Twelve European Research Institutes Share Their Resources

KU Leuven and Brepols are designing an integrated research database for religious studies.

In the network ReIReS (Research Infrastructure on Religious Studies) twelve European research institutes are joining forces. With the support of the European Union, they are building an international research infrastructure for historical religious studies. ReIReS provides easily accessible databases, online archives, trainings and network events. The goal is to disseminate knowledge about the different religious movements that Europe has known, and thus to contribute to a tolerant society.

Religious scholars face many challenges: they investigate events that took place in different periods, contexts and cultures. They use a variety of sources and different methods to interpret those sources. They have to learn from sociology, economics, theology, history, law and political science, in equal measure, making religious sciences one of the most interdisciplinary fields of research within the Humanities.

In order to streamline the work of religious scientists, the ReIReS network was established in 2018. Within this network, KU Leuven – LIBIS and the academic publishing house Brepols are taking on one of the core tasks: to design an integrated research database in which the most important research sources for religious studies can be searched and consulted together.

The aim of the research database is to integrate as many sources as possible and to make them available digitally to researchers. First, material from the ReIReS partners will be used. After all, they each have their own collection of manuscripts, old prints and other documents from the Christian, Jewish, and Islamic traditions. Some of the works have been digitised and can be consulted online, while others cannot. Consultation of the collections is often only possible on location. For the first time, all digitised sources will be available to researchers by means of a single search query with this new database.

“ReIReS constitutes enormous progress for access to historical resources for religious studies. Whereas researchers used to have to search different databases on the web, they will soon be able to consult collections from different libraries, archives, heritage and research institutions with a single search request. Modern technologies provide linked data that can be easily reused by researchers.” Roxanne Wyns, LIBIS – KU Leuven.

The first steps to realise this plan have already been taken: software analysts from KU Leuven – LIBIS and Brepols have mapped out the needs of the partners regarding access to religious research sources. On the basis of these data, LIBIS, Leuven’s support centre for digital collection access, has drawn up a plan for the integration of the various databases that are variously public, private, commercial and non-profit: a technical feat. The databases are all structured in a different way, depending on the nature of the collection and the needs of the users.

“The latest tools and technologies are used for the development of the ReIReS database. We use Graph databases and to create a network of research resources, to increase the online visibility of key religious resources and research collections through search engines such as Google and to optimize the reusability of the data. The experience that Brepols and KU Leuven gained together in the development of the Index Religiosus is an asset in this respect. This international online bibliography for theology, church history and religious studies will also be integrated into the research database.” Roxanne Wyns, LIBIS – KU Leuven.

In 2021 religious scientists within and outside Europe will be able to consult the platform online. Professor Mathijs Lamberigts, KU Leuven member of the ReIReS group, is delighted to report: “This project gives researchers worldwide the opportunity to consult the most important data of 12 renowned institutions online. At the same time, important cultural treasures are receiving more attention and are being made more accessible for research.”

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