"Truth of any kind is food for the soul."

The Rev. Jesse Caswell, 1841

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Notes for the Bibliography of Christianity in Thailand

"An English-Language Bibliography of Materials Related to Christianity in Thailand" is in some ways the main attraction of this website.  I wish I remembered more about its inception, which was in about 2002 or 2003—although I may have had the beginnings of it sitting in my computer at home before that.  The original motivation for the bibliography was simply to make the many historical resources I was aware of available to others.    The history of Christianity in Thailand always was and forever will be a very small academic field, as such things go, and not a particularly honorable one.  But, it has its uses, and it needed and continues to need a guide to the resources from which it is discovered.  That is the single most important reason for its existence.  It also, however, functions as something of a map of the field.  It reveals, for example, that a cottage industry of evangelical researchers has grown up in the last twenty to thirty years, many of their theses and other workds dedicated to figuring out how to better communicate the Christian message in Thailand.  It also suggests how little interested secular academics remain in the field, with exceptions of course.

When I began the bibliography, I depended mostly on hardcopies of everything, whether it be the actual sources or bibliographies of research materials.  I remember investing a good deal of time visiting repositories in Thailand and in the U.S. collecting entries for the bibliography.  More recently, I have come to depend almost entirely on the Internet to discover new sources for the study of Christianity in Thailand.  I make use particularly of the amazing amount of data found at OCLC's online catalog, WorldCat, and also on Google Books, and what has happened is that one source often leads to another.  Sometimes there is a bit of detective work involved, and as the Web has expanded I spend an increased amount of time checking to see if entires are available online.  Since 2010, the aspect of the bibliography that has grown the most has been the links to online copies of entries.  The Web is all but destroying the concept of "rare books," at least so far as the study of Christianity in Thailand is concerned.

My goal is still completeness, which is obviously impossible, but which also keeps me searching for new entries.

One of the trickiest parts of maintaining the bibliography is deciding what should be included and what not.  At first, I restricted it to Protestant materials with a bias toward the Church of Christ in Thailand and the overseas missions that work with it.  I think that bias has largely been overcome, and in 2010 I decided to include what Catholic entries I could find.  I admit that Thai Catholicism remains seriously under represented here, in spite of my efforts to locate Catholic materials.  Today, I usually include any work that is about or contains important information about Christianity in Thailand.  I sometimes will not include a source if I am not sure that my bibliographic information is correct or if I feel that the source isn't important enough for inclusion.  It is a subjective standard, I happily admit, which I compensate for by being fairly broad in my judgment of what is important.  In any event, virtually anything from the 19th century will end up on the bibliography if it is relevant.  A six page booklet published in 1950 probably will, but one published in 2000 almost certainly will not.

Until very recently, I included notations on where I found the source, which made sense when I was going around to libraries searching out hardcopies of the items.  I have dropped those notations because they make less and less sense in the Digital Age.  Bibliography users can search the Web themselves for the location of any resource they find here.  All it takes is to plug the name of the item and/or the author's name into a search engine.

My goal is also perfection, but that is still more impossible than completeness.  I wish I could say that every entry is accurate, but I know that isn't the case.  Every once in awhile, I find a name misspelled or an incorrect publication date.  Some entries are not complete because I cannot locate complete bibliographic information on them.  I periodically check links, but inevitably there will be some dead ones.  I try to keep the entries as uniform as possible but know that I've done the same thing one way once and another way the second time.  The goal of perfection, however, is like the goal of completeness: it keeps me working on the bibliography.

One of the joys of working on the bibliography is the discovery of sources that I had no idea existed.  In a few cases, I am beginning to 'house" documents on this website that I think are important but not otherwise available on the web.  For example, I recently came across a very important essay in English by the Thai father of Pentecostalism in Thailand, Boon Mark Gittisarn entitled, "What Modernism Has Done to Presbyterian Missions in Siam," and was able to get a scanned copy from the one library in the world that is known to have a copy of it (in South Africa).

Finally and as a point of interest, a rough-and-ready count of the entries in the "General References" section of the bibliography on 23 August 2014 showed a total of 879 citations, which I am sure is not exact but very close.

If you have used the bibliography and found it helpful, you might drop me a line at herbswanson@frontier.com and let me know.  It is always encouraging to hear from those who have used the bibliography.  In any event, Peace, Herb