Our Strategic Plan


OVERVIEW

The Strategic Planning Committee convened in June 2018 to analyze research and conduct discussions toward strengthening the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion (SSSR). Out of this process, the committee distilled the core values of inclusive community, excellent scholarship, and public engagement, values that were recommend to permeate the operations of the SSSR. These core values are now listed on our website. To that end, the committee recommended a series of actions.  

SUMMARY OF STRATEGIC PLANNING PROCESS

A survey conducted by the Center for Social Research (CSR) at Calvin College was completed by six hundred persons on the mailing list of SSSR (response rate 29.2%) prior to the planning retreat. The respondents reflect the disciplinary, racial, and regional diversity of SSSR. Findings from the survey were summarized by CSR and made available to the strategic planning committee. 

After studying the survey outcomes, the members of the strategic planning committee met for a 2.5-day retreat. The first day and a half of the retreat was conducted under the leadership of current SSSR President, Korie Edwards. The first day of the retreat began reflexively. Committee members discussed, in both small groups and as a large group, their personal values, reasons for becoming a social scientist of religion, and dreams for SSSR. The committee then worked to amplify the voices not present at the retreat by looking at the survey and what respondents believed SSSR should stop, start, and continue. Finally, based on the conversations for the day, several broad themes were isolated, including: 

  • Strengthen existing community and eliminate marginalization of women, people of color, scholars from outside of North America and from disciplines outside of sociology.
  • Embrace being an elite organization through cutting edge scholarship.
  • Build organizational capacity through mentorship and enabling skill acquisition across the life course.
  • Engage in public scholarship.
  • Recognize and promote the interdisciplinary advantage of the organization.
  • Acknowledge and address the limited academic job opportunities.

On the second day of the retreat, the committee, led by Edwards, developed values, goals, and actions for SSSR. Based on the discussion from the previous day, committee members delineated values important for the success of the organization. The committee then voted to narrow down the values to those most critical for the members of the committee and consistent with the survey feedback. All members of the committee contributed to defining these values. In small groups of three to four people, the committee developed a series of goals, keeping the values discussed in mind. These goals were proposed to the large group and voted on to determine the top five. During the afternoon of the second day of the retreat, the Executive Officer, Roman Williams, led the group in understanding the organizational and financial capacity of SSSR. With this information in mind, Michael Emerson then guided the committee to develop proposed action steps to support the goals. Action planning was again done in three small groups. Each group focused on one or two of the goals. Each goal was limited to no more than three action items to ensure the rate of change would not outstrip organizational capacity.

SSSR President Korie Edwards concluded the final half-day of the retreat. During this time, action plans and next steps were discussed. Post-retreat, the committee collaborated to produce this report. Oneya Okuwobi organized the processes and ideas of the committee in this report. All who were present at the retreat agree with the values, goals, and actions represented here.

VALUES

Below are proposed values for the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion with a supporting quote from the survey and an explication from the committee:

1. Inclusive Community: An intentional space where people are nurtured, respected, and connected.

The Society for the Scientific Study of Religion has a competitive advantage that it spans many groups in the study of religion.  Members hail from every branch of social science, region of the globe, as well as many racial and ethnic groups.  This strength has been a double-edged sword, with some members, namely non-sociologists, those residing outside North America, and racial/ethnic minorities expressing lower levels of satisfaction with SSSR.  By naming “inclusive community” as a value of SSSR, we seek to (i) emphasize the diversity of our membership; (ii) ensure all feel the same sense of belonging that many already do as is repeatedly indicated in the survey; and (iii) expand and strengthen the community atmosphere of SSSR meetings. 

2. Excellent Scholarship: The development of relevant, evidence-based knowledge that advances the social scientific study of religion.

Excellent scholarship is required for the social scientific study of religion to be a prestigious pursuit.  SSSR plays a crucial role in excellent scholarship by mentoring, supporting, and connecting social scientists of religion throughout the life course.  In addition, the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion can be a competitive advantage for SSSR in promoting a high standard of creative, consequential, and cross-disciplinary work.

3. Public Engagement: Proactively translating social scientific research on religion for multiple publics.

The social scientific study of religion was foundational to the development of many social sciences.  Today, however, it is less central than it should be given the importance of religion (in all its empirically observable forms) to society. This value connotes a proactive approach to engaging others with the importance of the social scientific study of religion.  The publics we will work with include our respective disciplines, news media, as well as other interested groups and organizations, religious or otherwise. This value also reflects the desire of many in the organization to improve the lives of people.

STRATEGIC PLAN GOALS

1. No differences in satisfaction with SSSR exist among members by race/ethnicity, gender, discipline, national origin, sexuality, or career phase.

1.a. Create a Pathway to Leadership for all members.

1.b. Pilot changes to the annual meeting to increase session participation (e.g., sessions for methods training and networking; changing paper sessions to enhance discussion; and reinstating roundtables).

2. Create a structure of mentoring and training to better equip SSSR members for excellent scholarship.

2.a. Create a Professional Development Committee responsible for two professional development panels each year. In addition to an annual panel on getting a job, the following panels will be organized 2019–2023

2019 Getting Grants

2021 Publishing Articles and Books

2022 Public Scholarship on Religion

2023 Career Advice over the Life Course 

2.b. Create a Mentoring Committee and a mentoring program (details forthcoming).

3. Triple the number of underrepresented minority scholars, non-US/Canada scholars and non-sociologists who are members of SSSR.

3.a. Recruit one to two mid-career or senior scholar(s) per year who are non-sociologists to organize sessions (per year) at annual meetings.

3.b. Organize at least one new affinity group per year for the next five years that encourages attendees who are not sociologists, from countries/continents outside Canada and the United States, or people of color to make meaningful connections with one another and other regular SSSR members. The following groups have been established as of the 2020 annual meeting:

Catholic Research Network

Non-Religion Group

Islam Research Network

Mormon Social Science Association

Scholars of Color Network

Congregational Scholars Network

Social Science of Science and Religion Group

Religion and Immigration

Religion and Civic Life

4. Develop a public engagement structure that promotes JSSR articles and SSSR members and activities.

4.a. Hire religion news journalists to write at least one short news stories per year, beginning in 2021 for five years about JSSR articles that reflect the values of the SSSR.

4.b. Create and implement a system by which SSSR regularly engages media about the accomplishments and upcoming events of SSSR and its members (e.g., awards, collaborations with public entities, plenary panels at meetings, etc.) and the scholarship of SSSR members as well as develop bi-annual newsletter.

4.c. Update annually registry of SSSR members and their areas of expertise that specifically targets journalists and other media agents.

4.d. Presidents (Current, Past and Elect) will be encouraged to note their SSSR positions as part of their byline in publications.

5. Retain 70 percent of new attendees to the annual meeting as new members.

5.a. Offer and advertise a first-time attendee discount for annual meetings with an on-site membership option.

5.b. Schedule new attendee presentations at high-visibility and attendance time periods.

5.c. Organize new attendee and networking reception(s) that is intended to integrate new attendees, specifically scholars who are not sociologists, from outside Canada or the United States, or/and people of color, and bring organizational leaders and new attendees together around common interests (e.g., by discipline, professional status, or research interest).