An Open Letter to Members of the American Academy of Religion

Dear Colleagues,

I was surprised to see the nominations for Vice President that were put forth by the AAR’s Nominating Committee this year. Both candidates are Christian ethicists/theologians. While colleagues tell me that at least one of them is a “progressive evangelical,” I remain uncomfortable with the choices put before us. According to the bylaws the charge of the Nominations Committee is as follows:

The Nominations Committee presents to the Board at least two candidates to run for each AAR Director position elected by vote of the membership. The criteria for nomination include distinction in scholarship, teaching, and service to the Academy. The Committee selects candidates so as to bring the rich diversity of the AAR membership to the Board of Directors. The Committee may also recommend to the Board policies and procedures concerning elections to leadership positions.

The key phrase for me here is “rich diversity.” I do not see any diversity whatsoever in these two candidates or in their visions for what the AAR should be. I think that the Nominations Committee has, thus, failed in its mission of providing members with a real choice of intellectual vision.

I would urge the AAR leadership to enact some sort of procedural requirement that ensures the nominations to be more reflective of the diversity in the organization. One way to do this might be to have the committee itself be comprised of such diversity.

As far as I am aware, the AAR does not permit write-in candidates. This strikes me as problematic. To this end, I would urge the AAR leadership to allow petitions to place additional candidates on the ballot when those forwarded by the nominating committee do not appear representative.

I will be boycotting this vote. I encourage other members of the AAR who share these concerns to do the same. Perhaps a low turnout can support a call to change the bylaws to actually reflect the AAR’s diversity.

Aaron W. Hughes

Philip S. Bernstein Chair of Jewish Studies

Dept. of Religion and Classics

University of Rochester

Rochester, NY

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7 Responses to An Open Letter to Members of the American Academy of Religion

  1. Pingback: UPDATED: The AAR Vice Presidential Election and the Illusion of Choice | Michael J. Altman

  2. “Diversity” is obviously a false word in these circumstances. They should just say what they want and mean.

  3. Amy J. Chase says:

    The essay does not state the makeup of the current board. If there are no Christian ethicists/theologians on the board, then adding either of these nominees would actually increase the diversity. Perhaps the author knows that the majority on the board are Christian ethicists/theologians and that such information is common knowledge — but I do not know that.

  4. Oudeis says:

    Amy, that’s an important observation. However, it doesn’t appear that the Board is lacking in theologians and ethicists:

    https://www.aarweb.org/about/board-of-directors

  5. Angela Zito says:

    Actually, there is a point to this objection, since running for Vice-President is actually the vote for the Presidency. The winner serves on the Program committee one year, and then becomes President. Therefore, we are maneuvered into definitely having a theologian/ethicist as president. Perhaps whoever made this nomination decision sought to create “diversity” amongst successful candidates for Presidency of the AAR. Has there never been a theologian/ethicist as president of the Association?

    • J.S. says:

      Theologians and ethicists who research and write within Christian traditions have routinely served as presidents of the AAR. The next president of the AAR, Serene Jones, is a theologian and ordained clergy member in two mainline Protestant denominations. A cursory glance through the list of past AAR presidents shows numerous scholars who could be identified as Christian theologians or ethicists having served in the office, including Kwok Pui-Lan (2011), Emilie Townes (2008), Rebecca Chopp (2001), Martin Marty (1988), Gordon Kaufman (1982), Langdon Gilkey (1979), etc. https://www.aarweb.org/about/past-presidents

  6. Pingback: The Tremendous Irony of the All | Studying Religion in Culture

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