The Program Committee welcomes proposals for new program units, especially proposals that address: (1) areas of pent-up demand, and (2) new and emerging fields.
The Program Committee wishes to emphasize that competition for program slots has become increasingly intense in recent years. The exponential rate of growth that the AAR’s Annual Meeting program experienced during the last fifteen years is ultimately unsustainable because of the constraints of time and space at the Annual Meeting. Twenty-one percent of respondents in the last Annual Meeting survey expressed the opinion that the intellectual discussions at the Annual Meeting have become more fragmented because of unavoidable thematic conflicts. It is the charge of the Program Committee to maintain the coherence and intellectual vitality of the Annual Meeting program.
Proposals are evaluated by the Program Committee during their January meeting. This page includes basic information designed to help prospective program unit chairs to think through the steps involved in establishing a new program unit.
How Do New Program Units Get Started?
Program units typically grow out of a community of scholars looking to establish a wider and more public forum than is available through private meetings and conversations. Although it is not necessary that a new program unit exhibit a broad constituency in its original proposal, the proposal must demonstrate sufficient interest to warrant program unit status.
Is a New Program Unit the Best Option?
Before undertaking the process of establishing a new program unit, members should ask whether existing program units are capable of including the conversations that this new unit is designed to engender. Often, members can save a great deal of time and disappointment by attending a program unit’s business meeting and asking the unit to include specific topics in the next Call for Proposals. This is encouraged because program units reach their full potential when there is a continual influx of new ideas and themes. If, however, there is no place where your work currently fits, or if the questions you want to raise warrant an independent place on the program, then the following procedures should assist you in establishing a new program unit.
Which Type of Program Unit to Propose?
Units are established to encourage the exploration of an area of study or methodology, to cultivate the relation between the study of religion and a cognate discipline, or to pursue a long-range and broad research project. Less restricted in participation than Seminars, Units are expected to experiment with the format of sessions at the Annual Meeting.
- All proposals for new Units must begin as Exploratory Sessions. An Exploratory Session is a complete prearranged session that provides a platform for a group of members to announce a line of inquiry new to the AAR program and to seek out others interested in pursuing it further. The proposal can be for a papers session, roundtable session, or other creative type of session format. Exploratory Sessions are submitted through the INSPIRE system.
- In order to establish a new Program Unit, there is a three step process:
- The Proposers must submit an Exploratory Session proposal through the INSPIRE system by March 1, and this must be approved by the Program Committee. The Program Committee can approve, deny, or—in very rare circumstances—return the proposal for revision and resubmission. If the Exploratory Session is approved, it is held at that year’s Annual Meeting, and the organizers must submit a report about the session to the Program Committee by early December.
- In the subsequent year, the Proposers must submit a second Exploratory Session proposal through the INSPIRE system by March 1, and this must be approved by the Program Committee. The Program Committee can approve, deny, or—in very rare circumstances—return the proposal for revision and resubmission. If the second Exploratory Session in approved, it is held at that year’s Annual Meeting.
- After the second exploratory session, the unit proposers may submit their proposal for a new unit, which the Program Committee can approve, deny, or—in very rare circumstances—return for revision and resubmission after a third, final exploratory session. The Program Committee meets each January to review and approve proposals. Samples of successful proposals are available from firstname.lastname@example.org.
- For the 2021 Annual Meeting cycle, Exploratory Sessions must be submitted through the INSPIRE system by March 1, 2021. Notification of program acceptance will be announced by April 1, 2021. Exploratory Sessions held at the 2020 Virtual Annual Meetings can reapply for an Exploratory Session in 2021.
- Exploratory Sessions that are accepted twice onto the program are invited to submit an application for new unit status after the 2021 Annual Meeting but before December 10, 2021. Details on the new process will be shared with the submitters at that time. The Program Committee meets each January to review and approve proposals.
Seminars are for an already identified group of up to twenty members who want to work together on a defined research project with a view to publication. Seminars are meant for a narrower focus than Units. If, in the judgment of the Program Committee, a proposed Seminar is closer to a possible Unit proposal, the committee will encourage the submitters to propose an Exploratory Session in the following year instead. Seminars have a five-year non-renewable term. Seminar proposals do not require Exploratory Sessions preliminary to the new Seminar proposal.
