Update on Responses to the AAR Annual Conference Theme for 2016
Late last year, the American Academy of Religion announced that the theme for the 2016 AAR meeting is “Revolutionary Love.” This theme struck some AAR members as suspect, as it arguably blurs the line between theology and the academic study of religion. Last December, Russell McCutcheon expressed this sentiment in a letter to Jack Fitzmier, the AAR’s Executive Director. Fitzmier promptly replied and said that he would forward McCutcheon’s letter to Serene Jones, AAR President, and indicated that the AAR Executive Committee might be discussing the issue, but no subsequent reply was forthcoming.
More recently, Tim Jensen, President of the International Association for the History of Religions, wrote an additional letter where he expressed similar concerns.
To encourage awareness and additional discussion of this year’s theme and the role of the academic study of religion more broadly, both letters are posted below.
Russell McCutcheon’s Letter
The NAASR executive has discussed our concerns with the AAR’s 2016 conference theme of revolutionary love, given that both organizations share membership in the IAHR—a scholarly association that, like NAASR, is devoted to “the historical, social, and comparative study of religion.” We feel the recently announced AAR theme risks this hard-won disciplinary identity by not just inviting normative political and theological approaches but then seeing them as the central organizing principle for the upcoming meeting.
We have therefore alerted the IAHR of our concern.
As a longtime member of the AAR myself I posted on this topic some days ago, wondering what other members thought of this development.
I hope that the IAHR, as well as NAASR, have opportunities in the future to discuss these matters with AAR leadership and to develop mutually beneficial ways to promote the historical, social, and non-evaluatively comparative study of religion within the academy.
Chair, Department of Religious Studies
University of Alabama
North American Ass’n for the Study of Religion
Tim Jensen’s Letter
I hope this email letter finds you in good health and spirits.
I write you on behalf of the IAHR Executive Committee (EC) with regard to the 2016 AAR conference theme on ‘Revolutionary Love’ and the concern expressed by the NAASR President, Russell McCutcheon in an email sent to you ( Cc: to the IAHR leadership) mid December 2015.
The IAHR EC discussed the matter at its annual business meeting in Helsinki late June 2016, and it was unanimously agreed that I should send you a few words.
The IAHR EC understands and shares the concern expressed by the NAASR. At the same time, though, the EC expressed its hope and anticipation that the AAR well-established and well-functioning procedures as regards acceptance and rejection of panel and paper proposals will be sufficient to ensure the academic quality and standard of panels and papers related to the presidential theme.
Looking forward to meeting in San Antonio.
Tim Jensen, IAHR President
NAASR Annual Reception, co-sponsored by Equinox Publishing
NAASR and Equinox Publishing are pleased to announce the details for our reception at the upcoming annual conference in San Antonio:
Date: Friday, 18 November 2016
Location: Yard House River Walk, 849 E Commerce St. (click here for a map)
We look forward to seeing you there for food, drinks, and conversation!
Books of Interest: The Study of Religious Experience
Bettina E. Schmidt (editor), The Study of Religious Experience: Approaches and Methodologies (Equinox, 2016).
The renowned scientist Sir Alister Hardy approached the complex field of religious and spiritual experience in a similar disciplined and scientific manner in which he approached natural science. Asking people from the public to send him accounts of first-hand experiences with spiritual or religious powers he established the Religious Experience Research Centre that has remained at the forefront of the academic study of religious experiences. This book will take his work forward and show how to study religious and spiritual experiences in the 21st century.
The Study of Religious Experience aims to show how a range of disciplines – including anthropology, philosophy, religious studies, theology, biblical studies and history – approach the topic religious experience, how this approach is applied and what contributions they make to the study of religious experience.
Books of Interest: Soulless Matter, Seats of Energy
Fabrizio M. Ferrari and Thomas Dahnhardt (eds), Soulless Matter, Seats of Energy: Metals, Gems, and Minerals in South Asian Traditions (Equinox, 2016).
