2019 AAR/WR Annual Conference Theme
Jason Sexton, Vice President and Conference Program Chair
Conference Theme: Religion and Resistance
Past Conference Themes:
2018: Religion and Kindness
The overall theme for the 2018 Conference is Religion and Kindness. We are using this idea in its broadest terms; sometimes admiring, sometimes damning, and may be some of the times authoritative, while in all other times passionate. We are hoping to encompass difference, racism, feminism, womanism, eco-justice, gender justice, sexual orientation, classism, colonialism, neocolonialism and all other ISIMs, seen through the eyes of religious studies scholars. Within the spiral of violence, fury, public anxieties and fears overflowing our contemporary world, it might be appropriate to tweak Pablo Neruda's famous poem: "Democracy where are you?" to read “Kindness where are you?” The pursuit for kindness, and its unbridled quest for attention, is not only an individual attribute but it has weaved together a diversity of human strands and continuous conversations. It is a core dimension of religion as it reveals itself in our sensitivities and insensitivities to all sufferings of others: as there is nothing trivial about human suffering. If we consider God, or nature, or the Universal, or spirit, or dharma, and so on, as not only compassionate but compassion in itself and for itself then ‘religions are us’ and kindness is a key issue for our progress towards all aspects of the pervasive power of being human. That is the main reason we never get tired of preaching, advocating and teaching kindness with all languages through time and trying to creatively live it? As scholars of Religious Studies we would like to explore the vision and the outcome of religion and kindness, and to put that forward within human cultivation, habitation into the highest ideals in the turmoil of human life.
2017: Religion, Race, and Racism
For this year, we invite everyone to get comfortable and uncomfortable with the theme of Religion, Race, and Racism. The study of “race” has moved from theological, false biological, and natural discourses and employs a critical social-historical constructionist perspective that argues that racial categories are a human invention. Although we hope that all individuals in contemporary societies “understand” race as a historical development, racial classifications, categories, and logic are deeply nested in structures of power, privilege, and knowledge. From the 15th to mid-20th centuries, European colonialists legitimated their conquest by imposing their notions of “religion” and “race” on Asians, Africans, and the indigenous people of the Americas. Race, from this perspective, is inherently biologically determined, and determined by God. The gravest danger of “race” is that it has become “common” or rather “common sense.” Racial classification and racial meaning are not questioned, but rather taken for granted as “natural” or universally accepted means to make sense of human diversity. Critical scholarship articulate this process as “racial formation” and define “race” as a way of “making up people.” Race and religion are both socially constructed, anthropological historical categories. Both are implicated in colonialist projects, whose ideas and practices are the foundational building blocks of a racial hierarchy and apparatus that limits power, privilege, and knowledge of racialized minority communities, both historically and in contemporary society. For this year, we invite you to (re)consider, (re)think, (re)introduce, (re)mind, and (re)explore the intersections of religion, race, and racism. Are the historical linkages between religion and race dead, or do they simmer, in institutions, phantomlike, or boldly (re)purposed, (re)fashioned, (re)imagined, and (re)defined in our political, economic, social, cultural, national, international, and quotidian lives and bodies? How is religion simultaneously employed—historically and today—as an instrument of and for oppression, and resistance to marginalization and social, political, and economic domination and inequality based on “race.” We wish to excavate, expand, and examine the intersections of religion and race in other arenas of oppression and inequality, and invite scholars, students, activists, artists, and others to join us in this critically important dialogue.
2016: Social Justice
The overall theme for the 2016 Conference is Social Justice. We are using this idea in its broadest terms. We are hoping to encompass racism, feminism, womanism, eco-justice, gender justice, classism, neo-colonialism, etc., seen through the eyes of religious studies scholars. The mission of AAR/WR is to promote awareness of the importance of Religious Studies for understanding contemporary issues and we invite you to participate in this important mandate.
2015: Theme Open/None
Chairs of the twenty-four units in our region have in various ways crafted calls for papers with specific interests and themes in mind for our 2015 conference.
2014: Retrieving the Subjugated Voices and histories of the marginalized, the colonized, the out of place
As Religious studies scholars we have used many different methodologies to create space for subjugated and subaltern voices. We have used many tools and theories from queer, feminist, marxist and literary theory, to tools of the social sciences such as sociology, psychology, anthropology, material science, and archeology to retrieve voices. Are theses tools that we use to open the spaces within our field of religious studies in themselves colonizing or liberating? Where, when and how do we create the space for these voices?
