Ted Vial chaired the AAR’s Publications Committee (2015-2019), and chaired the AAR task force on the future of publishing (including assessing and supporting digital scholarship—2015-2017). He is on the steering committee of the AI and Religion Seminar and has served on the steering committee of two other AAR groups, as well as NAASR’s steering committee. He is the Potthoff Professor at Iliff and Vice President of Innovation, Learning, and Institutional Research. He has won teaching awards from a liberal arts college and from Ph.D. students at the University of Denver/Iliff Joint Ph.D. Program.
Vial’s research is on modern constructions of religion, race, gender, and nationalism as well as how these categories intersect with artificial intelligence. He has published Modern Religion, Modern Race (Oxford University Press) in 2016. Vial received his B.A. from Brown University and both M.A. and Ph. D. from The University of Chicago.
First and foremost, I take great minutes. Thorough, concise. Chicago Manual of Style. With a narrative arc so that decisions make sense in context. I consider it a craft.
Because the Secretary of the AAR Board of Directors also serves on the Board’s Executive Committee, it is important to know a few things about my commitments. The study of religions faces 4 major challenges right now:
Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). This is a matter of justice, and a matter of quality. Diversity increases educational outcomes, for both students and faculty. There is no neutral space—not to work for DEI is to default to historical patterns. The AAR needs to continue our efforts to prioritize intentional actions towards more DEI.
Graduate students and contingent faculty. These are the lifeblood of a vibrant academic space, and this is a tough time to be either. Many barriers remain to full inclusion in the AAR and its meetings, especially financial barriers.
COVID-19. The pandemic has moved us all online. Working from home has taken a toll that has not been spread equally among us. Many of us don’t have clarity on what classes will look like in the fall and how safe they will be. The AAR can advocate for faculty and students, and can provide resources, networks, and mentoring for the various challenges each of us faces (note the Oxford comma). I chaired the AAR taskforce that made recommendations for evaluating and supporting digital scholarship. We need a similar effort right now to create a clearinghouse of expertise on teaching and working effectively and to make tools easily available. As of the deadline to submit this statement, neither the landing page nor the Resources page of the AAR’s new webpage have anything related to teaching during a pandemic.
The status of the study of religions. COVID-19 has accelerated pressures on colleges and universities, but the academy was already facing a sea change. How can we help our colleagues be essential to their institutions, and our students have degrees that have value in the workforce? The world is showing the devastating effects of a lack of prioritizing critical and humanistic studies for citizens in a democracy. In addition to making this case loudly, we also need to think about how to do the work of formation and knowledge creation outside of traditional university structures. How can we educate outside of traditional classrooms, to people who will not be pursuing academic degrees or who weren’t exposed adequately to the humanities when they did?
Most of the good things that have happened to me professionally happened because of people I met at regional or national AAR meetings. In my administrative work at my home institutions and at the AAR, colleagues and students have found me collaborative, efficient, and approachable. I am committed to the professional structures that support the robust study of religions, and would love to serve in the capacity of Secretary of the AAR Board of Directors.