We are pleased to have David Krueger writing for us from the American Academy of Religion annual meeting (which ended today). Krueger is an independent scholar of history, religion, and American culture. He helps other scholars reach the public as a radio host with the Marginalia Review of Books and is the author of the recently published, Myths of the Rune Stone: Viking Martyrs and the Birthplace of America. (Check out our interview with him here). His report is from an AAR session titled “Religion Scholars, Public Voices, and Making a Living.”–JF
Have you ever dreamed of being an expert guest on CNN? Do you fantasize about a day when the New York Times calls to ask you to write an article that sheds light on a current event? On Sunday, November 22, I attended a session titled “How to Develop Your Public Voice and Make a Living from It” at the American Academy of Religion conference in Atlanta. The session was hosted by Dr. Brian Palmer, a scholar of anthropology and religion at Uppsala University in Sweden. He is also a sought-after public speaker.
During my last two visits to AAR, I have gravitated toward sessions that focus on career development and imagining life outside of the traditional tenure track academic world. The dire employment realities of the academic job market weigh heavily on me and I look to these session for some inspiration. I thoroughly enjoyed Amy Hale’s session “Envisioning Academic Alternatives” and the “Another Plan A” workshop discussed on this blog by by Andrew Henry. However, I was particularly fascinated by the “Developing Your Public Voice” session. Brian shared his story of how his university only pays him 40% of his salary. He raises the remainder though speaking to community groups all over Sweden and the U.S. He described himself as a “traveling salesmen of ideas” and has found a way to make a living by telling inspirational stories of civic heroes who act courageously in the face of injustice.
The best part of the session was hearing from the nearly 40 persons in attendance. Brian asked each of us to share what kind of a public voice we hoped to cultivate and what it was that we wanted to tell the world. A young Bible scholar said he wanted to develop a weekly video blog. A pastor expressed her desire to podcast her sermons so they could be heard by a broader audience. An activist said he wanted to write magazine articles about the role of religion in the Black Lives Matter movement. An ethicist said she hoped to one day speak about biotechnology on National Public Radio.
Being in the presence of other creative, public-minded scholars did much to stimulate my imagination. Although my future employment situation remains unclear, I feel very deeply that engaging the public on themes in religion and American culture needs to be part of my life in some way. In the aftermath of my book’s release in October, I’ve had the privilege of being interviewed by several radio stations and I’ve also given lectures at two universities, a book store, and even a retirement home. Although I have yet to make any money off of these endeavors, I’ve taken some steps toward building a public platform through the use of Twitter, my website, and pushing myself to pitch and write articles. Although I had to leave Brian’s session early due to my conference schedule, I suggested to the group that we find an online platform to continue the conversation. I have created a Facebook group toward this end. Please join in on the conversation, including those of you who already reach the public in very effective ways (hint, hint John Fea!)