- For the 2022 Annual Meeting cycle, new Seminar applications must be received via the web form after the 2021 Annual Meeting but before December 10, 2021. The Program Committee meets each January to review and approve proposals. Samples of successful proposals are available from email@example.com.
New Program Unit Proposal
The proposal is your opportunity to make the case for the new program unit by presenting a clear rationale, analytical focus, approaches, and objectives of the unit. In the online form you will be asked to:
Provide a title for the new unit.
Provide an intellectual rationale for the unit’s creation: what questions and conversations will the new unit foster? Discuss the current state of your field or subfield, with a brief history of the scholarship and directions you anticipate it taking in the future. Describe the intellectual concerns and conversations taking place. What contributions does this field make within the academy; why is it essential to include this field within broader scholarly conversations?
Provide a practical rationale for the new unit’s creation: why can’t the questions/conversations discussed above be hosted in an existing unit? If there is overlap with any existing unit or units, please submit letter(s) of feedback from those units’ chair(s) through the Program Unit Chair Letter of Feedback Form. Make the case for why existing unit do not provide a sufficient venue for scholarly work in your field or subfield. Distinguish your proposed unit from other existing program units, including a discussion of the units that coincide with your unit and why yours is needed in light of these extant units, i.e., which intellectuals gaps would your unit fill?
Note the purpose, scope, direction, and approaches the unit might take, and explain how they contribute to the broader mission of the AAR Annual Meeting program. Talk about the ends your proposed unit would serve among its constituents and the AAR as a whole. Include the intellectual parameters of the unit; theoretical, methodological, and/or other discussions you anticipate will take place in your unit; and on what criteria you will base paper and panel selection.
Demonstrate the demand for a new unit:
For a Unit: Provide evidence of “pent-up” demand that could sustain the creation of a unit. This might include references to papers in this subfield that have been presented in previous AAR meetings and other scholarly venues; the recent creation of new listservs or journals that address the proposed unit’s foci; recent conferences on related topics, etc. Also, discuss the approximate number of AAR members working in this subfield whom you anticipate will be participating in this unit. Finally, provide any other evidence to make your case that there is sufficiently broad and long-term interest in this subfield to justify the creation of a new unit.
For a Seminar: Describe how this project will foster collaborative research in a public setting over a five-year term. Give evidence of scholarly interest in this project and suggest its expected contributions to the larger concerns of the Academy. This might include references to conversations in a subfield that deserve sustained attention for a fixed period of time; contemporary issues faced in the field of religious studies broadly; a specific opportunity presented by an AAR conference site location or a historic anniversary; etc. Include a provisional schedule with a schematic program of research and a publication agenda.
Additional Information Required
List the AAR members who will chair the unit (1–2) and serve on the steering committee (3–5).
Compile a short annotated bibliography of published works on the topic, with an introductory paragraph explaining the status of publications in the subfield.
- Solicit letters of feedback from AAR members who are interested in, and support the work of, the proposed unit through the General Letter of Feedback Form.
- If there is overlap with any existing unit or units, please solicit letter(s) of feedback from those units’ chair(s) through the Program Unit Chair Letter of Feedback Form.
- Propose a Call for Papers for the new unit, should it be approved.
For Unit proposals, give a description of the Exploratory Session, including an attendance count.
For Seminar proposals, propose a five-year plan, including plans regarding publication of the completed project
The Program Committee’s freedom to approve new program units is curtailed by the exigencies of time and space. Short of a major revision of the meeting’s time, place, and length, the Program Committee reviews more good ideas than can be accommodated. The committee is rigorous—indeed parsimonious—in its approvals.
In preparing all petitions, members should be aware of the following policy: The American Academy of Religion is committed to the policy and practice of including women, minority, and younger members in the activities of the Academy. In Annual Meeting programming, this commitment will be carried out to the degree that each unit works to accomplish it. Thus, unit chairpersons, steering committees, and participants in sessions provide the testing arenas for evaluating our success in adhering to this commitment. The Program Committee will include attention to this policy and practice in evaluating proposals for starting or continuing program units.