Australian College of Theology (ACT)

How can using Google Scholar to assess citations of theology publications provide new perspectives on research assessment?

Presentation Abstract

There are significant challenges to appropriately assessing research excellence in theology (defined broadly) using quantitative measures such as citations. Past Excellence in Research Australia (ERA) exercises have recognised these challenges by assessing religious studies (incorporating theology) as a “peer review” discipline rather than a “citation” discipline. Nonetheless, there is growing pressure for the use of quantitative measures, such as proposed changes to ERA, and a new requirement that current and prospective Australian universities be assessed on “the volume of citations, and the quality of the publications in which the research output appeared”.

There are difficulties with some approaches to tracking citations for religious studies and theology, particularly given the heavy reliance on books and book chapters in these fields. Two significant problems are: the limited coverage of theology journals by citation systems used for other disciplines, including Scopus/SCImago and Clarivate/Web of Science; and the limited coverage of books and book chapters utilised in these citation systems. By contrast, recent bibliometrics research has indicated Google Scholar has better coverage of books and book chapters (and their citation volume) than other citation systems for disciplines similar to religious studies. 

This paper reports data extracted from Google Scholar in November 2022 covering 27,500 citations from 1,500 publications across 80 academics at ACT, the University of Divinity and Avondale University. It identifies strengths and weaknesses in the use Google Scholar citations compared to other current approaches. It then identifies how citation data can contribute in positive and negative ways to theological education, especially in a context of societal polarisation and narrow perspectives on the purpose of higher education. It concludes with a proposal for using Social Network Analysis and sociograms for analysing broad patterns in theological research and identifying clusters of researchers and theological traditions. 


Primary Research & Research Training (D.4)

Provider Category – Australian University; and the Research Determination (Part B 1.3)