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2017 Annual Meeting, Boston

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The Things we Study when we Study Religion

Following NAASR’s annual programs in 2015, devoted to theory, and 2016, on method, the program for 2017 will focus on the things that we, as scholars of religion, study. What, for instance, counts as data? How is it imagined, handled, or constructed? Who decides what is a valid or invalid research topic—and which approach suits it?

There exist longstanding and still active debates in the field regarding whether the items that we study pre-exist our approaches or whether our approaches actually create the conditions in which the former come into existence. It should come as no surprise, then, that the inter-relationship between theory, method, and data is complex and hardly settled. In fact, for some the term “data” itself is to be avoided because it is thought to remove us from the human subjects whom we study. Such subjects, it is assumed, embody intentional centers of meaning-making and therefore they require methods of study that differ, both qualitatively and quantitatively, from those employed by scholars in other fields. Yet for others, people’s self-understanding as agents does not lessen the importance of the non-agential structures in which they live (from genetics to class). Such recognition requires scholars to study people’s claims and behavior in a way that is far less impacted by intentionality than some may assume. We could also add to this mix those who examine the conditions and shape of the field itself, thereby finding scholars themselves as the item of interest. It is clear, then, that to identify as a scholar of religion does not necessarily mean that we all study the same thing, let alone in the same manner. For the distance between those who now study what is called embodied or lived religion, on the one hand, and, on the other, the processes examined by cognitive scientists is great indeed. A pressing question, however, is whether this breadth strengthens or undermines the field.

Following the model used for the past two annual meetings, three main, substantive papers were invited and will be distributed both to respondents and NAASR members approximately one month prior to the meeting. These main papers will only be summarized at the session. Each paper will then have four respondents, who will have ten minutes each to reply to the main paper. This will be followed by an open discussion of roughly one hour. As per the past two years, the aim once again is to see this this session published as a book (with responses from the main paper presenters).

NAASR Conference Schedule 2017

Council Meeting
9:00-9:50am, Friday, November 17—Back Bay Room at the Fairmont Copley Plaza

“Subjects,” Annette Reed (University of Pennsylvania)
*Click here to access the pre-distributed paper, titled “Partitioning ‘Religion’ and its Prehistories Reflections on Categories, Narratives, and the Practice of Religious Studies”
10:00-11:50am, Friday, November 17—State Suite A at the Fairmont Copley Plaza
Respondents:
Adam Stewart (Crandall University)
M. Adryael Tong (Fordham University)
John Soboslai (Montclair State University)
Jennifer Shelby (Memorial University of Newfoundland)
Chair: Drew Durdin (PhD student, U of Chicago)

“Objects,” Matthew Baldwin (Mars Hill University)
*Click here to access the pre-distributed paper, titled “Objects and Objections: Methodological Reflections on the Data for Religious Studies”
1:00-2:50pm, Friday, November 17—State Suite A at the Fairmont Copley Plaza
Respondents:
Petra Klug (University of Bremen)
Holly White (Syracuse University)
Peggy Schmeiser (University of Saskatchewan)
Lucas Wright (UC Santa Barbara)
Chair: Kevin Schilbrack (Appalachian State University)

“Scholars,” Craig Martin (St. Thomas Aquinas College)
*Click here to access the pre-distributed paper, titled “‘[T]he thing itself always steals away’: Scholars and the Constitution of Their Objects of Study”
3:00-4:50pm, Friday, November 17—State Suite A at the Fairmont Copley Plaza
Respondents:
Vaia Touna (University of Alabama)
Martha Smith Roberts (Denison University)
Jason Ellsworth (Dalhousie University)
Joel Harrison (Northwestern University)
Chair: Ian Cuthbertson (Queens University)

Annual Reception (co-sponsored by Equinox Publishing)
7:00-9:00pm, Friday, November 17
Location: Lir, 903 Boylston Street (click here for a map)

“Theorizing Ancient Theories of Religion” (co-sponsored by Greco-Roman Religions)
9:00-11:30am, Saturday, November 18—State Suite A at the Fairmont Copley Plaza
Respondent: Nickolas Roubekas (University of Vienna)
Participants:
Jennifer Eyl (Tufts University)
William W. McCorkle, Jr. (Laboratory for the Experimental Research of Religion)
Vaia Touna (University of Alabama, Panelist)
Jeffrey Brodd (California State University – Sacramento)
Chair: Gerhard van den Heever (University of South Africa)

Business Meeting
1:00-1:50pm, Saturday, November 18—State Suite A at the Fairmont Copley Plaza

“Roundtable: The State of the Study of Religion”
11:00-12:50pm Sunday, November 19—State Suite A at the Fairmont Copley Plaza
Participants:
Sarah Dees, Labor (Northwestern University)
Richard Newton, Teaching (Elizabethtown College)
Rebekka King, Departments (Middle Tennessee State University)
Greg Alles, Research (McDaniel College)
Chair: Aaron Hughes (University of Rochester)

“…But what do you study?”: A NAASR Workshop on Theory & Method in the job Market, Session I
1:00-2:50pm Sunday, November 19—Back Bay Room at the Fairmont Copley Plaza

“…But what do you study?”: A NAASR Workshop on Theory & Method in the job Market, Session II
3:00-4:50pm, Sunday, November 19—Back Bay Room at the Fairmont Copley Plaza


“…But What Do You Study?”: A NAASR Workshop on Theory & Method in the Job Market

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:

I. Workshop

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, and participants can stay for as long or as little as they like. To register, please e-mail the organizer, Michael Graziano (grazmike [at] gmail [dot] com) by no later than October 15, 2017. In this request to register please include your current degree or professional career stage.

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