The AAR’s Religious Values?

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.

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4 Responses to The AAR’s Religious Values?

  1. Russell McCutcheon says:

    Impractical to say the least. I would ask those putting this petition forward: What happens if your petition works? A strike is called at the conference venue, say, a month or a week before the conference. What do 10,000 people do who already have airline tickets? Do we move across the street to the Motel 6? Are you willing to foot your own costs if your institution refuses to reimburse your travel (assuming you get a reimbursement) if the conference never actually happens? What ancillary services have also had to plan several years in advance to support the conference? What do their employees do? Are you willing to pay the higher conference registration fees when hotels, who will surely not take kindly to the AAR/SBL putting this in the contract, charge a higher rate for their space to compensate them for the risk that such a contract rider poses to their bottom line–should they even wish to sign such a contract…?

  2. Organizations make the decision to not compromise their members or at least allow options all of the time.

    The ASA actually cancelled its conference in Chicago the year before last (2010 or 2011?) because of a labor dispute at the conference venues. Five maybe four months before the conference they announced the whole thing was being moved to Las Vegas. I recall this vividly because this meant I discovered I couldn’t attend the ASA. I am fairly certain the local departments did not budget for airfare or reimbursement and departments from all of the border states hadn’t budgeted for air fare reimbursement. Sociologists, among other things, study structural inequality, enabling at least well over several hundred thousand dollars of member money to break a strike would not be tenable to the membership of the ASA. Unlike the Hyatt labor dispute at the AAR, there was no work around, no means to create options or alternatives.

    The AAA actually as a matter of policy will not host their conference in state with anti-sodomy laws on their books precisely because those laws target LGTBQI citizens (the heteros as well …) but its an explicit decision not to give revenue of any kind to states with deeply discriminatory policies and laws targeting a subset of their members and those who find discrimination of this kind unacceptable.

    With regard to cost, the labor dispute actually had the effect of gaining concessions on costs to conference organizers and attendees in Chicago. Between the labor strike and conference costs, Chicago was losing trade shows that dwarf the AAR in terms of size and logistics. Vendors now have the right to do light final assembly of their own displays, a massive reduction in cost for small vendors at the book display at the AAR. In terms of reducing the “nickel and diming ” of conference organizers, Catering firms in the venue have been forced to reduce costs as well. In San Francisco, a gallon of coffee with service fees and taxes was nearly $70, in Chicago as part of the strategy to retain business and remain competitive, the same gallon of badly brewed Starbucks will be less than $40. And this reduction in cost to be competitive with other conference cities has also been observed for other costs for which McCormick Place and its subcontractors have exclusive rights.

    Or, withholding business from a conference center has an effect, its leverage to reduce costs.

  3. Daniel Turner says:

    Why not just use INMEX ( for conference planning? Seems like a practical solution to many of the potential logistic problems which Russell brought up. As far as conference registration fees going up, I’m sure that wouldn’t be incredibly significant. In response to Russell’s question, “are you willing to pay the higher conference registration fees…?,” I’d pose another question. Are you willing to cross picket lines or ignore boycott calls, in effect supporting the impoverishment and denial of basic demands for improved working conditions by some of the most exploited workers in the country just to save, I don’t know… what I’d guess would at most be $20 or $30 dollars on a conference registration fee?

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