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Section III: Panelsí Criteria and Working Methods

3.54 Theology, Divinity and Religious Studies, UoA 63

UoA Descriptor

3.54.1 The UOA includes the study of the world's religions, specific or comparative, including their scriptures, thought, history, ethical teaching, social and cultural impact, practices and related areas. It embraces theological, textual, philosophical, sociological, anthropological and applied approaches. It is not intended to exclude any of the areas normally studied under the rubric of theology, divinity, religious studies or biblical studies.

UoA Boundaries

3.54.2 The Panel is aware that it is not easy to define the exact boundaries of the unit of assessment, but takes an inclusive view of the range of the unit of assessment. It will be glad to receive submissions that include individuals for whom the Theology, Divinity and Religious Studies Panel is not the only appropriate panel or who research in one or more of the areas specified in the descriptor but in a department whose focus might be wider than Theology, Divinity and Religious Studies, or might be in a related area. Other panels and external specialists will be consulted as necessary. The Panel's sole concern is with research excellence, not with the boundaries of research.


3.54.3 The Panel will not make use of sub-panels.

Interdisciplinary Research

3.54.4 The Panel welcomes the submission of interdisciplinary research and is sympathetic to its needs and processes as a number of its members have substantial experience in this area. Where the Panel considers its expertise to be insufficient to judge interdisciplinary work adequately it will take advice from other panels on the assessment of such research but will retain final and collective responsibility for deciding its quality. The Panel does not feel it appropriate at this stage to prepare a definitive list of panels it might wish to consult as this will not become apparent until submissions have been made. However, it would envisage the possibility of consulting with a number of panels in the Social Sciences, Humanities and Area Studies areas, including Education.

Joint Submissions

3.54.5 Where two or more institutions submit a joint submission to the Panel, they are asked to provide supporting information on the nature of the link between them. Joint submissions will normally be treated as a single submission unless the nature of the link suggests this is inappropriate.

Treatment of Evidence

3.54.6 The quality of submissions will be judged principally on the basis of cited works (RA2). Other factors to be taken into account will include:

  1. Evidence of the vitality of the department's research culture and its continuing development;
  2. Postgraduate research students, research studentships and completions;
  3. Other evidence provided on the return in relation to the research outputs and culture of the department.

3.54.7 Please note that this list is not hierarchical.

Research Output (RA2)

3.54.8 The Panel expects to receive and consider the following types of research output: papers, books and electronic material (eg CD-ROMS, videos, internet sites etc).

3.54.9 The Panel collectively will examine in detail virtually all of the works cited for all submissions. Where cited works fall outside the expertise of the Panel members other experts will be employed as specialist advisers or advice will be sought from other panels.

3.54.10 All cited works will be judged on academic merit regardless of the medium or location of publication. The Panel will look for evidence of the following in judging the quality of the work cited: originality, contribution to the advancement of knowledge and understanding, scope or range of the work and scholarly rigour.

3.54.11 Types of output will not be ranked against each other and outputs not already subject to a review or referring process will not automatically be regarded as of lesser quality.

3.54.12 Any output which can be shown to incorporate research as defined for the purposes of the exercise may be submitted. In those cases where the research component of the work is not immediately apparent, a brief statement may be included in the RA2 'Other relevant details' field, to explain this.

3.54.13 Editorial Activity: The Panel is of the view that editorship (defined as bringing to publication work done by others as opposed to textual scholarship) may in some cases embody a research element within the RAE definition, for example through acting as a catalyst for original research. Please make clear in what way this is the case by providing a statement in the 'Other relevant details' field on RA2. In addition, the holding of a particular editorship may be cited as evidence of peer esteem and listed in RA6.

3.54.14 Teaching Material Embodying Research Outcomes: Indicate how any teaching materials submitted embodies research by providing a statement in the 'Other relevant details' field on RA2. The preparation of teaching material in itself will not be accepted as a research activity for the purposes of the RAE.

3.54.15 Research into the Teaching Process: Indicate how any such material submitted embodies research by providing a statement in the 'Other relevant details' field on RA2.

Research Students and Research Studentships (RA3)

3.54.16 Data on research students, studentships and completions will be considered in the context of their contribution to the research culture of the department.

3.54.17 The success of a department in attracting research studentships will be considered in the light of its research culture.

External Research Income (RA4)

3.54.18 The Panel regards external research income as a sign of external recognition of the research culture of a department, whilst noting that not all forms of research in this area require such income. The Panel will be concerned primarily with the quality of research output.

Textual Commentary

3.54.19 The Panel asks that the following points where relevant be addressed in the order given in the textual parts of submissions RA5 and RA6. No significance should be attached to the order in which information is requested. Departments are encouraged to include any other points relevant to their submission.


Research Structure and Environment

3.54.20 Explain the mechanisms and practices for promoting research and sustaining and developing an active and vital research culture.

3.54.21 The Panel recognises that many scholars work in isolation in this area. Where there are any research groups, describe and provide a rationale for them, and indicate who belongs to them (referring to RA1), their prime activities, how they operate and their main achievements. Where collaboration with other units (whether within or outside the institution) is taking place, be as specific as possible about the nature and scope of these.

3.54.22 List other UoAs to which related work has been submitted and detail any difficulties of fit between departmental structure and the UoA framework.

