AAR Member Spotlight

Jonathan Tran

Jonathan Tran is an associate professor of theological ethics at Baylor University where he holds the George W. Baines Chair of Religion. He serves on the AAR Ethics Unit steering committee as well as the AAR Publications Committee, as co-editor (with Alda Balthrop-Lewis) of the AAR/Oxford University Press series “Reflection and Theory and the Study of Religion.” He serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Religious Ethics, as contributing editor for Christian Century, and as co-editor of the Stanford University Press series “Encountering Traditions.” His most recent book, Asian Americans and the Spirit of Racial Capitalism, was published by OUP in early 2022. 

Why did you get involved with AAR and how is your work aligned?

My first AAR experience came at that iconic 2003 session with Jeff Stout, Richard Rorty, Wayne Proudfoot, Cornel West, and Stanley Hauerwas. Having never been to the Annual Meeting, I didn’t know the dress code and arrived in my usual attire. I was surprised to learn academics dress up (at all) for AAR. Professor Hauerwas didn’t bat an eye when he saw me in my basketball shorts. I knew I had arrived. 

What is your area of expertise or field of study?

I work in Christian theological ethics, focused specifically on philosophical questions about language, often under the spell of ordinary language philosophy. I spend a lot of time thinking about how language works, which means I spend a lot of time thinking about a lot of different things, since, as Stanley Cavell said, “Ordinary language philosophy is about whatever ordinary language is about.”

How has AAR been beneficial to you and your career?

AAR introduces me to amazing scholars and scholarship and involves me in interesting and important work. AAR has always been interesting, but it took me some time to realize its importance. It’s often hard to tell what academic professionalization amounts to morally. Realizing AAR's importance came with realizing that AAR involves itself in these complex questions about professionalization (its truths as well as its trappings) and holds real power and potential to positively benefit our individual and collective humanity amidst the profession’s many dehumanizations.

What book is on your nightstand that you're reading or intend to read in the future?

Literally on my nightstand right now are Ted Chiang’s Exhalation and Kazuo Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun (apparently, I like Asian science fiction writers). But that’s not saying much, since I prefer reading things on screens these days, and am wondering why I have so many books that could more easily fit digitally on my phone or tablet—this latter thought likely makes me a bad academic.

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

No surprise, I play a lot of basketball (though I don’t wear basketball shorts to work as much as I used to—call this a declension narrative). When the gym is closed, I spend a lot of time with my family, comprised of four cats, three chickens, two teenagers, and a partner who holds it all together.

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