James Crossley's Response
"I've experienced the same thing: AAR members wanting to distance themselves because of the faith/theological slant (perceived or otherwise). I've also experienced the problem outsideAAR/SBL here in the UK. When I was associated with a university theology department some people doing sociology were open in the fact that they thought theology should not be a university discipline. I remember surprise when I said that some of us do sociology/anthropology of religion, and historical approaches to (e.g.) Christian origins or Islam but the perception that it was a faith based theological discipline was a serious problem (not helped by the departmental name, granted).
My big worry about the AAR/SBL split is what will happen to those of us who aren't really into theological/confessional approaches. The mixture of AAR/SBL provided an important overlap not only for critical study of the Bible and its historical contexts but also for the religous studies people esp. given the role of the Bible in contemporary politics and culture. I worry that SBL could lose some very good people to AAR, esp. from outside the States where in most cases only one conference can be chosen. If this happens confessional approaches or theological approaches could dominate even more, esp. in terms of sheer numbers.
In case anyone wants to tell me off, let me qualify the above by saying that I am making no judgment like 'one approach is better or worse': just thinking about who will dominate the scene."
Brent Landau's Response
"I'm glad you posted this, April, and I also appreciated James' thoughtful response. As a graduate student, I often feel a bit "out of the loop" as to what the long-term plans of the AAR and SBL are. But, a couple thoughts/questions for my own clarification, if nothing else.
Is there any sense of how the AAR plans to account for the loss of the ancient Christianity/Judaism people? Common sense would seem to dictate that they don't intend this to be a permanent "doughnut-hole" in their sessions. Is there any talk of creating less theologically-oriented sessions for these areas of specialty in order to allow those scholars who see themselves as "religious studies" types to migrate from the SBL to the AAR? If so, what sorts of problems could arise from this approach? Being squeezed into a much smaller number of sections? Logistical difficulties in attending two annual meetings? Isolating those who resist an easy classification into either "confessional" or "historical"? Lots of other thoughts on my mind about this, but I'll leave it there for the moment."