guthrie 2007). Sermons are used as a rhetorical device to
inspire, educate, and motivate audiences to adopt and adhere to a set of values and
moral standards reflective of the theological position and denominational affiliation of the
individual clergy member. Therefore, the potential influence that sermons have on the
collective daily lives of which society is comprised is significant.
Until recently the ability to conduct extensive analysis of sermon text content has
been largely non-existent due to the lack of a centralized and representative collection of
sermon texts. Until the advent of the World Wide Web, most sermons once delivered
were discarded or filed away. A very few sermons found their way into books used to
highlight the careers of certain recognized clergy members or as sermon preparation
aides. Since the dawn of the World Wide Web, however, an increasing number of clergy
have seized the opportunity to post their sermons online thus creating the potential for a
digital repository of sermon texts.
A Google search conducted on November 11, 2009 for “Sermon ‘November 8, 2009’”
and limited only to the United States generated a list of nearly 95,000 links to worship
service bulletins, podcasts, blog posts, and full-text sermons. This number is indicative
of a tremendous resource for research and it also speaks to the need for a centralized
repository with one link rather than 95,000. The Hartford Institute estimates nearly
350,000 Christian and non-Christian religious congregations in the United States alone
( As more and more
clergy members become familiar with the World Wide Web and the use of word
processing software to facilitate digital copies of sermon texts, the need for and potential
of the repository will also grow.
The project will expand the research agenda of a junior faculty member in the LIS
field and also create a resource for scholars from a variety of academic disciplines. The
researcher, Dr. Daniel Roland, has conducted qualitative research utilizing extended
case study methodology to explore how clergy members make sense of the sermon
preparation process. While the methodology allows for in-depth exploration of the
various decisions and interpretations made during sermon preparation, it also limits the
scope of the research focus to a small pool of informants. The sermon repository will
facilitate both qualitative and quantitative analysis of a much larger data set and thus
better inform the researcher for future case studies.
Kent State University Social Epistemology and the Sermon: Page 2 of 10
The realization of the need for a sermon repository occurred while reviewing the
literature of a significant number of researchers reporting on what clergy members
communicate to members of their congregations. An examination of the methodologies
revealed that very few of these research projects analyze sermon content, which is the
primary means by which clergy communicate with the largest percentage of their
congregational membership. Existing studies tend to rely on survey methods by which
clergy members self report particular forms or items of communication.
For example, many studies report on clergy engaging in political cue giving from the
pulpit (Guth, Green, et al, 1997, Crawford and Olson, 2001, Djupe and Gilbert, 2003,
Smidt, 2004, Smidt and Schaap, 2009). Survey methodology is used to determine the
degree to which clergy members are theologically conservative or liberal and whether
the nature of the political cues they report giving address a moral values issue or a
social justice issue. The findings generally indicate that theologically conservative
clergy members tend to give political cues on moral values issues and that liberal clergy
tend to give political cues on social justice issues. Brewer (2003) attended and
observed worship services in order to better classify instances of political cue giving by
degree of emphasis.
The current researcher analyzed a sample of 238 sermon texts delivered in
congregations of various denominations across the country in the five weeks leading up
to the 2008 Presidential election. A draft of a paper in progress on the findings is
included in the supporting documents for this proposal. In brief, political cues were found
in nearly 22% of the sermon texts, but the nature of the cues were much more complex
than simply reflecting either a moral values issue or a social justice issue. Many of the
political cues found in the sample sought to defuse the emotions of the impending
election and reminded the listener to keep the election within a larger perspective of
historical and theological proportions. This example demonstrates the benefits that the
CSIR Sermon Repository will generate for research across the academic landscape.
Similar yet inadequate resources
The researcher posted a request to the Religious Research Exchange email listserv
( requesting information about existing sermon repositories
and was directed to the following resources:
1. The Institute for Progressive Christianity purports to have a sermon repository,
but the list of recent submissions posted on the web site,, indicate that only
three sermons were uploaded to the repository in the twelve months from
January 2008 to January 2009.
