Abstract

This presidential address aims to improve the clarity and effectiveness of conversations within the American Academy of Religion (AAR) and beyond it. As for our internal AAR debates, we sometimes talk across subfields, but we have few productive exchanges that identify what we share and what we don't. We talk past each other or don't talk at all. Further, as we defend the study of religion in the public arena and in our educational institutions, we can't always convince decision makers. There is a great deal at stake in those exchanges, however, including the vitality of our organization and the education of this generation. So we must do better. Previous attempts have failed because they have overlooked the guiding values that ground participants' positions and actions. Having values is inevitable, I suggest. The only question is which ones we want to enact. After analyzing how scholars of religion encode epistemic values (about truth), moral values (about good), and aesthetic values (about beauty) in their work, I go on to show how this values approach can clarify divisive internal debates within the AAR, especially between those who identify with theology and those who identify with religious studies, and how it can disclose points of agreement as we refine the arguments we employ to defend the study of religion in the public arena and on our own campuses.

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