Perspectives on the position

by current Zygon Editor, Willem B. Drees, September, 2017

I have found the editorship of Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science a rewarding position. It has given me the opportunity to see much work in the field and be in touch with interesting colleagues. It does require regular and recurrent attention. Of course, a new editor may do things differently. The following is nothing more than a description of the job offered by the outgoing editor.

The editorial process, from submission to publication

The editor’s ‘day to day’ role is to oversee the process from submission to publication. There are unsolicited submissions and thematic sets, often invited. From mid-2016 until mid-2017, we received almost 200 submissions (solicited ones included).

The editorial assistant checks whether the submission is prepared for anonymous review, and passes it through a plagiarism detection program (iThenticate). It then comes to the editor for an initial evaluation. The article may be rejected without review (42%); it may go to reviewers (36%), or it may be accepted (22%, mostly invited papers). Whether rejected or accepted, the editor writes an email to the author, using a template from the system (Wiley’s Manuscript Central).

The editor selects and invites reviewers because of their expertise on the topic of a paper. Some have reviewed more often; others might be new. The system keeps track of responses of reviewers, sends out reminders, and provides a template for the review. If a reviewer does not accept the invitation, the editor will have to identify and invite someone else. Finding reviewers is not always easy. In some cases, we needed up to seven invitations. Occasionally, the editor steps in and reviews the paper in some detail.

Once reviews are in, the manuscript returns to the desk of the editor for decision. If the reviewers are ambivalent or disagree, the decision may be difficult. Over 40 % of the manuscripts reviewed are rejected. Most of the others receive an invitation to revise, and of these, most will be accepted after one or occasionally two rounds of revisions.

Creating an issue of the journal. For each issue the editor decides on the Table of Contents (which papers, which order) and writes an editorial. Most of the work in this stage is done by the assistant editor, who goes carefully through each individual article, and if needed approaches the author on references, figures and other details. The files then go to the typesetter (Wiley) four months before the scheduled publication date. There are two rounds of proofs. The editor and the assistant editor receive proofs. The editor scans those, and might make some observations on typo’s, formulations, the alphabetic order of key words, and so on. Most of the proof reading is done by the assistant editor. The issue goes online in the month before the cover date.

Post-publication, the editor posts a few tweets to promote the issue once online.

Of course, not everything always goes smoothly. Some authors or reviewers have difficulties with the online submission system. In most cases, our editorial assistant is able to help them. In addition, there may be other submission-related correspondence.

Governance, managing an academic journal

The editor manages the journal. This includes overseeing the staff in the office, contacts with the leadership of the LSTC and its financial office, and with our representatives at Wiley. One of the co-chairs of the JPB (and a former Zygon editor himself), Karl Peters, has been important in overseeing finances, as a conversation partner for the editor, and as the one who approves reimbursement of the editor’s expenses.

I have written reports, more or less annually, for the JPB, often drawing on the reports Wiley provides (early May). Occasionally we have had meetings in person in Chicago or at an IRAS conference. The JPB has entrusted the work very much to the editor.

I have attended the annual meetings of the American Academy of Religion (AAR) and have taken opportunities there to meet with representatives from Wiley and to speak with other publishers in order to learn more about developments in the field. Two trends I find notable: a move towards online rather than print editions and a shift from subscription to Open Access. These trends will require the attention of the next editor as well. In recent years, there has been a breakfast of journal editors at the AAR, which has been a good opportunity to exchange experiences with colleagues of other journals.

The journal as a contribution to the field and its agenda

As editor one also has the opportunity to contribute to the development of the field of “religion and science.” One way is by accepting and rejecting articles or thematic sections and by selecting books for book symposia. Publishing in Zygon is perceived as a major recognition –especially for younger scholars, including graduate students. One can also be active. I initiated a panel on climate change at an AAR (see Zygon Dec 2015), initiated a series on ‘religion and science around the world’ (2015). and was co-organizer of a workshop in Japan, resulting in a thematic issue (March 2016).

Historically, Zygon has been a voice for “yoking science and religion,” that is, for relating modern knowledge and the well-winnowed wisdom of traditions (see the Statement of Perspective and Profile & Facts sections). It is, however, also an academic platform for various points of view – traditional, reformist, spiritual, naturalist, and non-religious – as long as they engage in their topic in a scholarly way.