Events

2019 Regional Meetings

Open Calls for Papers:

Eastern International Region
(
CFP Deadline: Feb. 1, 2019)

New England-Maritimes Region
(CFP Deadline: Jan. 18, 2019)

Mid-Atlantic Region
(CFP Deadline: Dec. 22, 2018)

Pacific Northwest
(CFP Deadline: Jan. 30th, 2019)

Open Registration:

Mid-Atlantic

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2019 AAR Presidential Theme

Scholarly Workers in Public Spaces: A Necessary Long Term Focus in the Study of Religions

Laurie L. Patton, AAR President 2019
 
Recent emphasis at the AAR on advancing the public study of religion deserves sustained, long-term discussion and engagement. In choosing the theme, “Scholarly Workers in Public Spaces,” I intend to build on the academic work of the longstanding committee, “The Public Understanding of Religion.” In addition, I intend the theme to refer to Past President Eddie Glaude’s topic of “Religion and the Most Vulnerable” and President David Gushee’s theme of “Religious Studies in Public,” and yet focus the lens at an institutional level on those 21st century public spaces in which the AAR finds itself. What are our institutional responsibilities to public spaces as an academic guild with a big tent? What does it mean to be workers in universities, colleges, and seminaries who themselves have their own definitions (both implicit and explicit) of public spheres and public responsibilities?
 
I believe the public commitment of academic institutions, including guilds such as the AAR, is threefold: to creating, redefining, and expanding spheres of public discourse. Let me elaborate on each of these in turn. By creating public spheres, I mean that all of our institutions think through the opportunities we promote to have respectful discussions on difficult topics. Even if such opportunities are episodic, such as an annual meeting, a semester-long class, or a speaker series, the academy can play a role in mending broken public spaces. We have a unique opportunity to develop examples of functional engagement across difference in a fractured 21st century world. By redefining public spheres, I mean constant reflection about how publics are constituted and in what ways they might be reconstituting themselves. For example, given the ubiquitous nature of internet publics, are there forms of religious alliances that are newly forming or newly disappearing because of those different media, and how do we describe and analyze them? And finally, by expanding public spheres, I mean constant attention to who is included in public spaces and why. What would the next step in inclusivity in our own public spaces look like?
 
In pursuing this threefold commitment, members of the academy might take up several corollary activities. Scholars of religion might regularly reflect on the nature of the public spheres in which they operate. For example, in beginning a scholarly project, scholars might do an inventory of what publics might be affected and why. Moreover, scholars might consider making public engagement a part of graduate training in the study of religion. Finally, they might develop criteria of excellence in public scholarship. Rather than perpetuate a binary of “real research” vs. “public scholarship,” let’s propose what excellence in the field of the public study of religion actually looks like.
 
The plenary sessions in 2019 will deal with each of these three fold commitments. The first plenary will constitute an exemplary public sphere—a debate about a difficult topic in religion that models civic discourse across difference. The second plenary will focus on redefining the public sphere, and the ways in which academic institutions sponsoring the study of religion find themselves connected to, responding to, and cultivating new and differently configured publics. The third plenary will also take up the question of redefining the public sphere, but specifically engage the controversial question of the role of public irony and humor about religions. The fourth plenary will engage with the topic of expanding the public sphere, specifically the role of contingent scholars and their contributions to advancing the public study of religion.