We Really Can’t Afford to Go Back to Normal

Scholars on a panel presenting their work at a conferenceA few weeks ago, after emailing a representative of the American Academy of Religion (AAR), it became apparent to me that the Fall conference-going season in our field will be moving forward as the usual in-person meetings instead of the hybrid format that, in the light of a year living with COVID-19, I had assumed would be offered. It’s now becoming apparent to others as well, with an online petition now circulating, addressed to the leadership of the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL), framing the lack of a hybrid option as an accessibility issue. While I understand the factors that are cited by these orgs as constraining their ability to be nimble and implement a hybrid option (e.g., from insufficient high speed internet capabilities to conference venue charges for the necessary technology and its support), it seems to me that the issue is far larger than COVID-19 and that we are long overdue for the leadership of these associations to do some creative rethinking about what an academic conference now does and thus how best to offer them in the future.

For, as serious as it is in its own right, the pandemic is really just the most recent reason why this must be done — and done quickly. Continue reading

On the Shoulders of Others

Tyson

Challenging the insularity of academic research is important for all fields, including the human sciences, as Kelly Baker writes in her recent post about Neil deGrasse Tyson. This departmental blog, and several others where faculty in the department publish (Culture on the Edge, Huffington Post, Bulletin for the Study of Religion, Thinking Out Loud . . .), are an aspect of this process of making scholarship accessible to a wider audience, as these sites attract non-academic readers, no matter how widely each author conceives the audience. Of course, helping non-specialists engage difficult concepts is what professors do continually in the classroom. Continue reading