If academic conferences and scholarly panels give a glimpse of books to come, then the program for the 2013 annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion signals the continuing rise of popular culture as a topic in religious studies. The AAR conference, in conjunction with the Society of Biblical Literature’s (SBL) own yearly event, will take over the Baltimore Convention Center just before Thanksgiving, November 23-26. Many of the religion scholars and practitioners of nearly every religion in attendance this year will be speaking the same language–the vernacular of popular culture.
The AAR won’t ever be confused with the Popular Culture Association—the next conference of that nationwide, scholarly association focused on American culture is not until April 2014—but television, film, music, and comic books are not far from the minds of AAR members these days. The Theopoetics group, devoted to the critical study of faith intertwining with people’s experience of art, aims to examine Scandal, ABC’s popular political thriller; the Contemporary Pagan Studies group, known for its focus on the natural world, enters dark movie theaters to look at the film version of the YA novel Beautiful Creatures (Little, Brown, 2009). Perusing the AAR program book, attendees will note a number of “pop”-centered panels and discussions dotting the long weekend, some in overlapping time slots. See “Critical Approaches to Hip-Hop and Religion” or go to “Religion and Science Fiction”? If conference-goers choose “Hip-Hop,” they can catch discussions of Battlestar Galactica or Lost on the SBL roster too.