November 8, 2023
Today I complete my first 100 days as the AAR’s Executive Director. I could not be happier to serve in this role, as we collectively pursue our mission of fostering excellence in the academic study of religion and enhancing the public understanding of religion. You may have already heard about some new initiatives, added programming, and member benefits; we will continue to explore even more opportunities in the coming months. Some already implemented member benefits include health insurance access for AAR members and 58 grants awarded to date this year, totaling over $155,000. In the next few months you will also encounter reorganized AAR regions capable of serving our members better and improved organization of committees where so many of you contribute important advocacy work, as well as new webinar series and online year-round programming. We will introduce new, fully online sessions of the Annual Meeting in June 2024.
At this moment, many of us are eagerly anticipating the upcoming Annual Meeting in San Antonio. As an AAR member for three decades, the annual AAR conference has always been a critically important professional meeting for me – as it is for many of you. Our fantastic AAR staff, in cooperation with SBL, have planned an annual meeting filled with hundreds of opportunities to share our work, learn with each other, network and get more involved. In addition to the many program highlights and opportunities to connect with the community, I look forward to exciting sessions, panels, receptions, and unplanned hallway conversations.
We have planned for the annual meeting to be engaging, well organized, and as safe as possible for intellectual exchange, diversity of views, and networking for all attendees. Yet, I am painfully aware that some of you may not be able to join us. Some of my fellow trans scholars, knowing the structural limitations of our ability to ensure safety in a state that explicitly threatens them with punitive new laws, have communicated the need to sit this meeting out. Many members who are, or live with someone who is, immuno-compromised have understandably opted to prioritize their health amidst ongoing waves of COVID, RSV, and flu. Others face financial or physical access challenges, or they have been affected by the current crisis in Israel/Palestine in ways that make it impossible for them to attend. To all of you and everyone else who faces personal and/or political obstacles preventing you from joining us in San Antonio, please know that I mourn your absence even as I support your choice to take care of yourselves and others.
Over the last 100 days, I have enjoyed getting to know the excellent AAR staff, our dedicated leaders on the Board of Directors, and the many tireless volunteer committee members who do so much to make the AAR work for all of us. We need all of us at this moment of sustained challenges to higher education and the new and ongoing local and geo-political struggles. The complex histories and nature of these challenges and struggles are often best understood with recognition of the critical role religion plays. Together we have so much to offer each other and the wider public - through our scholarship, teaching, networking, mentoring, and by advocating for all scholars of religion in diverse career paths.
I thank everyone who has welcomed me and provided wise counsel; and I invite you to get involved in Program Units, committees, or other initiatives that support the important work of our guild. Please do not hesitate to reach out if you have questions or concerns. And if you will be in San Antonio, I hope to see you there!
All the best,