This week, the Signpost delved into the vast and complex areas of beliefs, cultural systems, and world views that make up religion. WikiProject Religion has been around since 2005 and has a complex scope, in that it only takes articles that deal with religion in a non-sectarian sense (like God or theology), along with any articles that do not have a dedicated daughter project. There are 56 items of featured material under the project's scope, along with two A-class and 112 good articles. We interviewed Devin Murphy, John Carter, Sowlos, and Adjwilley.
What motivated you to join WikiProject Religion? Do you also participate in any specific religion's WikiProject?
Devin Murphy: My love of learning, and my desire to bring my knowledge and understanding of the part of the religious would that I have had the pleasure of getting to know (the Unitarian Universalist world) to others.
John Carter: I joined the Religion project because as a member, even if not the most active member, of basically all the other religion-based WikiProjects, it became clear to me that there was still a lot of encyclopedic content which we did not (and still do not) have here, and that, probably to noone's surprise, there also wasn't a group which clearly and effectively existed to deal with such content.
Sowlos: As with Wikipedia in general, I saw a large amount of well written informative content, but it was (and is) incomplete. I joined the WikiProject to work with other editors interested in improving Wikipedia's religion articles. Yes, but that varies and I focus on one narrow subfield at a time.
Adjwilley: It seemed like a good place to collaborate. I'm also a member of the LDS WikiProject, and probably the Christianity Wikiproject (I think..)
Have you contributed to any of the project's Featured or Good Articles? What challenges do editors face when bringing an article about religion to the FAC or GAN process?
Sowlos: Yes, but unfortunately not many. Differing perspectives can always be an issue with collaboratively written articles. This is especially true with religious topics. Although, I'd say the most significant impediment is a lack of regular editors contributing rather than an over-abundance. The wisdom of numbers tend to check strong POVs. This is not to say the WikiProject doesn't benefit from many good contributors, but there are currently 130 names on the member roles, ~6000 religion-tagged articles, and over 10000 pages in WP Religion's scope. Many articles simply never come close to GAN and FAC level, let alone grapple with the process.
Adjwilley: Yes, I got Mormons to GA, and helped get Joseph Smith to GA. I also did the GA review for Bahá'u'lláh (very minor role). I'd say one of the harder parts was finding the fine line of NPOV that would satisfy editors/readers who view the article's subject as either fiction/fraud or absolute truth. I remember a GA review failing because the article didn't fit the reviewer's particular point of view (it wasn't polemic enough). That said, my personal experience with the GA review process has been good, probably because I was lucky enough to get some really top-notch reviewers when I nominated.
When we conducted a series of interviews with the WikiProjects covering Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, we saw that all of these projects dealt to some extent with conflicts over the point of view expressed in articles. Do these conflicts ever bubble up to WikiProject Religion? What are the best ways to calm editors and resolve contentious issues?
John Carter: Oh, yeah. I have a feeling that one of the reasons the Religion project was created was to help deal with such matters, actually. There are a lot of topics in the broad field of religion, like Baptism, for instance, which, depending on the sources you consult, are either terms used more or less uniquely by one religious group, like maybe Christianity in this case, or which are, maybe incorrectly, maybe not, also used at least occasionally by other groups for somewhat similar phenomena. Such difficult to resolve questions are probably in at least some cases among the reasons such articles don't get as much active attention and improvement as they probably deserve.
Sowlos: Of course they do. Unlike other areas where we can depend extensively on empirical evidence and other sorts of facts, religion is the very embodiment of POV. When an individual sees an article contradicting their perspective on a subject close to their heart, it can be distressing. However, most disputes come from misunderstandings which can be resolved with intelligent and analytical discussion. Often such disputes reveal issues to all sides that each weren't adequately considering and the subject articles tend to improve as a result.
Adjwilley: Yes. There are often conflicts between believers and non-believers, for lack of better terms, and occasionally these make it up to WikiProject Religion, though most (I think) are resolved on a lower level. I've found that a good way of getting around conflicts is to ignore the ad-hominems that are often thrown around ("you're just saying that because you're a ..."), find the best neutral source you can, and then try to make the article reflect the source's point of view. In matters of religion and belief, this can involve side-stepping the unanswerable questions of who's right and wrong, and just say what people believe. ("Muslims believe this, Christians say that, Atheists believe this.") Religious belief shouldn't be treated as fringe or fact, but somewhere in between.
