Moving to a Summer Meeting

Over the years the REA has struggled more and more to find hotels that can accommodate both the relatively small number of participants we have, and the large number of small breakout rooms we need. In addition, the cost of catering and A/V has been rising astronomically.

Further, many of our members from North America feel that they have to attend the American Academy of Religion meeting, which is always held two weeks after the early November REA meeting. Increasingly the cost of these meetings has meant that our members are torn between REA and AAR.

In an effort to find a creative solution to these challenges, the REA Board has voted to experiment with a three year trial of holding our annual meeting early in July at a university campus.

Here are some of the questions we have received so far:

When will we move to a summer timeline?

Our first summer meeting will be held July 5-8 of 2022 at the University of St. Thomas, in St. Paul, Minnesota. Prior to that meeting we will hold an abbreviated fall meeting in conjunction with the American Academy of Religion’s meeting in San Antonio, Nov. 19-20, 2021. Our 2020 meeting will be as usual, Nov. 6-8 of 2020 in St. Louis, MO.

Are you really sure this will be cheaper for the Association?

Every year we have a larger and larger gap between what we charge people to attend the meeting, and what the actual costs of the meeting are. In moving to a university campus during the summer, we can substantially cut the costs to the Association, making it possible to fund the meeting with roughly the same conference fees we have had in the past. This is, in part, due to universities having full A/V service already installed in classrooms, so that there is no additional cost for A/V. We will also be choosing universities based on their amenities, access to international airports, and so on.

What about for participants? Will it be cheaper for us?

The cost of housing and food for participants will be substantially lower if they stay on campus during our annual meeting.

As an example, when we stay at the University of St. Thomas, air conditioned rooms that are grouped in suites (with either two rooms or four rooms sharing one bathroom) will be priced around $75/day. Further, full meal service in a cafeteria which is “all you can eat” and has several options (including gluten-free and other speciality stations) will be around $35/day.

Of course, participants at the summer meeting can also stay at any one of a number of nearby hotels which range from barebones to full luxury, and at least a dozen AirBNB hosts within easy walking distance of the campus.

How will we choose at which campuses to meet?

Going forward from here, starting with the 2023 meeting, we will be asking members to make a “theme proposal” for a meeting. These proposals will be put to a vote of the membership, so that members can participate in choosing what themes we will be focused on. In the meantime, the Board will work with the Executive Secretary to find universities at which to meet. Send us your suggestions!

The 2022 meeting location has already been chosen — University of St. Thomas, in St. Paul, MN. But we do not yet have a program chair or theme, so next year (during the 2019 meeting) instead of electing a vice-president who is also the program chair, the Board intends to elect a vice president as usual, but that person will not be the program chair. The program chair will be chosen based on the proposal that person submits for a theme for the 2022 meeting, through an association-wide election.

What criteria are the Board using for choosing locations?

As 2022 will be the first time we meet on a university campus, we are still learning which criteria will be important. For this choice we looked for a spacious, hospitable campus with comfortable, air-conditioned housing; technologically-adept classrooms; excellent food services; proximity to a large number of our active members; and easy access to an international airport with relatively cheap flights.

Will we still be a “related scholarly organization” to AAR, and have a session at AAR in the fall?

This is a question the Board has not yet answered. In 2021 we will NOT hold an annual meeting as a stand alone meeting. The Board intends, however, to hold a substantial session (or perhaps even shared sessions) at the American Academy of Religion meeting that year. If it turns out that we see an increase in participation in our AAR sessions, then it might make sense to regularly continue to hold sessions at that meeting. Let us know what you think! Your input matters.

What about religious practitioners? Will this schedule work well for us?

Yes, indeed! It has been very difficult for religious practitioners to come to a November meeting. Our hope is that by meeting in early July, and cutting the costs of attending the meeting, we will be better able to support religious practitioners in attending.