2. The Alliance for Christian Media,,
produces the Day 1 Sermon Community, Day 1 hosts an archive
of sermons dating back to 1996, but the archive consists of less than 1,000
sermons. One can browse the sermon archive by topic.
3., comes closest to the vision
for this project. This repository reports to have more than 19,000 clergy members
contributing sermons. A search conducted on November 20, 2009 for sermons
posted to the site within the last seven days yielded 222 returns. The site enables
searching for sermons by Scripture text, by topic, by keyword, or by contributor.
The name and denominational affiliation of the clergy member who wrote the
sermon is given with each sermon listing.
Kent State University Social Epistemology and the Sermon: Page 3 of 10 is a helpful resource for clergy members to see how other clergy
are interpreting particular Scripture passages or speaking to particular topics. The web
site features search tools, yet lacks the dynamic degree that will be featured by the CSIR
Sermon Repository. For example, one can search for sermons contributed by clergy
members of a particular denomination or by clergy members in a particular state of the
country, but not by both at the same time. One can not search for sermons by clergy
serving congregations of a particular size, with a particular number of years of
experience, by education level, by seminary attended, by ordination status, and so on.
The CSIR Sermon Repository will seek to serve the information needs of both clergy
members and academic researchers by providing an extensive range of search options.
How the project will address current gaps in knowledge
The project seeks to fill a gap in the organization and documentation of the social
body of knowledge and thereby to facilitate research on an influential communication
tool that dates back to the pre-literate days of human history. It is assumed that the
research generated by the CSIR Sermon Repository will fill gaps in the literature of any
number of academic disciplines. In the LIS field very little research has focused on
clergy members in general or on sermons in particular. Past studies have primarily
focused on what clergy members read and their use of libraries. The few studies
conducted stopped short of exploring the affect of what clergy members read on the
contents of sermon texts. The presumption of these studies is that the variety of reading
materials and frequency of library usage is indicative of how conservative or liberal the
clergy members will be in their preaching of sermons. None of these studies used actual
sermon texts of clergy members to reach any of their conclusions.
This project is designed for Funding Category #3: Research, specifically to support
the early career development of a new faculty member.
Impact for society
Because the repository will be a resource open to any researcher it will have a
significant impact across any number of academic disciplines and institutions. However,
and perhaps more importantly, the CSIR Sermon Repository will represent a significant
advance in social epistemology. Nearly fifty years ago Jesse Shera envisioned the
evolution of Library and Information Science into a new discipline that would
“Provide a framework for the effective investigation of the whole complex
problem of the intellectual processes of society – a study by which society as a
whole seeks to achieve a perceptive or understanding relation to the total
environment. It will lift the study of intellectual life from that of the individual to an
inquiry into the means by which a society, nation, or culture achieves an
understanding relationship with the totality of the environment, and its focus will
be upon the production, flow, integration, and consumption of all forms of
communication throughout the entire social pattern” (Shera, 1954).
Shera may or may not have envisioned the World Wide Web and its vast potential for
publishing, storing, retrieving, and analyzing the seemingly infinite instances of human
communication, but its existence certainly makes possible his vision of social
epistemology to reach fruition.
Kent State University Social Epistemology and the Sermon: Page 4 of 10
The few hundred thousand sermons delivered each week represent a tremendous
sampling of society’s intellectual life at definite points in time. Each sermon represents
the efforts of an individual to understand and interpret current events, issues, and
questions, in the light of texts and teachings that are thousands of years old, and then to
stand before an audience of people to proclaim what he or she believes to be true and
worthy of attention. The CSIR Sermon Repository will enable researchers to search the
aggregate of these sermons for insights into and understanding of the complexity of
what it is that we as a society believe to be true.
Impact for collaboration
One example for potential impact and collaboration arose following a presentation
about CSIR at the annual meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion.
Members of the Department of Sociology from a university in Canada approached the
current researcher and Dr. Don Wicks in order to discuss how their research in domestic
violence would benefit from the work of CSIR. In this situation, the CSIR Sermon
Repository could be searched for sermons prepared from particular Scripture texts that
speak to marital relations in order to learn how clergy from various denominations,
geographic areas, education levels, gender, etc., interpret the texts and what explicit or
implicit messages regarding domestic violence are communicated through the sermon.
