The Limits of the Field

Only recently did it come to my attention that one of the journals in our field now seems to understand itself in a curiously narrow way.For according to the website for the American Academy of Religion, its journal is described as follows:

The Journal of the American Academy of Religion (JAAR), published by Oxford University Press, is the premier academic journal in the field of religious studies. The AAR’s international quarterly journal publishes top scholarly articles that cover the full range of world religious traditions together with provocative studies of the methodologies by which these traditions are explored…

This statement (mirrored on the publisher’s website, despite a more qualified rather than declarative statement there concerning the journal’s status) raises a quandary for me, I admit: given this rather limited understanding of the journal’s mission — i.e., exclusively aiming to publish articles on world religions and articles on methods for studying world religions — I am unsure how what some of the Academy’s members study now fits the field (at least as defined by this one periodical’s mission statement).

I should add that, while I have no idea how old this description of the journal is, I do know that it now seems operative (inasmuch as it was quoted as the rationale for a rejection of a co-written article that I recently submitted to the journal).

I assume readers can easily come up with an example of a few things they assume a scholar of religion could legitimately study but which is not included in “the full range of world religious traditions” or the tools used to study them. Should JAAR be open to publishing that work?

For instance…

What if you study the Nones? I’m not sure many (yet?) consider that a world religion, regardless how full your full range is.

What if, as a growing number do, you study the taxon “world religions” itself?

What if you study theories of religion, let alone myth or ritual?

And what if, like almost every AAR Presidential Address I’ve read in the journal, you wish to comment on the history of the field, its raison d’être, the ongoing religious studies/theology debate, or any of its current institutional conditions?

Better year, what if you wish to examine those Presidential addresses themselves, as indicators about the field? (Click the graphic to read this 2006 JAAR article.)

Though the journal is presumably owned by the publisher (I admit to having no idea how this relationship works), as members of the Academy I assume we have some role in determining its identity and scope; after all, even just a quick look through our annual conference’s program units will make clear that the world religions and ways of studying them hardly exhausts the field today.

So, what do you think?

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