3.54.23 Describe the nature and quality of the research infrastructure, including facilities for research students.

3.54.24 Describe any arrangements which are in place for supporting interdisciplinary or collaborative research, where appropriate.

3.54.25 Provide information where appropriate on relationships with outside bodies that are research users.

Staffing Policy

3.54.26 Describe the arrangements for the development and support of the research work of staff.

3.54.27 Describe any arrangements which are in place for developing the research of younger and/or new researchers and for integrating them into a wider, supportive research culture.

3.54.28 Where a submission involves a small number of researchers demonstrate as far as possible how the research culture within which staff work supports their research activities and the extent to which the continued existence of the department is guaranteed.

3.54.29 Where appropriate explain the role and contribution of staff who have been recruited in the twelve months prior to the census date or who are expected to leave or retire in the succeeding six months.

3.54.30 Where appropriate, comment on how the departure of staff in categories A*, B and D has affected the strength, coherence and research culture of the department at the census date.

Additional Observations

3.54.31 Joint Submissions: explain the nature of the links between the institutions involved in this submission which make it appropriate for a joint submission to be made.

3.54.32 Completions. Please comment on any trends in research postgraduate registration and completion data which you feel are significant indicators of the research culture of the department.

Research Strategy and Self-Assessment

3.54.33 Provide a critical commentary on the extent to which research plans put forward in the 1996 RAE have been fulfilled and a realistic statement of the main objectives and activities in research over the next five years, showing how this will develop from the current position. The Panel's attention should be drawn to ongoing research work that is not producing immediate public outcomes.


Evidence of Esteem

3.54.34 List indicators of peer esteem which relate to the staff submitted. The Panel does not wish to be prescriptive about which indicators should be included, but will regard indicators cited as contributing to the overall picture of the research culture of the department.

Individual Staff Circumstances

3.54.35 Note any individual staff circumstances which have significantly affected their contribution to the submission (e.g. periods of sick leave, career breaks, engagement on long term contracts). In particular, such explanation is requested where little or no recent research is being submitted for an individual.

3.54.36 Provide details of any cases where a member of staff's productivity has been particularly high in terms of quantity of items over the assessment period, placing this in the context of the individual's normal pattern of work and reflecting on how this has contributed to the department's research culture.

3.54.37 Explain the ways in which individuals cited in Category C contribute to the research of the department and how they are involved in its research culture.

Contributions by Non Research-active Staff

3.54.38 Please indicate where appropriate how staff not selected as research active contribute or have contributed during the assessment period to the research environment and culture of the period department.

Working Methods

3.54.39 The Panel will not be using a quantitative approach in assessing the evidence presented.

3.54.40 The Panel will ensure the consistent and equitable treatment of submissions by the following means:

  1. All panel members will read each institution's complete submission.
  2. Virtually all works cited will be examined in detail.
  3. A process of moderation (including the cross-checking of a randomly selected number of works) will be used to ensure that the assessment of research output is consistent.
  4. Non-UK based experts will be consulted in relation to those submissions to which the Panel is minded to give the highest gradings.
  5. The final grading of each submission will be agreed by the whole Panel

3.54.41 The Panel will divide the work of assessment between its members as follows:

  1. Submissions will be read as described above.
  2. The examination of specific works cited will be divided amongst members as appropriate (i.e. according to their specialism).

3.54.42 The Panel will consider collectively departmental submissions and form a judgement of each in the light of a detailed examination of the works cited. The Panel will reach decisions by consensus wherever possible, and will only take a vote where a consensus cannot be achieved. The Panel takes the view that it is collectively responsible for all decisions made.

3.54.43 The Panel defines its understanding of the qualities of international excellence as follows:

  1. research and scholarship of international excellence is defined as that which represents an outstanding new contribution to the field of knowledge and exhibits most or all of the following qualities: originality in respect of sources/insights/interpretations; accuracy and reliability; clarity, depth and range of scholarship; persuasiveness, and exemplary presentation in a form appropriate to the medium. Research of this quality can be recommended either as essential reading and representative of the highest standards achievable within the discipline or as substantial, compelling, original and reliable contributions to the field, representative of the best work that can normally be expected of capable and committed scholars.
  2. A research culture which is characterised by most of the following: significant research activity, international leadership and networking, international peer esteem, a strong research ethos and infrastructure, a significant postgraduate community and appropriate level of research income.

3.54.44 The Panel will expect the following qualities to be exhibited in those activities considered to be of national excellence:

a) Research output:

Work which represents a very substantial contribution to the field of knowledge in respect of: originality of sources, insights or interpretations, accuracy and reliability, clarity of argument and expression, depth and range of scholarship and presentation in a form appropriate to the medium. Research of this form can be strongly recommended within the discipline.

b) A research culture which is characterised by some of the following: significant research activity, significant networking within the research field, substantial peer esteem, a sound research ethos and infrastructure, a significant postgraduate community and appropriate levels of research income.

3.54.45 The Panel will ask its non-UK based experts for advice on those submissions it is minded to award the grades of 5 or 5*. These experts will be provided with the Panel's Criteria and Working Method as well as an indication of the proposed rating. It is expected that such advice will have a moderating influence rather than bear directly on the Panel's decisions.

Last updated 17 April 2000

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