Impact for students and future scholars
The project will initiate and continue an annual conference on social epistemology
and the sermon that will potentially impact the academic conversation across multiple
disciplines. CSIR will host the conference each summer at Kent State University so as to
stimulate interest and participation by graduate students across the university, but
particularly at the School of Library and Information Science and by doctoral students in
the College of Communication and Information. Several students at the School of Library
and Information Science have already expressed interest in conducting culminating
experience research projects related to the study of information and religion.
Leveraging for additional impact
The pool of clergy member participants recruited for participation represents a
tremendous resource for researchers from various academic disciplines and institutions.
Researchers who register an account with the CSIR web site will be able to suggest
particular topics for the periodic surveys conducted by CSIR. They may also post
announcements and requests for participation in a regular electronic newsletter to be
distributed to the clergy members by CSIR. Clergy members will have the option to
indicate that they do not wish to receive surveys or the electronic newsletter.
The project will make every effort to invite participation from clergy members of
every denomination and faith tradition. The Hartford Institute for Religion Research
maintains a comprehensive listing of the official websites of religious organizations in
North America at, which will be used for
contact information. A press release will be sent to each organization listed on this site at
the beginning of the project. Such a comprehensive invitation will maximize the potential
for a wide diversity of participating clergy members in terms of age, gender, ethnicity,
denominational affiliation, doctrine, education, ideology, and much more.
CSIR Web Site Preparation
Kent State University Social Epistemology and the Sermon: Page 5 of 10
The first step in implementing the CSIR Sermon Repository will be contracting
with a computer programmer to install and customize a content management system
(CMS) for the CSIR web site. First, the web site must provide a secure and automated
system for creating password-protected accounts for clergy members and researchers.
Second, the web site must provide an easy and intuitive process by which clergy
members may upload sermon texts on a regular basis. Third, the web site must provide
researchers with an easy and intuitive process by which to search the Sermon
Repository. This phase of the project involves the creation of data tables, formatting web
forms, installing various software modules and more. It is anticipated that this phase of
the project will last four months from September through December 2010. A preliminary
flowchart of the web site design is included in the supporting documents.
Publicity and Invitations
Once the first phase of the CSIR web site preparation is complete, efforts can begin
to publicize it and invite clergy and researchers to sign up for accounts in order to
access resources in addition to the Sermon Repository. The information available from
the Hartford Institute for Religion Research will be used to contact religious
organizations with a press release announcing the CSIR in general and asking for their
assistance in publicizing the web site to clergy members. Publicity and invitations to the
academic community will be disseminated to the print and electronic resources identified
below in the Dissemination section of the proposal.
Continued Web Site Maintenance and Customization
The project will continue to contract with a computer programmer in order to
implement additional functionality for increased research value. First, the web site must
facilitate the easy and secure participation of clergy member participants in periodic
surveys. Surveys will be conducted three times per year and participation by clergy
members will be completely voluntary. The surveys will be taken online and the data
stored within the CSIR web site. The computer programmer will also create an easy and
intuitive interface for searching the survey results and for generating useful reports.
Second, after clergy members have participated in the project for at least a year they
will be asked to consider inviting members of their congregation to participate in the
project, which would consist of describing the benefits received from sermons and their
interpretation of the sermon message. The clergy member must agree to issue a general
invitation to all congregational members in order to protect individual anonymity.
Congregational members would not have access to the discussion forums for clergy
members and researchers as this might negatively impact participation by clergy
members. The benefit to the clergy member would be timely and helpful feedback on
sermons. Therefore, the CSIR web site must be able to facilitate the easy and secure
addition of congregational member accounts and weekly email invitations to go online
and answer a few questions about the sermon most recently heard.
Third, the CSIR web site must be programmed to assist with the organization and
implementation of an annual conference on Social Epistemology and the Sermon
(SEatS) beginning in the summer of 2012. The CSIR web site must allow for the easy
and intuitive dissemination of information regarding the conference, registration of
conference attendees, organization and publication of the conference schedule and
program, and publication of conference proceedings.
