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