Some academic papers on Buddhism and Zen are helpful, some are not. I have found a few that are—but just a few. Many papers I have read are laden with too much jargon; some papers need to be edited much better, and most all of them are intra-academic, that is, they are addressed to other academics which are almost incomprehensible to non-academics.
If I were a Buddhist hermit in retreat at China's Zhongnan mountain range, most academic papers on the subject of Buddhism would have no appeal to me because my way of looking at the discourses of the Buddha is extra-academic; I am trying to achieve direct intuition of what all these discourses keep pointing to.
The odds of awakening to my true nature might be much better if I were a Buddhist hermit instead of an academic who has translated a number of important works. For the hermit reading and studying scripture (buddhavacana) also demands the proper meditative experience (pratyakṣa) without which he is stuck with only baseless faith to rely upon. The proper meditational experience is meant to resonate with the discourses of the Buddha to confirm the teaching, transcending faith. An experience that doesn’t is not authentic. And many are not authentic.
In the case of Zen, the satoric experience answers all the koans since koans are but the expression 用 of essence. Koans are something that the academic mind has had very little success with—it has certainly given us no answer to a koan.
There will always be somewhat of a broad ditch between the academic understanding of Buddhism and Zen, and let us say, the hermit’s understanding and how they arrive at awakening. The tougher path is the hermit's. Becoming a Buddhist academic is far easier.