Important Annual Meeting Announcement

Dear SSSR and RRA Members,

First, thank you to all those who participated in SSSR’s short survey. As you'll see, the data from that survey has been used to inform decisions taken by SSSR Council.

SSSR Council met on Monday to discuss the modality of the 2021 SSSR/RRA Conference that is slated for Portland, Oregon. Since the annual conference is one of the most prominent and important elements of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion and the Religious Research Association, decisions to modify the conference are never undertaken lightly. We weighed the survey data, our understanding of the current health situation, and a variety of other factors. What we have decided to do is to change the working assumption about the conference. Let us explain . . .

Since the founding of SSSR and RRA, the working assumption for the SSSR/RRA conference is that it would be in-person. In-person conferences are a big part of the SSSR/RRA experience and many if not most of us love the conferences. For this year and this year alone, Council decided to invert the assumption about the modality of the conference. We are going to move forward under the assumption that there will, at a minimum, be a virtual conference. However, Council has tabled a definitive decision on the modality of the conference pending further data and developments with the pandemic.

We want to be as open and transparent as possible with this decision. To that end, we want to share some of the data upon which we based our decision and explain the logic a little more.

A total of 464 individuals completed our short survey. The membership is divided over an in-person or virtual conference; 44% indicated they were likely or extremely likely to attend an in-person conference while 56% were unlikely or extremely unlikely to do so. The numbers were pretty different for a virtual conference: 66% were likely or extremely likely to participate in a virtual conference while 34% were unlikely or extremely unlikely to do so. Finally, 28% of the respondents indicated they have no travel funds and 12% indicated their travel funds had been reduced. Smaller numbers indicated their travel funds were unaffected by the pandemic (16%) or that their travel funds had been reinstated (6%). Additionally, 26% of respondents are still unsure whether they will have travel funds or not (this uncertainty weighed heavily in our decision to wait to make a final decision).

The logic behind our decision is fairly straightforward. Regardless of what happens with the pandemic, we know we can stage a virtual conference. We don't know, because of the pandemic, whether we can have an in-person conference, even though that is what we'd like to do. Thus, we are going to work toward the virtual conference and, if the situation changes over the next months, we have the ability to decide to switch to an in-person conference.

What might lead us to change to an in-person conference? If the vaccine rollout is highly successful and the vaccines appear to provide a robust defense against serious cases of COVID-19, that would change the climate for travel. If the economic situation improves substantially and the uncertainty about travel funds many individuals are currently facing results in restored travel funds, that could change Council's decision.

We also want to let you know that paper and session proposals will be opened on February 15th, and when you submit your proposal you will have an opportunity to indicate the format of the conference in which you would be willing to participate. In other words, you will be able to indicate whether you will: (a) only give your presentation in person, (b) only give your presentation virtually, or (c) will give your presentation regardless of the format of the conference.

We hope SSSR/RRA members are understanding of this situation and recognize that we are doing our best to make decisions with limited information and in uncertain times. We can provide at least some certainty, however - **there will be a fall SSSR/RRA conference. At a minimum, it will be a carefully designed and developed virtual conference.** We know that for sure. Whether we can switch to an in-person conference or not is a decision Council will make later.

Prema Kurien (President SSSR)

Melinda Denton (President RRA)