By Craig Martin
Recently a petition was organized to encourage the AAR to pass a resolution promising not to “patronize a hotel or conference center that is in the midst of a boycott, strike, lockout, picketing or other labor dispute.”
While I sympathize with union workers and support the sentiment of the (rather impractical) petition—which I signed—I found the wording of the petition to be frustrating, raising exactly the sorts of issues I recently addressed regarding the invitation of the Dalai Lama to speak at the AAR: the boundaries between “studying religion” and “being religious” are unfortunately blurred.
See the following excerpts from the resolution:
The American Academy of Religion will add protective language to all future contracts with hotels and conference centers for annual meetings declaring that if there is a boycott, strike, lockout, picketing or other labor dispute at the contracted facility, the AAR will be released from all contractual obligations without charge or penalty. Furthermore, the AAR will not patronize a hotel or conference center that is in the midst of a boycott, strike, lockout, picketing or other labor dispute. This resolution is consistent with the purpose and values statements as published on the AAR website: the religious traditions as understood and critically evaluated in our work support the values of equal human dignity and worth.
As a feminist, I am interested in part in patriarchal traditions, which are distinctly opposed to equality. To imply that all religious traditions universally support equality is a distortion that obscures very real ideological disparities among traditions. Why suggest that’s the case, if it’s not true? Presumably because the author of the petition wants to reify liberal religious traditions as normative, and to lend the authority of those reified traditions to the project at hand (for who would want to oppose the universal moral values all religions respect?).
In addition, what difference does it make what values are adopted by those we study? My colleague Kelly J. Baker writes on the Ku Klux Klan’s Protestantism. Is she thereby obligated to take up the norms or values of those she studies?
… Finally, this resolution is highly congruent with the AAR values statement as “equity, responsibility and democratic accountability” are furthered through respect for the rights of all workers in facilities we patronize through our dues and fees.
This last bit actually makes sense to me: perhaps the AAR should consider supporting the values it claims to support and which dues-paying members would like them to support.