Revolutionary Love: Scholars Respond to the AAR’s 2016 Conference Theme: David Gushee

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Editor’s note: Back in February of this year a number of scholars weighed in on the American Academy of Religion’s chosen theme of Revolutionary Love for the 2016 annual conference (held this past November), with posts from Aaron Hughes, Naomi Goldenberg, Steven Engler, Richard Newton, Deepak Sarma, Craig R. Prentiss, Eleanor Finnegan, and a group of grad students at the University of Colorado at Boulder. After the conference was complete, two scholars, Laura Levitt and Hussein Rashid also weighed in. Most of these posts were largely critical of the AAR’s 2016 theme, taking issue with such things as its Christian focus in a non-sectarian organization, and raising the perennial concern of what the boundaries of the academy study of religion are or should be? In this post, David Gushee, Vice President of the AAR, offers a response to this year’s theme of Revolutionary Love, with particular reference to the plenary sessions on this topic (see Levitt’s post for a critique) and to upcoming themes for conferences in the future.

by David Gushee

While I enjoyed and found meaningful the plenary sessions at the AAR this year that I was able to get to, I was aware that a) this might in part be because I largely share the religious vision that was being articulated, b) I felt the personal need for a “thick,” resistant, religious vision after the shock of the Trump election, and c) there must be AAR constituents who did not feel fully included or comfortable.

While continuing to support the freedom of each AAR president to select a theme and plan plenaries of her or his choice, and reminding AAR members that presidential themes and plenaries can be cheerfully ignored, I can assure all AAR members that in my presidential year (2018) the plenaries will not advance a particular religious vision but will speak to the professional obligations, opportunities, and risks facing all kinds of scholars of religion as they relate to various publics such as media, government, and business. I will be thinking of and attempting to include the guild in its entirety, addressing the professional opportunities, responsibilities, and risks we all face–on the latter front, especially the risks facing the scholars with the least job security in many contexts, such as contingent, untenured, religious-minority, and other vulnerable scholars.

Rev. Dr. David Gushee is Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics and Director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University in Georgia. He is the author or editor of 21 books in his field, including Letter to My Anxious Christian Friends, Righteous Gentiles of the Holocaust, Kingdom Ethics, The Sacredness of Human Life, and Changing Our Mind. He is Vice President of the American Academy of Religion and President-Elect of the Society of Christian Ethics. His blog won the Wilbur Award as the best in religious publishing in 2015.

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