Data Analysis
The purpose of the project is to collect a vast collection of sermon texts to serve as a
dynamic data set to be used and analyzed by any number of researchers each with their
Kent State University Social Epistemology and the Sermon: Page 6 of 10
own analysis method of choice. However, the research project must insure the data
integrity of the Repository through regular checks of the SQL database tables for proper
data entry, null values, etc., that might compromise the search capability of the
Repository. This responsibility will fall primarily to the current researcher and also to the
hired computer-programming assistant. The chance for error will be minimized through
the use of preset value menus to enable point and click data entry.
The data analysis method of the current researcher for using the CSIR Sermon
Repository is described in the draft paper included in the supporting documents on the
research conducted on sermons leading up to the 2008 Presidential election.
Essentially, the method uses the DevonTHINKPro database and document management
system to enable full-text searching of an aggregate of sermon texts. In the example of
pre-election sermons, the system enabled the quick and accurate keyword searching of
a set of 238 sermon texts and a comprehensive word count and weighting feature that
assisted in the development of keyword searching strategies.
Quantitative Measurements
The project will develop and utilize survey instruments to identify and quantify the
various attributes of the information behavior of the clergy member participants in the
SCIR Sermon Repository project. Survey instruments will be developed and distributed
by email three times per year.
Clergy members will be asked a number of information behavior related questions
including, but not limited to the following:
• The various information resources monitored and utilized in their sermon
preparation routine
• The various means by which they locate, gather, create, disseminate, and
store information
• The various information technologies utilized in their work as clergy members
• The processes by which they become aware of potential information
resources and technologies and the rate by which they adopt the use and
practice of such resources and technologies.
The survey data sets will be made available from the CSIR web site to researchers
with CSIR accounts for their individual analysis. The current researcher will subject the
data to a standard statistical analysis with the SPSS software program in search of
possible correlations between the survey data and particular demographic groups of the
clergy member participants.
The current researcher anticipates that the project will successfully recruit a sizeable
number of clergy members to participate in the CSIR Sermon Repository and that the
Repository will quickly grow into a sizeable and valuable research resource. A major
reason for this optimism is the fact that a large number of clergy members already post
sermon texts to congregational websites. The researcher knows from previous
experience that clergy enjoy an opportunity to discuss their sermons on an academic
level and that they are willing to enter into a research project that generates greater
public understanding of their profession.
It is anticipated that a significant number of researchers from various fields and
institutions will access the CSIR Sermon Repository. As evidenced from conversations
with other researchers both within and without the LIS field, CSIR is recognized as a
Kent State University Social Epistemology and the Sermon: Page 7 of 10
unique research institution offering a unique research perspective and research
resources for the study of information and religion.
CSIR seeks to bring together a diverse research community and to facilitate crossfertilization
of ideas, methods, and perspectives so as to generate new and exciting
collaborative projects. The CSIR Sermon Repository will serve as a primary means of
attracting potential members of this diverse and collaborative community.
On a personal level, the research anticipates a full slate of research projects,
publications, and presentations including, but not limited to:
• An analysis of sermons on the Sunday following the 9/11 tragedy for
indications of how clergy members responded in their sermons on a Sunday
that saw many sanctuaries filled to capacity
• An analysis of sermons by clergy members of the Evangelical Lutheran
Church in America in the two Sundays following a denominational decision to
allow the ordination of homosexuals as ELCA clergy members. The research
will focus on whether or not clergy members addressed the decision in their
sermons and, if so, the nature of the response and the information resources
used to justify the response.
• An analysis on the use of metaphor in the sermon and the search for trends
in particular metaphor use.
• Collaborative projects with a researcher(s) from the area of communications
and rhetoric in order to conduct sermon content analysis from the perspective
of rhetoric studies.
The results of the project will be assessed in the following ways:
Number and diversity of registered clergy members submitting sermon texts
The number of clergy member accounts requested and created on an annual basis
will serve as a measurement of participation. The annual goal of 200 new clergy member
participants will be the benchmark for success regarding this assessment measure.
