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Cultural History of the Study of Religion Unit Call for Papers AAR 2021

The Cultural History of the Study of Religion Unit seeks papers that examine the formation and transformation of “religion” and related categories in social, cultural, and political practice in different geographic and historical contexts and in relation to the scholarly study of religion as that study has evolved over time.

For the 2021 Annual Meeting, we particularly welcome proposals on the following topics:

Twenty Years Since the Towers: 9/11 as an Event in the History of the Discipline —The 2001 al-Qaeda attacks on various US sites were not just an event of political and cultural significance, prompting virulent Islamophobia, new regimes of profiling and racializing religion, and a reformulation of US empire. It was also a major event in the history of the study of religion, prompting several long-overdue reckonings in the discipline. The years that followed saw a thoroughgoing critique of the secularization thesis; a renewed engagement with questions of religious literacy and public scholarship; and a sophisticated new body of work across the various fields of Islamic studies. We invite paper and panel proposals that revisit this formative moment on the occasion of its twentieth anniversary. What histories of this moment have yet to be told? What opportunities were missed? Where do we stand now? Co-sponsored with the Study of Islam Unit.

• “Scholarship in the Time of Catastrophe”—Upheaval has often prompted scholars and intellectual to question their normative assumptions and practices. In the 1920s, anticolonial and antiracist thinkers like Gandhi and Du Bois rethought European “civilization” in the shadow of World War I. More recently, scholars have rethought religion in the aftermath of the 1992 Babri Masjid demolition, the 2015 devastation of Hurricane Katrina, and the 2020-21 COVID-19 pandemic. We welcome papers and panels that take these or any other similarly calamitous event in any region of the world as site for exploring the cultural history of the study of religion.

• “Sites of Collection”—Collecting—whether of icons, plants, relics, verses, petitions, stories, texts, or sounds—is essential to the practice and to the study of religion. The labor of collecting may be institutionally sponsored or the work of devoted individuals; its sites encompass formal collecting institutions (museums, archives, herbariums, etc.), personal spaces (oral family histories, family bibles, attics, etc.), and digital practices (online archives, databases, server banks, etc.). We invite papers and panels that pose and address questions raised by the activity, sites, and diverse media of collecting. Such questions would pertain to the materiality of collecting, the politics of acquisition, display and circulation, the technologies of preservation and conservation, and the adjudication of rival systems of categorization and value.

• “The Study of Religion and Inequality”—The theme of the 2021 Annual Meeting is “Religion, Poverty, and Inequality: Contemplating our Collective Futures.” To what extent and in what ways has the study of religion illuminated or obscured the ways in which religion reflects, justifies, or challenges various inequities, especially that of access to and the retention of wealth? Has the boundary between theology and the study of religion entailed the latter’s inattention to inequality? What topics, practices, data, or institutions come into view when inequality is afforded sustained attention in the study of religion? In what ways is the future of the field imperiled by persistent inequality?

This group regularly uses its sessions to develop new models for conference conversation. Toward that end, we ask that participants be prepared to write shorter papers for possible pre-circulation or short position papers for roundtable format. We also welcome suggestions for new conversational models.

Mission Statement:

This Unit is devoted to historical inquiry into the social and cultural contexts of the study of religion and into the constructions of “religion” as an object of scholarly inquiry.

Method of Submission:




Elizabeth Ann Pritchard, epritcha@bowdoin.edu

J. Barton Scott, barton.scott@utoronto.ca


Steering Committee:

Sarah Dees, sdees@iastate.edu

Marisa Franz, marisa.franz@nyu.edu 

Peter Gottschalk, pgottschalk@wesleyan.edu

Jason Josephson-Storm, jaj1@williams.edu 

Zhange Ni, nizhange@vt.edu


Session Allotment: Tier 1 – Two 90-minute sessions

Next Review: 2023