2013: Religion in Public Life
For a report on the theme, visit http://nsrn.net/religion-and-public-life/.
For this year’s conference theme we take a cue from the 2008 AAR publication, “The Religion Major and Liberal Education.” That white paper tied its vision of a robust future for religious studies to the recognition on many fronts that religion is “an inescapable part” of public life around the globe. How do we in the discipline of religious studies represent that public dimension of religion?
The calls for papers from the 20+ units making up the western regional AAR take up this question in a variety of ways. Some focus on controversies related to religion and politics in the western United States (e.g. same sex marriage or immigration reform), others turn to other regions of the world (e.g. the “Arab Spring”) or to historical antecedents (e.g. the Jesuits’ entry into China). Topics raised are richly diverse, including ecology, pluralism, the current “Mormon moment,” terrorism, popular culture, among others.
The units are asking scholars and teachers of religion to reflect on how we frame questions and analyses about the ways religion plays out in various public settings. Do we, for instance, tend to privilege particular public expressions of religion as normative or paradigmatic, or even problematic? How is our work shaped by the institutions in which we teach and their calls to, for example, cultivate a critical tolerance of diverse religions or to help students form a religiously informed public voice? By what criteria do we select among traditions, texts, histories, institutions, events, and figures to develop analyses of religion’s intersection with politics? And perhaps location does matter; how do distinctive features of our region (California, Arizona, Nevada, Hawaii, and the Pacific Islands) inform how we approach this theme, and how should it be different from the approach developed by colleagues in other parts of this country and/or other regions in the world?
2012: Sacred Texts, Sacred Communities
We invite members to explore sacred texts, both oral and written, as repositories for the "voice" of the sacred in religious communities around the world. Particular attention should be given to how community institutions, in their many forms and roles, exercise authority over those texts, negotiate access to those texts, and ultimately shape the interpretation of oral or written sacred texts among adherents and outsiders alike.
In religious traditions and institutions, priest, imams, rabbis, monks, shamans, theologians and judges, among others, are all charged as interpreters of sacred texts, be they God's eternal Word, the oral wisdom of the ancestors, or the transcribed sermons of an enlightened Master. How such institutions and figures take shape and claim special authority, distinct from other members of their religious communities, is a source of ongoing tensions; especially in the age of the internet.
The growing availability of sacred texts, via the internet or affordable printing technologies in multiple translations, has also meant that communities must deal with the interpretations of outsiders, which may be hostile to the community's claims. How communities and their institutions maintain their authoritative positions in response to those challenges is an important area of study. In many cases, such interactions have proved to be catalysts for reform, sectarianism, or even violence.
2011: Current Religious Thinking
Previous annual meeting themes have taught us what happens when we see our field through spatial and geographic metaphors. This year we invite members to conceive of religion and its study as complex and ongoing flows. Our substantive areas are not cut-and-dried; look closely and they dissolve into each other. And our methodologies, likewise, are not merely contiguous, but constantly interfuse, blend, and add their own cross-currents to others without end. Like Heraclitus's ever-new river, religion is the living water of life.
This year we encourage proposals that celebrate and critique religion's myriad and ever-changing currents, that trace them to their sources, that plumb their mixed and maybe muddied depths. We hope to receive proposals that address questions like How do religions flow from region to region?, or How have theology or ritual deepened when new tributaries flow into traditions?, or that dive into the waves caused when scholarly disciplines clash and trouble the waters of academe.
Similarly, we hope this call opens you to new confluences in your own work. We encourage the outflowing of new studies, where your disciplinary thought streams into new channels or where you invite new disciplinary streams into your ancient streambeds.
And, simultaneously, we encourage the inflowing of collaboration, where two or more scholarly streams combine—in panels, book celebrations, symposia, etc.—to nourish the same ground in concourse.
2010: La Frontera
This year’s theme, La Frontera, calls for analyses of the various borders that exist in our world and in our lives: geographical, chronological, theological, and transformational. While La Frontera can be translated as border or boundary, it can also indicate a frontier, and in that sense the conference theme invites participants to pursue undeveloped fields of study and other topics needing research and investigation. The borderlands — social, cultural, spiritual, as well as geographical — that exist between multiple social identities can be examined. Stepping across theoretical and disciplinary boundaries is encouraged. Identifying limits and limitations, transgressing boundaries of all kinds, and exploring new frontiers — that is, what La Frontera is intended to evoke and provoke.