|Mark Jordan is a member of the Center on Religion and Politics and a university professor of the humanities at Washington University in Saint Louis. He taught previously at Notre Dame’s Medieval Institute, Emory’s department of religion, and at Harvard Divinity School. Jordan’s recent books include The Ethics of Sex (Wiley-Blackwell, 2002), Telling Truths in Church: Scandal, Flesh, and Christian Speech (Beacon Press, 2003), Rewritten Theology: Aquinas after His Readers (Wiley-Blackwell, 2006), and Recruiting Young Love: How Christians Talk about Homosexuality (University of Chicago Press, 2011). He has in hand a monograph on religion, bodily resistance, and poetry in the writings of Michel Foucault and another on Thomas Aquinas’s Summa of Theology as a scene of moral instruction. Drafted into association work at a tender age, Jordan served for a time on one of the standing committees of the ACLS. Through it he became involved with early efforts to organize library preservation in medieval studies. More recently, Jordan was a member of the AAR’s Status of LGBTIQ Persons in the Profession Task Force.
Statement on the AAR
The AAR does different things for many different constituencies. Its officers are bound first of all to support this range of locally determined activities by helping to keep the machinery running. But the officers also need to persuade the membership to think about the organization as a whole. This means, among other things, thinking about large-scale challenges to religious scholarship most broadly conceived.
The Academy has rightly been concerned in recent years with a number of challenges: media representations and public perceptions of resurgent religion; international cooperation across increasingly unfriendly boundaries; and the manic spread of information technologies, with disconcerting changes in arrangements for scholarly publishing, copyright control, and library acquisitions. But I would urge that we have not thought enough about what is in some ways the most obvious challenge — namely, the disarray in doctoral education and academic hiring. This disarray threatens the immediate future of the intellectual projects and communities that we share. At the moment, we have no convincing story to tell about how we will sustain the next generations of scholars.
Many of us who are approaching retirement — or eyeing it enviously — have spent our entire careers contending with the scarcity of academic jobs. So talk about the unsustainable size of doctoral programs or their poor rate of placement can seem like very old news indeed. (The letter of acceptance to my doctoral program came with a stern attachment about “the job market.” This was the spring of 1974.) But there really is news to be heard. Some of it comes from the accumulation of those decades: long-awaited, long prophesied jobs never appeared. Instead there has been a systemic shift from permanent positions to interim ones. Other news is quite recent: the market collapse of 2008 continues to fall disproportionately on the humanities and allied fields. What is the effect? It is now painfully more difficult to find jobs even for the most talented students — not least because of the “backlog” of earlier graduates still looking for appointments that offer adequate wages and make reasonable demands.
The AAR should join other academic associations in facing up to this news. Indeed, we can learn from other associations (like the MLA) that have gone further in understanding the present situation. The AAR should also consider the specific factors in religious studies — including internal quarrels that prevent concerted action. But most of all, most urgently, the AAR should ask what it can do directly to support the intellectual lives of younger scholars, many of whom will never have the chance to set foot on a tenure ladder. This is not just a matter of lobbying. It will require that we redirect resources — and find new ones — in order to sustain the teaching, the research, and the writing that supply the reason for the Academy’s existence.
||Thomas Tweed taught at the University of Miami and at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, where he was Chair of the religious studies department and Zachary Smith Distinguished Professor. As associate dean of Arts and Sciences, Tweed also founded the First Year Seminar Program and revised the general education curriculum. In 2008, he moved to the University of Texas, Austin, where he is Shive, Lindsay, and Gray Professor of Religious Studies. Tweed’s historical, ethnographic, and theoretical research has been supported by grants and fellowships, including three from the NEH. Tweed edited Retelling U.S. Religious History (University of California Press, 1997), co-edited Asian Religions in America: A Documentary History (with Stephen Prothero, Oxford University Press, 1998), and wrote The American Encounter with Buddhism, 1844–1912: Victorian Culture and the Limits of Dissent (Indiana University Press, 1992) and Our Lady of the Exile: Diasporic Religion at a Cuban Catholic Shrine in Miami (Oxford University Press, 1997), which won the AAR’s Award for Excellence in the Historical Studies category in 1998. Tweed’s Crossing and Dwelling: A Theory of Religion was published in 2006 (Harvard University Press). His most recent book appeared as “America’s Church”: The National Shrine and Catholic Presence in the Nation’s Capital (Oxford University Press, 2011), and has also won the AAR’s Award for Excellence in the Historical Studies category for 2012. Tweed’s diverse professional service includes work as external reviewer, expert witness, blog contributor, and media consultant. He’s been associate editor of Church History and has led workshops for high school teachers. For the AAR, Tweed has served on the International Connections Committee and on juries that awarded book prizes and graduate student fellowships. He has also served on two Annual Meeting Program Unit steering committees and co-Chaired the North American Religions Section.
Statement on the AAR
I care about the AAR. I first joined as an undergraduate in the 1970s and have attended every Annual Meeting since I was first on the job market in 1987. Since then I’ve served on many AAR juries and committees, and I want to do all I can to help us respond to the urgent questions we face about how to do our work, explain our work, and expand our work.
Doing Our Work: The AAR leadership has a responsibility to prompt respectful and honest discussion about the really tough questions. We’ll identify those questions together, I hope, but to start the conversation let me mention two examples. First, our organization officially “welcomes all disciplined reflection on religion — both from within and outside of communities of belief and practice;” some of us identify with theology and others with religious studies. We chat informally about our differences, but let’s discuss them more directly in productive public exchanges. Second, the AAR sometimes must take stands on public moral issues, but we also should ponder our professional obligations. Let’s initiate a collaborative effort to draft the AAR’s first ethical guidelines on the study and teaching of religion. Other professional organizations have codes of conduct; to protect those we study and those we teach, we need one too.
Explaining Our Work: At this moment of shrinking financial resources and rising public discord, we have to do more than talk with other members. Both on our campuses and in the wider culture, the AAR plays a crucial role in fostering the public understanding of religion. We can do even more: increasing the use of new media for outreach and consulting with school boards that approve textbooks. We can do more on our campuses too: step up our efforts to collaborate with and advocate for religion departments in their interactions with curriculum committees and senior administrators. As a former associate dean, I’m convinced we can better explain what we do and why it’s important. And for programs that face cuts, we can establish new mechanisms so the AAR leadership can respond promptly to help our colleagues make the case for the study of religion.
Expanding Our Work: In this era of contraction, the AAR should expand its services. First, we can do more to facilitate connections. We can build on the AAR’s ongoing technology initiatives, including Biosphere — a tool to promote social networking among AAR members. That tool also will connect members with scholars in other ACLS organizations, and that’s another way the AAR can help. While continuing to support the AAR’s regional organizations and our long-term relationship with the SBL, we also should explore the possibilities of the AAR’s recent alignment with the International Association for the History of Religions by using its global network to connect with those who study religion around the world. Many of us also cherish interdisciplinary connections, and the AAR can enhance that. Let’s initiate formal exchanges with other ACLS organizations to establish cosponsored panels at Annual Meetings, collaborative forums in our journals, and cross-disciplinary working groups. Finally, we must expand our efforts to help graduates find meaningful work. That’s an especially urgent moral issue. We can encourage more nonacademic employers to advertise in Employment Listings and interview at the Annual Meeting, as we also identify emerging employment opportunities. More broadly, we can start a wide-ranging conversation about what we ought to say to applicants and how we should train those who enroll. We have to take on this challenge — and the other tough issues — if we’re to explain our work persuasively and do our work responsibly.