Soulless Matter, Seats of Energy: Metals, Gems and Minerals in South Asian Traditions investigates the way in which Indian culture has represented inorganic matter and geological formations such as mountains and the earth itself. The volume is divided into four sections, each discussing from different angles the manifold dimensions occupied by minerals, gems and metals in traditions such as Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism. The various chapters offer a rigorous analysis of a variety of texts from different South Asian regions from a range of perspectives such as history, philology, philosophy, hermeneutics and ethnography. The themes discussed include literature (myth and epics), ritual, ethics, folklore, and sciences such as astrology, medicine, alchemy and cosmetics. The volume critically reflects on the concept of “inanimate world” and shows how Indian traditions have variously interpreted the concept of embodied life and lifelessness. Ranging from worldviews and disciplines which regard metals, minerals, gems as alive, sentient or inhabited by divine presences and powers to ideas which deny matter possesses life and sentience, the Indian Subcontinent proves to be a challenge for taxonomic investigations but at the same time provides historians of religions and philosophers with stimulating material.
“…But What Do You Study?”: A NAASR Workshop on Succeeding in the Job Market
1pm – 5pm Sunday, November 20 (alongside AAR/SBL)
This session proposes to explore the employment challenges facing early career scholars who are interested in issues of theory & method in the study of religion, through both a discussion and workshop. This session addresses issues important to junior NAASR members (notably, but not exclusively, ABDs now entering/about to enter the job market) by demonstrating how a professional organization can provide a practical and strategic forum for job-market advice.
The following activities will take place during the session:
In the first half of the session, participants will break into small groups, each led by a more senior scholar. Within their groups, participants will discuss in focused ways how they might best represent themselves, their work, and their scholarly interests on the job market. The smaller setting will allow for more “hands on” advice, taking as examples the CV and cover letters the organizers will have pre-distributed among participants. Simply focusing on what one says in a cover letter’s opening paragraph, for example, or how one orders a C.V., will provide the way into larger questions of representation in these small group discussions. Participants should be ready to share and discuss their CV and sample cover letter with fellow group members (though hopefully all will have some familiarity with the materials in advance to facilitate a more focused workshop).
II. Open Discussion
With the issues and questions from the small-group workshop in mind, the second half of the session will be devoted to an open discussion. The group leaders will begin by providing brief introductory remarks on what they each see as constructive and strategic advice for early career scholars who are navigating the academic job market, aimed initially at how applicants can be strategic not only in trying to ascertain a Department’s needs but also in negotiating potential theoretical and political landmines in the field. A discussion will follow in which participants can talk about these issues in an informal atmosphere and share information. This guided discussion will focus on four central questions related to how might early career scholars interested in theory and method:
- represent themselves strategically on the job market?
- apply to calls for general positions, fitting themselves to broad departmental needs?
- shape their cover letters and CVs to appeal to a wide range of departments?
- respond to critiques that they have no “specialty,” “content,” or “area of study”?
The discussion is designed to reflect different opinions regarding the place of theory & method in the job market, as well as in the study of religion more generally.
Scholars of all concentrations within the field of Religious Studies are welcome to join the workshop—whether a NAASR member or not—though preference will be given to early career scholars, particularly those at the senior ABD stage (i.e., those already on or going onto the job market). Shortly before the workshop, but once the participants have been identified, each participant will be invited to share with the other members, via email or a closed social media group, their academic focus/dissertation topic, level of teaching experience, their level of experience with the job market as well as their own current position (e.g., PhD Student, Postdoc, Instructor, etc.) in order to ensure all participants come to the meeting somewhat familiar with the diversity of experience in the workshop. In addition, as stated above, each participant will be invited to provide a sample cover letter and CV for the organizers to pre-distribute. These materials will then be workshopped within their small groups. More details will follow after the participant list has been finalized.
Space is limited to 25 participants in this NAASR workshop. To register, please e-mail the organizer, Michael Graziano (grazmike [at] gmail [dot] com) by no later than October 15, 2016. In this request to register please include your current degree or professional career stage.