Furthermore, the number of different religious organizations represented by the clergy
member participants will serve as an assessment measure of the diversity of the project.
The list of religious organizations maintained by the Hartford Institution for Religious
Research (HIRR) will serve as the benchmark against which the list of organizations
represented in the CSIR Sermon Repository will be measured. The diversity goal for the
project will be as follows:
• First year - 10% of the HIRR list will be represented by project participants
• Second year - 15% of the HIRR list will be represented by project participants
• Third year - 20% of the HIRR list will be represented by project participants
Number of sermons submitted to the Repository
The value of the CSIR Sermon Repository as a research tool depends upon the
breadth and depth of the data warehouse composed of sermon texts. The goal for the
Repository to be a store of sermon texts from a large number and wide range of clergy
members and also to store a large number of sermon texts for each clergy member that
will represent a number of years across the span of a career of preaching. Therefore,
two assessments measures are the total number of sermon texts added to the
Repository each year and the percentage of clergy members for whom certain numbers
of sermon texts are stored.
For the first measure the project sets as a goal 5,000 total sermon texts in the CSIR
Sermon Repository after the first year. This goal will serve as the baseline measure for
each succeeding year plus an additional 1,000 sermons so that the goal for the second
Kent State University Social Epistemology and the Sermon: Page 8 of 10
year of the project will be an additional 6,000 sermon texts in the Repository and the
goal for the third year will be an additional 7,000 sermon texts. By the end of the funding
cycle the CSIR Sermon Repository should store at least 18,000 sermon texts.
For the second measure the project sets as a goal to have at least 20 sermon texts
for each clergy member participant. The goal can be reached by the addition of either
new or old sermon texts by the same clergy member. In order to build the Repository as
quickly as possible, clergy member participants will be asked for permission to retrieve
sermon texts they have authored and which are already posted to the World Wide Web
for inclusion in the CSIR Sermon Repository. The goal for the end of the first year of the
project is to have at least 20 sermon texts for at 30% of the clergy member participants.
The goals for the second year will be 40% and for the third year 50%
Number of registered researchers accessing and utilizing the data
The goal of the CSIR Sermon Repository project is to expand the breadth and depth
of the research scope of the current researcher within the LIS field. An equally important
goal is to do the same for as many other researchers in any number of academic fields
interested in the many different facets of information and religion. Therefore, a measure
of success is the number of additional researchers who register for a free account with
CSIR in order to access the Sermon Repository. The goals for the total number of
researcher accounts registered with CSIR are as follows:
• After the first year – 15 researcher accounts total
• After the second year – 30 researcher accounts total
• After the third year – 45 researcher accounts total
Number of SEatS conference attendees and presenters
The number of researchers, students, and religious leaders registering to attend
and/or present at the “Social Epistemology and the Sermon” conferences will be a major
indicator of the success of the CSIR Sermon Repository project in the generation of
interest in the research area. The plan is to hold the conferences in the summer when
the researcher is not teaching and therefore able to devote more time to coordinating the
conference. However, this might have a negative impact on attendance if the dates
conflict with vacation plans or summer school schedules. Therefore, the following
assessment measures are modest, but hopefully pessimistic:
• SEatS conference 2012 – 50 registered attendees and 20 presenters
• SEatS conference 2013 – 75 registered attendees and 30 presenters
Conference presentations
The researcher will submit proposals for papers and presentations to an
interdisciplinary assortment of academic conferences. The acceptance of at least three
proposals during the three years of the project will be considered a successful
achievement. Academic conferences to be considered include, but are not limited to:
• The annual meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion/Religious
Research Association
• The annual meeting of the American Theological Library Association
• The annual meeting of the American Society of Information Science and
Journal publications
The researcher will prepare and submit for publication the various findings of the
project to peer reviewed and refereed academic journals. The publication of at least
three articles during the three years of the project will be considered a successful
Kent State University Social Epistemology and the Sermon: Page 9 of 10
achievement. Articles will be submitted to, but not limited to, the following academic
• The Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion
• Religious Research Review
• Journal of Religious & Theological Information
• Theological Librarianship
• Library and Information Science Research
• The Journal of the American Society of Information Science and Technology
Computer Programmer
A computer programmer with a skill set and working knowledge that includes
extensive use of the Drupal open-source content management system (CMS) will be
hired for the duration of the project. Drupal is a widely known and highly regarded CMS
within the LIS field, which will help in the identifying and verifying skilled and experienced
Drupal programmers for this position.
