To outline the situation very briefly: Recent policy changes by the AHA will make it more expensive for members of affiliated societies (including ASCH, ACHA, and all of the others listed here) to attend the AHA annual meeting while also giving affiliated societies less control over their portions of the meeting--how many paper sessions they have, where those sessions meet, what kind of displays the societies can set up, and so forth. These changes seem to leave ASCH three basic options: (1) to keep meeting with AHA, though under less congenial terms; (2) to affiliate with a different scholarly society (or societies); or (3) to go it alone and plan its own, separate annual meeting, analogous to though larger than the current ASCH spring meeting.
A survey laying out these options in detail and inviting feedback from constituents will be available later this year. I'm helping draft the survey, and there are some things I want to think more about--and hear from more people about--to try to make sure we get the most useful information from all of the people with a stake in the ASCH's next move. So here are some of my big questions:
1. Who, besides current, active ASCH members, cares about the ASCH annual meeting? In identifying a target audience for the survey and, by extension, the meeting, obviously ASCH members are in the center. I'd expect the next ring to be populated by folks who typically attend the winter meeting as members of AHA, ACHA, or another affiliated society but drop into an ASCH session or chat with their ASCH friends in the hallways. Are there historians who don't attend AHA but would like to be in conversation with ASCH members? What about scholars of religion (AAR types) or other fields? Who, in other words, are the ASCH's current and potential conversation partners?
2. What's an annual meeting for? There are many answers to this question, and scholars answer it differently at different points in their careers. Job interviews. Book contracts. Book purchases. Presentations to put on the c.v. Professionalization and socialization. Hearing papers that inform research and teaching. What else? Which of these, if taken away, would force a conference off your "to attend" list? Assuming differences in the needs of grad students, early career scholars, and later career scholars, whose needs should ASCH prioritize, and why?
3. For that matter, what's a scholarly society for? I raised this question back in January, and I don't feel any closer to an answer. My graduate advisor was deeply invested in the ASCH, and I've attended the annual meeting consistently over the past 10 years, so I just assumed it would always be there, doing ... whatever it does. I'm getting a clearer picture now that I'm on the council, but I still struggle to articulate what its unique role is or to make a strong sales pitch to the many "members" who don't pay their dues.
The proliferation of outlets for academic writing makes the journal Church History, while still the gold standard in the field, perhaps less indispensable as a source of information or c.v. lines. The "religious turn" in the field of history means, among other things, that there's a lot of church history scholarship happening outside the ASCH. The profession is under significant pressure, but ASCH doesn't involve itself in job placement or advocacy. What does ASCH do that's compelling enough to convince people to keep paying for it, even if the annual meeting becomes more expensive or less attractive?
If you number yourself among those who have a stake in the course of the ASCH, please share what you think about these questions or suggest other questions to consider. The last thing anyone wants is a repeat of the AAR-SBL divorce. Help us do better.