The Call for Papers is now available for the American Academy of Religion's 2017 annual meeting. This year the AAR is in Boston, MA from November 18-21.
guidelines for submitting and participation requirements to follow, not to mention an overwhelming set of program units (all with their own cfps), additional and concurrent meetings, job workshops, and THATcamp.
While overwhelming, methodologically inconsistent, and theoretically incoherent, the AAR's "Big Tent" structure can work to the benefit of graduate students and others looking to present at a large, national conference. For whatever it might be worth, here's what I do when the CFP comes out each year:
- I look at CFPs in Program Units explicitly in my area of interest and flag the ones that appeal to me or fit my current work. This typically includes: North American Religion; Religion and US Empire Seminar; Religion and the American West Unit; Religion and Politics Unit; and Law, Religion, and Culture Unit
- If I have a specific paper I want to present or move closer toward publication, I'll look at other Program Units that might be of immediate interest. For example, a couple years ago I was a part of a panel for the Religion, Colonialism, and Postcolonialism Unit, which helped me develop a chapter I wrote between finishing the dissertation and submitting my final manuscript to the press.
- Next, even though I have too many tabs open on my browser, I go to the pdf version of the CFP. I then do a search for specific terms within in my research or specific books/figures/events I'm in conversation with.*
- By now, I probably have several calls I'd like to submit to. And the guidelines only allow you to submit 2 proposals, so I make intentional decisions about which proposals to write/submit. I juggle a few factors, which include (in no particular order): the stage of the work and the relative need to finish/publish it; whether or not I can find people who could form a full panel (panels often are more likely to get in than individually submitted papers); the "reputation" of the program unit (do they usually have senior scholars on their panels? do they seem to be welcoming of grad students/junior/independent scholars? Do they tend to cycle through the same ideas/books/people?)
Some things to consider:
- "Seminars" are temporary. They only meet for a period of 5 years and are intended for collaboration leading toward publication. In my experience, this exploratory nature is more helpful because the meetings are meant to build a new circle of colleagues. And, since after 5 years it may not exist anymore, the topics tend to be so hot right now.
- It helps to regularly attend the AAR or know people who go regularly, so you can have a sense of the Steering Committee members' interests^ and the topics previously covered. If a program unit had a panel recently on the same topic, they are less likely to accept another one without some compelling addition, change, or critique.
- Even though you can only submit 2 proposals, you can still technically be a part of more panels/Units/Seminars on the program. You can't appear in the same capacity twice, but you can, say, agree to preside over a panel while also submitting two proposals of your own. I'm not advocating tripling your workload or encouraging the imposter-syndrome monster inside of you, but throwing this "out there" in case you (like me) need to be on the program in order to receive funding for travel.
- Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate--Panel organizing is an excellent way to reach out to someone who's book you've read, who's work you're in conversation with, and whoever you'd like to meet but haven't yet had a chance to. On this, I speak from experience. I am constantly surprised at how much warmth I received from my "cold emails" to Amrel scholars I had never met. We are an awesome field of study, so don't be shy! (And, since we are such a productive field, don't take it personally if someone isn't available. If they say they can't, then follow up and say "Thanks for considering. Would you have time to meet for coffee sometime during the conference?" I'd put money down to say that they would make time.)
- Assuming all of that leads you to some possibilities, the AAR has a generous word limit for proposals. The only advice I have here is to not lose sight of the purpose of the proposal. Even though you have plenty of space, you still need to be diligent about clearly stating your intended argument, sources/evidence, contribution, and general significance. Those statements should be clearly identifiable and not lost in your proposal. I love writing proposals because it's the piece of writing that can unabashedly reflect your research in its most hopeful and ambitious state. The key is to not let your own insecurities about what you don't say and don't prove and don't address and don't fully consider drive your proposal writing. When it does, the proposal often reads as half cooked and timid. Be bold. Be confident. No one has done this before (so long as it's not an "alternative fact" to say so). If changing your state of mind doesn't work, then write the damn thing then search and replace every "try to" "will do" "hopefully" statement you wrote. There is no "will do"; just do.
*Even if you don't submit a proposal or if your proposal doesn't get accepted and you attend anyway, you should still do this so you are aware of what your colleagues are writing about and/or the direction your field/subfield is taking.
^If you attend the AAR, you should absolutely stick around the Business Meetings at the Units and Seminars of interest to you. This is how you meet colleagues, collaborate for the next CFP, and/or help to write the next year's CFP so it better fits your interests!