2019 Annual Meeting, Nov 23-26

The 2019 Annual Meeting will be in San Diego, CA, November 23-26. Register Now!

2019 Regional Meetings

Open Calls for Papers:

Deadline: October 1, 2019

AAR Letter Supporting Stanford University Press

In response to recent reports from the Stanford Daily, Chronicle of Higher Education, and Inside Higher Ed that continued funding of Stanford University Press is at risk, the AAR Publications Committee and the AAR Board of Directors sent a letter to Stanford University Provost Persis Drell on May 7, 2019.

Dear Provost Drell,

Recently, it has been reported that Stanford University has elected to withdraw all University funding from Stanford University Press (SUP): an annual contribution of $1.7 million to the Press has been discontinued for budgetary reasons. While this funding has since been extended for one more year, the Press has been asked to develop a “sustainable model” during this short grace period.

As scholars in the study of religion who represent the concerns and interests of the American Academy of Religion and its members in relation to publishing, we write to express our surprise and deep disappointment with this action. We urge Stanford University to continue to support the Press beyond next year.

Universities exist to create and disseminate knowledge, and to educate. University presses are the very heart of this enterprise. When an institution cannot or will not support (financially and otherwise) the production and dissemination of groundbreaking ideas in print and digital forms, it jettisons the most basic obligation of a university’s mission. Other core parts of the university enterprise cost more than they bring in (students, for example). This is why universities are nonprofits. They need to operate in the black as an entire organism, but not every core function can or should.

Two side effects of eliminating institutional support for the Press include the following: (1) Stanford’s expectations for tenure and promotion are as rigorous as any university’s. This action reduces the venues available to their own junior faculty and junior faculty at universities worldwide who might publish with SUP. All university presses are squeezed financially in today’s world, and these venues are shrinking. Stanford is in a position to help ameliorate this problem. (2) Often, knowledge—and the betterment of human understanding and human society—is furthered first by raw discovery and only subsequently by applied, perhaps sometimes even by market-viable, means. To withhold support from SUP is to support only those ideas that are profitable. The history of books that “fell stillborn from the press” (to quote David Hume), yet changed the world, is long and illustrious. There are many examples, but we mention just one here. A category of book that is rendered particularly vulnerable by this decision of the University is the monograph developed from a dissertation. Had it not been for the support of Stanford University, would the Press have risked publishing Charlotte Elisheva Fonrobert’s ground-breaking dissertation as Menstrual Purity: Rabbinic and Christian Reconstructions of Biblical Gender (2000)? The fact that this book won the Salo Baron Prize for a best first book in Jewish Studies could not have been anticipated when the SUP editors accepted her manuscript for publication. Furthermore, the translations of Giorgio Agamben’s works, produced by an untenured scholar and published by SUP, are important for many disciplines, including our own. Talal Asad’s Formations of the Secular (2003) transformed our discipline. Our shelves contain many such books published by SUP. Two recent SUP books were recently shortlisted for AAR book awards (Jinnealogy: Time, Islam, and Ecological Thought in the Medieval Ruins of Delhi by Anand Vivek Taneja (2018) and Reading the Hebrew Bible with Animal Studies by Ken Stone (2018)).

There are reports that the press was referred to as “second-rate.” Whether the reports are accurate or not, we want to assure Stanford’s administration that, in the discipline of religious studies, this is unequivocally not the case.

This issue goes to the heart of what a university is. At a time when the financial viability of the printed academic word is squarely in question, one would imagine a wealthy university worth its good name would seek to increase support for what are the most efficient and well-regarded media for the dissemination of academic ideas: digital publishing and the printed word. “Stanford,” the University proudly declares, “is a $6.5 billion enterprise.” Of its Press, Stanford currently says the following: “At the leading edge of both print and digital dissemination of innovative research, with more than 3,000 books currently in print, SUP is a publisher of ideas that matter, books that endure.” Given Stanford University's decision to withdraw financial support for SUP, we regret that this statement now must be qualified by dollar signs.

We hope Stanford University will remember its core mission, remember what a $26 billion endowment is good for, and restore—indeed, strengthen—its support for its core university mission: the production and dissemination of groundbreaking ideas.

The Publications Committee and the Board of Directors of the American Academy of Religion