What We Talk About When We Talk About Research in Jewish Education: How References Produce a Field


Source: Journal of Jewish Education, 85:3, 240-267


Citations are one of the ways that scholars engage one another in dialogue, debate, and discussion. As such, they represent a powerful way in which practitioners constitute themselves and others within a scholarly field. This article studies the citational practices of articles published in the Journal of Jewish Education over a 10-year period in order to discover how scholars have constituted the field of research in Jewish Education.

Using social network analysis and qualitative examination, this article presents an unprecedented portrait of the field of knowledge including its strengths and new directions for scholarly investigation and analysis of how the field of research in Jewish education has been formed, and how citational references have shaped how scholars and practitioners understand what we know about Jewish education.


By focusing on the Journal of Jewish Education, we are able to observe, in a limited but illustrative frame, the ways in which scholars position their own work in relation to scholarship that has preceded them. By tracing and mapping references, we can identify a network of intellectual connections that are not always apparent in the narratives of the articles themselves. Moreover, we believe that by mapping this network, we can identify with great fidelity, a fieldin-formation as represented in the pages of a single journal over a pivotal decade in the longer history of research in Jewish education.

The Journal of Jewish Education

How do journals produce a field? Although there are a handful of publications dedicated to research in Jewish education, a steady stream of articles that appear in more general journals, and a robust literature in scholarly monographs and in the so-called “grey literature” of program evaluations and commissioned studies, we chose to focus our study on the Journal of Jewish Education during the decade following its absorption by the Network for Research in Jewish Education (NRJE) https://nrje.org/ in 2002. We focus on the Journal for two main reasons: first, it is the longest-running, most stable and most widely-available platform for scholarship on Jewish education; second, it is the only research focused, peer-reviewed journal dedicated to this field.

Following recent advances in the sociology of knowledge that focus on the role of social networks in scholarly production, we take as our primary data set all of the citations in articles published in the Journal of Jewish Education during the first decade under the ownership of the NRJE. By identifying which sources were cited most often, and by mapping relationships between references that were cited together, we reveal the hidden architecture of the field of research in Jewish education during this formative decade in precisely the venue whose vision was to become the “journal of record” for this field.

We complied a database of every article published in the Journal, during the ten-year period and extracted every citation—book, report, journal article, dissertation, news article—that those articles used in the service of their arguments. This amounted to approximately 5,500 unique references across 242 articles. We then documented and analyzed which articles cited which sources, how often sources were cited together, and which sources were cited most often. We cleaned the data (deleting duplicate citations) and created data visualizations to help us analyze the scholarly network as viewed through relationships between references, relying on the robust literature on citations and citational practice.


This analysis of the reference network of the Journal of Jewish Education has revealed some of the hidden dynamics of how researchers in the field have produced the field itself during a critical decade. While not an analysis of the entire breadth of research in Jewish education, this reference network has revealed some important patterns in the production of scholarly knowledge and thus, in the field, itself. By mining citations for their connections to one another, we discovered that scholarship on Jewish education has revolved around an implicit definition of Jewish education as primarily focused on the relationship between teaching and text, as influenced by the vision of Seymour Fox. The sources that authors have cited and the reference network those citations have built indicate a strong field of research that focuses on that topic. The result is a robust network of citational relationships that revolved around teaching and text, and a much weaker set of relationships that might have demonstrated other ways of apprehending Jewish education when and where it happens.

Fortunately, networks are dynamic, and the field of research that this reference network partially represents is broader in scope and longer in duration than we were able to capture in this article. Future research, whether on citational networks in Jewish education, on some of the emerging fields identified above, or on other, as-yet-unnamed concerns, will enrich and deepen our understanding of research in Jewish education and, in the process, alter our conceptions of what Jewish education is. That is, in a sense, the point of all research: to produce a clearer and deeper understanding of the phenomenon (whatever it is) in question. Taken together, different research projects constitute a field and that field captures both the diversity and convergence of scholarly interest. Thus, this analysis of the reference network of scholarship in the Journal of Jewish Education is part of a longer conversation in which we are forever clarifying what we talk about when we talk about research in Jewish education.

Updated: Sep. 25, 2019


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