The position will be funded for a set number of hours per year for each of the three
years of the project. It is anticipated that the workload for the computer programmer will
be heavier at different points within the project timeframe, especially in the first year, and
lighter at others. Therefore the programmer will be used on an as-needed and declining
basis over the course of the project.
The computer programmer will be responsible for:
• Creating and maintaining all the pages and data forms of the CSIR web
site to create a welcoming and user-friendly resource
• Implementing any and all changes suggested by the results of usability
studies regarding the CSIR web site
• Creating and maintaining the SQL database for all records generated by
the project including participant records, sermon texts, surveys, SEatS
conference registration, and more
• Creating additional forms, data tables, reports, etc., as requested by the
project researcher
• Creating automated processes to simplify data collection, storage,
retrieval, and reporting
• Meeting with the project researcher on a regular basis to review the
performance of the CSIR web site and to receive instructions for
additional programming assignments
Graduate Research Assistant
A SLIS graduate student will be hired each year for this position. The half-time
position will consist of 20 hours per week. The work schedule for the graduate student
will be as follows:
• Searching the web to identify potential clergy member participants and preparing
a weekly email distribution list to invite clergy members to participate in the
Repository project (50%)
• Managing weekly communications with and providing support for registered
clergy participants regarding sermon text uploading to the Repository (25%)
• Monitoring CSIR Sermon Repository text uploads and conducting quality control
queries to test for proper data records management (15%)
• Generating monthly reports regarding the Repository in terms of participant
demographics, sermon text uploads, and more (10%)
Kent State University Social Epistemology and the Sermon: Page 10 of 10
The project will disseminate news and updates regarding the CSIR Sermon
Repository through publications and presentations in academic newsletters, journals,
and conferences. The project will acknowledge IMLS funding support at all presentations
made at academic conferences and in all manuscripts submitted for publication.
Information about and results from the project is to be disseminated in a variety of print
and digital formats to allow for a broad audience and for frequent distribution.
Press releases will be forwarded to the following resources:
• School of Library and Information Science quarterly newsletter
• Kent State University publications
• Context of Religious Research – quarterly newsletter of the Religious
Research Association.
• SSSR News (Society for the Scientific Study of Religion) -
• ASR (Association of the Sociology of Religion) News and
Announcements -
• ATLA (American Theological Library Association) Press Room -
• JESSE – the email distribution list for scholars in the LIS field
The repository will be an ongoing project of the Center for the Study of Information
and Religion (CSIR), which will sustain and expand the Sermon Repository by:
• Provision of and regular upgrades to the necessary computer technology for
maintaining a quality web site and content management system
• Generating publicity through the dissemination of CSIR research findings
through news announcements, publications, and presentations
• Hosting the annual SEatS conference after grant funding has expired
• Publication of a journal for the dissemination of peer-reviewed scholarly work
that addresses the goals and mission of the CSIR
• Development of workshops and graduate level curriculum that addresses
issues of information and religion and also qualitative research methodology
The research project proposes the creation of an extensive digital repository to
facilitate research of sermons as a prevalent and influential communication medium in
society. The project involves recruiting a sizeable and diverse pool of clergy member
participants to submit sermons to the repository on a regular basis and also to
participate in regular surveys regarding their information behavior. The goal of the
project is to generate interest and research across the academic community in the role
of sermons in the construction of social knowledge. The project proposes an annual
conference on the research area in order to foster interdisciplinary collaboration and to
stimulate ongoing research. The project will be sustained in the long term through the
support of the Center for the Study of Information and Religion. Numerous assessment
measures will hold the project to a high level of accountability and thus justifies the
strong consideration of the awarding of a Laura Bush 21st Century Library Programs
grant for Early Careers Development.
Included in supporting documentation.