The massive online encyclopedia grows at an average rate of 800 articles per day, but in 2016, at least 25 of those began here in New College, Edinburgh. A new but growing field, World Christianity thrives upon the continuous challenge of disseminating scholarship from small to growing institutions from Beijing to Botswana. Through a series of Wikipedia projects conducted during Fall 2016, the Centre for the Study of World Christianity and the School of Divinity in the University of Edinburgh have experimented with a new platform for disseminating information quickly in a rapidly changing field.
The Autumn 2016 semester marked the first foray into Wikipedia. As masters and PhD students moving into a new chapter of scholarship in the field of World Christianity, we were asked to move our work online. Each student selected a topic central to the field and created not only an in-class presentation, but also an online article that could be published on the Wikipedia platform. Most of us viewed the assignment with trepidation. For many, this would be the first time our work was published online for worldwide viewing. Even for those of us with previous online publishing experience, it was the first time our work would be submitted to a platform with live, real-time editing capabilities from anyone with a web connection.
Within the course of the semester, however, faculty, PhD candidates, and masters students improved the realm of Wikipedia knowledge with posts on Multiple Religious Belonging, Comparative Theology, and Medical Missions. They also developed new posts for key theologies relevant to the field of World Christianity, including Asian Feminist Theology, Reconciliation Theology, and the political theologies of the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Through connections with the Wikimedian-in-resident at the University of Edinburgh Ewan McAndrew, students monitored the progress of their posts throughout the semester. Many posts have already benefited from updates by other Wikipedia editors, improved by links to existing pages within Wikipedia, and received thousands of views from internet users around the world. The shareable links became a way to share our scholarship with strangers and friends alike, and it provided a simple means to explain our work to interested friends in a recognizable platform.
The skills gained and connections forged from this assignment did not end at the classroom door. Dr Alexander Chow and Dr Naomi Appleton invited long-time Wikipedia pundits into New College on 2 November 2016, for a Wikipedia edit-a-thon that welcomed students and faculty from across the university. After galvanizing instruction from Dr Lesley Orr and Wikipedian Roger Bamkin, and with books and journals in hand or at keyboard-tip, students returned to the web for one of Wikipedia’s Women in Red events. Students zeroed in on some significant women in religion whose contributions had been missed by the online encyclopedia. These included Annie H. Small and M. Hasna Maznavi and even New College’s own female pioneers Ruth Page and Elizabeth G. K. Hewat.
In a single afternoon, our studies moved from the New College archives to the web, and the lives and work of some of the brightest women in religion – including some who had once studied and taught in our own classrooms – had been shared to anyone with a question and access to Google.