Date(s) - 05/20/2020
4:00 pm - 5:00 pm

*** Due to precautions being taken to curb the spread of COVID-19, this event will be held over Zoom on Wednesday, May 20th from 4:00-5:00 PM. Please register HERE and you will be sent a link to join in advance of the event. ***


As part of the Data Then and Now seminar series, Andrew Ventimiglia from Illinois State University will be presenting a lecture on the topic of text mining for religious exigesis & datafication of religion, titled “Open Source Religion: A Spiritual Genealogy of Text Mining and the Production and Ownership of Religious Data (1955-2010).” Please join us on May 20th, 2020 from 4:00-5:00 PM in the Seminar Room of the WRF Data Science Studio.



Digital text mining – a foundational tool for fields ranging from social media analysis to informatics to data science – began with the technological application of computers to one of the oldest extant practices of media analysis: religious exegesis. In 1949, Jesuit priest Roberto Busa used IBM computers to create a comprehensive, searchable index of the nearly 11 million words of St. Thomas Aquinas. Considered one of the first projects of digital textual archiving and analysis, Busa’s pioneering approach continued with Rev. John Ellison and his electronic Bible concordance, setting the framework for radically new approaches to researching and analyzing both the word and the Word. This oft-neglected genealogy indicates that studies of religion and religious texts have played a formative role in the development of digital analytics, and historical strategies of religious exegesis practiced on old media helped fuel the creation of new media tools designed to organize, process, and evaluate a wide range of digital information. This article traces a spiritual genealogy of digital text mining. This narrative is significant not only because it positions traditional, historically-grounded forms of religious inquiry at the origin point for contemporary forms of data analysis, but also because it demonstrates that scholarly attention to digital tools for religious practice – pastoral research programs, sermon databases, Bible software – can provide broader insights about the development, the logics, and even the ethics of data mining in the contemporary era. I specifically analyze the history and development of contemporary religious software and the ‘datafication’ of religion – with a focus on sermon-writing tools and sermon databases – in order to highlight the ways that these new media technologies were shaped by concomitant, long-standing debates about the ethics of ownership in religious media. I then argue that these debates provide a useful resource for thinking about data ethics broadly conceived.


Andrew Ventimiglia is an Assistant Professor of Mass Media in the School of Communication at Illinois State University. Dr. Ventimiglia’s research focuses on the history and cultural effects of intellectual property law in the United States, and his first book, Copyrighting God: Ownership of the Sacred in American Religion was published by Cambridge University Press in 2019. Dr. Ventimiglia has a PhD in Cultural Studies from University of California, Davis where he also worked as graduate fellow in the Science and Technology Studies program and Center for Science and Innovation Studies, and he has also worked as a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia.


The Data Then and Now seminar series explores the social and organizational history of data and data practices in order to better understand the current data-intensive moment through its antecedents and continuities. It features invited speakers from across the country and around the world. Visit the Data Then and Now webpage for more information.