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Online Religious Studies

Data transitions have revolutionized many scientific disciplines, starting with the exact sciences, then the life sciences, and now the social sciences and humanities are in the process of making the transition to becoming data intensive sciences, with descriptions through quantitative measurements. New analysis tools, and publicly accessible utterances, opinions, transactions and interactions resulting from widespread Internet and social media usage facilitate new, data-intensive research methods in disciplines that have so far relied on small-scale literature and/or panel-based studies. To illustrate the new possibilities, we report on a pilot carried out by a cross-disciplinary team consisting of computer scientists and researchers in religious studies. In the latter area, research is often focused on mapping out the convictions, hopes, and beliefs of groups of people, be it within certain religions or within any other group, such as those defined by a political party.

In the pilot, religious scholars examined the core keywords in a left-wing political party in order to determine their hopes and beliefs. Rather than following their standard way-of-working, they were equipped with a search engine with an index of content crawled from discussion forums, the party’s web site plus a range of online publications relating to the party and going back to 1990. In this paper we focus on lessons learned and on methodological innovations for religious scholars as well as for computer scientists building the enabling technology.

  • [PDF] J. Bekkenkamp, E. Meij, and M. de Rijke, “Online religious studies,” in Web science 2011, Koblenz, 2011.
    [Bibtex]
    @inproceedings{websci:2011:meij,
    Abstract = {Data transitions have revolutionized many scientific disciplines, starting with the exact sciences, then the life sciences, and now the social sciences and humanities are in the process of making the transition to becoming data intensive sciences, with descriptions through quantitative measurements. New analysis tools and publicly accessible utterances, opinions, transactions and interactions resulting from widespread internet and social media usage facilitate new, data-intensive research methods in disciplines that have so far relied on small-scale literature and/or panel-based studies. To illustrate the new possibilities, we report on a pilot carried out by a cross-disciplinary team consisting of computer scientists and researchers in religious studies. In the latter area, research is often focused on mapping out the convictions, hopes, and beliefs of groups of people, be it within certain religions or within any other group, such as those defined by a political party.
    In the pilot, religious scholars examined the core keywords in a left-wing political party in order to determine their hopes and beliefs. Rather than following their standard way-of- working, they were equipped with a search engine with an index of content crawled from discussion forums, the party‚{\"A}{\^o}s web site plus a range of online publications relating to the party and going back to 1990. In this paper we focus on lessons learned and on methodological innovations for religious scholars as well as for computer scientists building the enabling technology.},
    Address = {Koblenz},
    Author = {Bekkenkamp, J. and Meij, E. and de Rijke, M.},
    Booktitle = {Web Science 2011},
    Date-Added = {2011-10-20 10:49:41 +0200},
    Date-Modified = {2012-10-30 08:39:02 +0000},
    Title = {Online Religious Studies},
    Year = {2011}}
thesis cover image of a smart computer

Combining Concepts and Language Models for Information Access

Since the middle of last century, information retrieval has gained an increasing interest. Since its inception, much research has been devoted to finding optimal ways of representing both documents and queries, as well as improving ways of matching one with the other. In cases where document annotations or explicit semantics are available, matching algorithms can be informed using the concept languages in which such semantics are usually defined. These algorithms are able to match queries and documents based on textual and semantic evidence.

Recent advances have enabled the use of rich query representations in the form of query language models. This, in turn, allows us to account for the language associated with concepts within the retrieval model in a principled and transparent manner. Developments in the semantic web community, such as the Linked Open Data cloud, have enabled the association of texts with concepts on a large scale. Taken together, these developments facilitate a move beyond manually assigned concepts in domain-specific contexts into the general domain.

This thesis investigates how one can improve information access by employing the actual use of concepts as measured by the language that people use when they discuss them. The main contribution is a set of models and methods that enable users to retrieve and access information on a conceptual level. Through extensive evaluations, a systematic exploration and thorough analysis of the experimental results of the proposed models is performed. Our empirical results show that a combination of top-down conceptual information and bottom-up statistical information obtains optimal performance on a variety of tasks and test collections.

See http://phdthes.is/ for more information.

  • [PDF] E. Meij, “Combining concepts and language models for information access,” PhD Thesis, 2010.
    [Bibtex]
    @phdthesis{2010:meij,
    Author = {Meij, Edgar},
    Date-Added = {2011-10-20 10:18:00 +0200},
    Date-Modified = {2011-10-22 12:23:33 +0200},
    School = {University of Amsterdam},
    Title = {Combining Concepts and Language Models for Information Access},
    Year = {2010}}