Slow Scholarship Manifesto

The list is, perhaps, the most archaic and pervasive of genres
(Jonathan Z. Smith, Imagining Religion [1982], p. 44)


A Modest Proposal for Preventing Poor Scholars from Being a Burden to Their Relatives or Countries, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Academy:

  1. Be slow, go to your favourite library on foot.
  2. Exercise memory ― Learn by heart.
  3. Hold no learning in contempt, for all learning is good (aka “What you do not know, maybe Ofellus knows”).
  4. Keep record of all your readings.
  5. After finishing a book, always prepare a short abstract of it.
  6. Always read the entire chapter of a book in which a reference you are looking for occurs, then read at least the first and last chapters.
  7. Always skim the entire volume of a scholarly journal in which you are seeking an article, then read the tables of contents for the entire run of the journal.
  8. After locating a particular volume on the shelves, always skim five volumes to the left and to the right of it.
  9. Always trace citations in a footnote back to their original sources.
  10. Do not discuss an author unless you have read the total corpus of their work as available to you.
  11. Aspire to thick descriptions and perspicuous representations.
  12. Think about your scholarship in terms of poetics instead of productivity.
  13. Nulla dies sine linea, but there may well be weeks.
  14. Strive to publish only what you yourself would love to read, and think about the time you will take away from better readings.
  15. It is not upon you to finish the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.

NOTE. Rule 1 is based on Werner Herzog’s memorable dictum, “Tourism is sin, and travel on foot virtue” (from Minnesota Declaration: Truth and Fact in Documentary Cinema, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis – April 30, 1999). Rule 3 combines Hugh of Saint Victor, Didascalicon III, 13 (Engl. translation by J. Taylor, in The Didascalicon of Hugh of St. Victor: A Medieval Guide to the Arts [New York: Columbia University Press, 1961], 95), with Horace’s Satires II, 2, 2. Rules 6–10 are taken from Jonathan Z. Smith, “When the Chips Are Down,” in Relating Religion: Essays in the Study of Religion (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2007), 1–60 at 37, n. 27. Rule 11 alludes, respectively, to Clifford Geertz, “Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture,” in The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays (New York: Basic Books, 1973), 3–30; and Ludwig Wittgenstein, Remarks on Frazer’s Golden Bough, ed. R. Rhees (Doncaster: Brynmill Press, 1979), 8e–9c. Rule 13 derives from Walter Benjamin, “Post No Bills: The Writer’s Technique in Thirteen Rules” (“Ankleben verboten! 13 Thesen über die Technik des Schriftstellers,” in Einbahnstrasse, 1928), Engl. transl. by E. Jephcott, in Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writings (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978), 84–86 at 85. Rule 15 is a well-known sentence attributed to Rabbi Tarfon (m. ʾAbot 2, 16). Last updated: Nov. 11, 2020.