How well are smaller religions covered by Wikipedia? If a religion does not have a dedicated WikiProject, where do discussions and collaborations typically take place?
John Carter: The answer to the first question is that many of the smaller religious groups which have editors who are passionately interested in them are covered fairly well. For some of the smaller religions which aren't as appealing to Westerners, or which might have, basically, disappeared over time, in a lot of cases, they aren't covered very well at all. This would include a lot of the Native American religious traditions, some of the Central Asian traditions, and many or maybe even most of the traditional religions which have over time faced diminishing numbers through colonization and other matters.
What relationship does WikiProject Religion have with WikiProject Mythology? Is there any overlap in the projects' scopes?
John Carter: There is an incredible amount of overlap between the two, as most myths are basically, in some way, religious in nature. One way to resolve any questions regarding which project(s) deal with which article(s) is to determine whether the reference sources, and other reliable sources, deal with a given topic as mythological, religious, or both. If either project can demonstrate that reference sources or other sources in its field clearly and substantially deal with the content, then there really isn't a lot of reason for another group to not welcome their involvement.
Sowlos: There is a great deal of overlap. If a mythology is a sacred narrative or collection traditional stories, then all religions include mythologies as integral constituents of what they are. However, many people feel uneasy referring to stories from their respective religions as "mythology" for fear that it will be interoperated as indicating a lack of factual integrity.
Does WikiProject Religion handle forms of irreligion? How well are these topics covered by Wikipedia?
Devin Murphy: It does handle things like atheism, as atheism is one side of the religious spectrum. The thing that get handed more are what individual editors have a grater passion for. So in the case of WikiProject Religion that tends to be the articles related to the Aramaic faith traditions.
John Carter: Atheism is counted by at least one reference book as a "secular faith," and has been recognized by some governments as a religion, so yeah, to the extent that "religion" sources deal with irreligion, we try to help out there a little as well. Regarding how well those topics are covered, unfortunately, I have to say I don't really necessarily know. I have managed to get together some lists, like Wikipedia:WikiProject Christianity/Encyclopedic articles, which indicate the articles, subarticles, and relative length of content for some of the religion projects, but there aren't really that I know of any similar reference sources on "irreligion," which can make it a bit harder to find out what all should be covered here.
Are there any interfaith collaborations that could take place on Wikipedia to improve articles relevant to multiple faiths?
John Carter: I very, very much wish there were, but right now I don't know of any. There is at least a few religious WikiProjects and work groups which deal with interreligious topics, like the Bible, religious texts, theology, and interfaith matters, but they haven't in a lot of cases gotten as much attention. If anyone thought they knew of a way to help develop such collaborations, please let me and the other members of the groups know and maybe we can work on some way to get such collaborations going.
What are the project's most urgent needs? How can a new contributor help today?
John Carter: Like I said above, many of the religion WikiProjects have already a page like those in Category: WikiProject lists of encyclopedic articles which list the topics covered in at least one reference book, and which probably, in many or most cases, can rather clearly qualify as notable enough for discussion here. At this point, probably our most urgent needs are for some of the basic content discussed in those lists, and in other topical overview/reference works, which we don't yet have to be developed or improved. Also, many of those lists include lists of subarticles, which, depending on the amount of material in them, might qualify either as separate articles here, or as significant sections of existing articles. One such example is Herod the Great, who, so far as I have seen, is included as a subtopic of an article on the Herodian dynasty in encyclopedic sources as often as not, and, in most if not all cases, is still the subject of the overwhelming amount of material in that article on the dynasty. But, particularly for newcomers, I think maybe getting your feet wet with some of the poorly developed or missing material discussed in such lists would be a good place to start.
Sowlos: I would say WP Religion's most urgent needs are the same as most other WikiProjects. Increased contribution and inter-collaboration. Most articles can be brought to a B or GA level of quality with a few days of solid work. New contributors can help by finding neglected articles, improving them with material from reliable academic sources & newspapers of record (as applicable), and familiarizing themselves with Wikipedia's house style and standards.
Adjwilley: I'd say more contributors who are willing to dig in and do the hard research necessary to bring stuff to GA quality.
Stay tuned for next week's article, which will deal with an entirely different-language Wikimedia project. Until then, find your favorite candidate in the archive.