American Academy of Religion president, José Cabezón, along with the AAR Board of Directors has appointed an AAR Presidential Futures Task Force to address issues facing the guild brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and the cultural issues it has brought to the forefront. The task force will address two distinct areas of concern: the direct impact on the AAR organization itself and the effects of AAR membership that should inform AAR priorities now and into the future. The 10-person task force is comprised of AAR members and will work together for a period of two-years.
Context: In 2017, the AAR adopted a new mission statement – to foster excellence in the academic study of religion and to enhance public understanding of religion – with the intent of setting the guild on a path with long-range goals to meet both the challenges and opportunities in the current landscape of higher education and in the rapidly changing global culture. Since that time, the organization has moved down that path, undergoing multiple changes including welcoming an entirely new leadership team, completing a staff reorganization in response to the new mission, transitioning to a new and more effective membership database, creating a new brand, applying for and receiving a $1M grant from the Henry Luce Foundation for Advancing Public Scholarship, and starting to examine the many strategic issues facing learned societies.
The advent of COVID-19 brought new complications and accentuated challenges, including risk to the lives and health of members and long-term implications for members, publications, and institutions of higher education and learned societies. The negative effects of this crisis are vast and are disproportionately felt by the most vulnerable among AAR members: students, junior faculty, and contingent faculty. The pandemic also exacerbated and further laid bare cultural issues plaguing members and publics—issues such as BlackLivesMatter, MeToo, environmental concerns, Islamophobia, white nationalism, and immigration. With these challenges in mind, the AAR Board of Directors establishes the AAR Futures Task Force with the following charge:
Informed by the AAR mission, values, and long-range goals, the Futures Task Force will provide the AAR Board of Directors with a strategic assessment of the impact of the pandemic and exacerbated cultural issues on the AAR and its mission, taking into account the current landscape of higher education. It will address two distinct areas of concern: the direct impact on the AAR itself and effects on the membership that should inform the AAR’s priorities in the future. In addition to identifying the most pressing challenges, the Task Force will suggest proactive opportunities for the organization to meet its mission and long-range goals in new ways for a powerful and hopeful future.
In order to gauge what is affecting membership, the Task Force should solicit input from AAR groups such as AAR committees, working groups, task forces, and program units by asking them to identify one or two areas of significant concern.