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

It Ain’t Sexy But….

conteingentfacultyWe have Kelly Baker on campus, here to give the second annual Day Lecture. On the ride to Tuscaloosa form the Birmingham airport the other day, we got talking about the issue of contingent faculty in academia (a topic on which she has blogged) or, more specifically, about how the issue plays out in the academic study of religion. We talked about the American Academy of Religion’s current forays into the issue (e.g., a task force she is herself involved with, an academic relations sub-committee my own colleague here at Alabama, Ted Trost, is involved with, and even a workshop on “best practices” at the upcoming national conference in San Diego). As a onetime instructor (having held three consecutive one year contracts at the start of my career [1993-6]) and a longtime member of the AAR — the main professional association for US scholars of religion, but also the largest national association for scholars of religion in the world, hence it has an international reach — I’ve got a thought of two on what the leadership of this group ought to be considering before it decides what it wants to try to accomplish. Continue reading