American Academy of Religion Recognizes Creation of Bahá’í Studies Group; Call for Papers for November AAR Annual Conference

by Robert H. Stockman 

The American Academy of Religion (AAR), the premier academic organization for the study of religion in North America, has recognized the creation of a “Bahá’í Studies Group” in its organizational structure. This means that the study of the Bahá’í Faith is now a regular part of AAR programs, Bahá’í talks will be listed in its programs, and officers of the Bahá’í Studies Group will attend coordinating meetings with the officers of the AAR’s many other groups, sections, and seminars.

The Bahá’í Faith has had a presence at the AAR for thirty-two years. In 1984, Dr. Ann Schoonmaker, a Bahá’í with a PhD in Christian Theology from Drew Theological Seminary in New Jersey, organized a panel on the Bahá’í Faith at the AAR, which the AAR accepted. Most of the presenters were young Bahá’í graduate students in religious studies. An audience of some twenty attended. The Bahá’í Publishing Trust, prompted by the opportunity, rented a booth in the exhibit hall to display Bahá’í scholarly books.

The AAR agreed to experiment with a Bahá’í Studies program over the next few years. But interest proved to be small, and the Bahá’ís participating largely lacked doctoral degrees. Hence the AAR decided to drop the Bahá’í Faith as a subject. A Bahá’í program continued, however, as an “additional meeting,” which meant it was listed in the program but was not officially part of the AAR. Bahá’ís, in effect, rented space at the AAR to give a panel of papers on Bahá’í topics.

The “additional-meeting” arrangement allowed the Bahá’í presence at the AAR to mature. In 2016, the application to become a Bahá’í Studies group sailed through smoothly. The AAR committee knew that the Bahá’í presence had continued over more than three decades, that Bahá’í scholarship had developed considerably, and that the application’s outside endorsements were both strong and from prominent scholars.

The officers of the Bahá’í Studies Group (currently Dr. Robert H. Stockman and Dr. Susan ManeCk) plan to assemble a panel of three to five presentations every year based on a theme, with the aim of publishing the collection in a book or a themed journal issue.

For 2016, the Studies Group has drawn up the following Call for Papers for the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion, which will be held in San Antonio, Texas, November 19–22:

The Most Challenging Issue: Religion and Race in the Bahá’í Community

In 1938, Shoghi Effendi, Guardian of the Bahá’í Faith, wrote that racial prejudice had eaten its way into the fabric of United States society and that Bahá’í should consider racism the most challenging issue it faced. Submissions are welcome that analyze the Bahá’í community’s approaches to resolving racism. Comparative analyses between the Bahá’í Faith and other religions are welcome. Topics and approaches may include, but are not limited to: historical, sociological, theological, and political approaches, institutional contexts, the role of the arts, profiles of individuals, and gender issues.

Each presentation should be 20 minutes in length; each presenter will have a 10-minute Q & A.

Please submit an abstract of no more than 250 words with your presentation’s title. Also attach a 1-page CV that includes your contact information (name, institutional affiliation, and email address). Send these to rstockman@usbnc.org. The deadline for submission is 5 p.m. on March 1, 2016.

The American Academy of Religion, typically, is attended by some twelve thousand scholars of religion studies, graduate students, and other interested people. As many as two thousand presentations are given over a four-day period on everything from study of the historical Jesus to religion in film and popular culture, from religion and politics to Queer Theology, from the sociology of Hindu rituals to religion and climate change. The Bahá’í Publishing Trust continues to sponsor a book display. The Bahá’í presence at the AAR has probably been an important factor in the steady increase in the coverage of the Bahá’í Faith in religious-studies textbooks.

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