This Unit is dedicated to the scholarly exploration of religious expression in a variety of cultural settings. We encourage a multidisciplinary display of scholarship in our sessions and are committed to taking popular culture seriously as an arena of religious and theological reflection and practice.
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Religion and Popular Culture Unit
Call for Proposals for November Meeting
For a possible co-sponsored session with the Hinduism Unit: Walk into an airport bookstore in South Asia or North America and you'll find the narrative worlds of Hinduism packaged between the covers of paperback after paperback. This panel asks: How are Hindu stories currently being told in popular literature? How are they being sold to mass-market readers? How do present-day patterns of "telling and selling" shift to accommodate different languages, genres, and imagined readers? We welcome papers that address the presentation of Hindu myths, narratives, figures, and ideas in contemporary popular literature produced in various regions, languages (including English), and genres (adult, YA series, children's books, comics, etc.).
For a possible co-sponsored session with Native Traditions in the Americas: Explorations of popular media representations of Native traditions amid violent conditions, such as those seen in The Killers of the Flower Moon, Reservations Dogs, and other media. This session could also challenge stereotypes about Native traditions, including harmful stereotypes about the violence of the people and traditions, as well as the harm done by “positive” representations, such as “the ecological Indian.”
For a possible co-sponsored session with Religion, Media and Culture: What can memes tell us about religions, both digital and otherwise? Fast-moving, polyvocal, and densely referential, memes invite reflection on intertextuality, canonicity, metareferentiality, sincerity, and social authority. We invite papers or prearranged panels that reflect on the role of memes and meme cultures in religious life.
For a possible co-sponsored session with the SBL Bible and Popular Culture Group: Amidst considerable public uproar around book bans and other forms of censorship, few stories mention that the American Library Association cites "The Holy Bible" as #52 on the top 100 most banned books since 1990. For this collaboration between the AAR Religion & Popular Culture Unit and the SBL Bible and Popular Culture unit, we invite proposals for papers and pre-arranged sessions on censorship and book banning that traverse the study of religion and studies of biblical or sacred texts. For example, how can we understand efforts to censor "sexual content" in books that strategically ignore such content in the Bible? What can contemporary censorship efforts teach us about broader religious anxieties around heresy, profanity, and the corruption of youth?
Romance and Dating: From dating apps to reality television, marriage pacts to direct messages, popular cultures are revolutionizing the way we imagine romance and find love. How do these new practices and technologies chafe against, entrench, or reanimate religious norms and values? We solicit papers and pre-arranged sessions that explore the religious and popular cultures of contemporary romance and dating.
Archives: What constitutes an “archive” for the scholar of religion and popular culture? For this session on research and methodology, we solicit papers and pre-arranged panels that explore what it means to compile and study archives of religion and popular culture. We are particularly interested in works that consider the challenges and opportunities presented by digital archives.
Popular Cultures as Sites of Grieving and Grief: From the COVID-19 pandemic to the climate crisis, to the violences of poverty and war, the present is defined by unthinkable loss. We invite papers and pre-arranged sessions that examine how varied forms of popular culture express and reflect collective grieving and/ or individual grief.
Conspiracies since Watergate: Conspiracies– real and imagined– are nothing new. We invite papers and pre-arranged sessions that explore religious and political conspiracy theories (and actual conspiracies) from a historical perspective.
Therapeutic Cultures: Self-help literatures, personal development programs, motivational speakers, and the ubiquitous idiom of “self care” sit squarely at the intersection of religious and popular cultures. We invite papers and pre-arranged sessions on popular therapeutic cultures past and present, in the U.S. and beyond.
Riots or Revolutions? Religious Frames of Black Violence and Non-Violence in 21st Century Politics: To engage the AAR’s presidential theme and with the 2024 American Presidential election upon us, we invite reflections on the role that Black violence and non-violence have in American imaginations. We are especially interested in papers that discuss what Black violence and non-violence means for various religio-political constituencies, how they are mediated and regulated, and how they are used in the current political environments as interpretive frameworks by Black and non-Black agents.
The Critical Approaches to Hip Hop and Religion Unit, The Religion and Popular Culture Unit, The Religion, Film, and Visual Culture Unit, and The Buddhism in the West Unit invite paper, panel, or roundtable proposals that address, through an interdisciplinary lens, these intersections of hip hop, religion, politics and visual culture in its myriad manifestations. Among other possibilities, we are interested in proposals that engage this momentous work as a nascent music genre and/or a series of music videos, as it has rippled across three decades of Hip Hop and The Five Percent Nation of Islam, and as it continues to influence visual, popular, and religious culture today.
Open Call: We solicit research-based papers and pre-arranged panels on any topic related to the study of religion and popular culture, from any region or time period.
Call for Proposals for Online June Meeting
For the virtual meeting in June, we solicit papers and pre-arranged panels that take advantage of the digital, video-based format. We are interested in presentations on any topic related to the study of religion and popular culture that take the form of mini-documentaries, or rely heavily on clips, music and other media. We are not interested in papers or sessions that mimic the in-person format for a digital audience.
Statement of Purpose
Steering Committee Members
Talia Burnside, Florida State University1/1/2023 - 12/31/2028
Juli Gittinger, Georgia College & State University1/1/2022 - 12/31/2027
Roger A. Sneed, Furman University1/1/2020 - 12/31/2025
Kaitlyn Ugoretz, University of California, Santa Barbara1/1/2022 - 12/31/2027
Daniel White Hodge, North Park University1/1/2020 - 12/31/2025
America Wolff, Florida State University1/1/2021 - 12/31/2026