Dear ISRLC community,

Like everyone right now, we as a Society find ourselves in uncharted territory. We are unable to absorb fully the immediate effects of the global pandemic, and even less can we ascertain the extent of its fallout. Like many institutions, organisations, groups, and indeed businesses, we have been forced to speculate on the viability of pre-planned events, uncertain of the timelines we face in global contagion and local recovery.

As a committee we have been considering our September 2020 ISRLC conference in Chester for some time now. When the Coronavirus hit Europe in a serious way, we quickly realised that our conference date was not safe, even if it was, at the time, still six or more months away. And any hope we may have initially held has been steadily eroding with daily developments, as the trajectories of the virus become more extended, second waves more likely, safety measures more pressing, disruption more far-reaching, and the personal toll on all aspects of our lives, professional and domestic, harder to calculate.

Having canvassed all our panel leaders, we have therefore reached the unanimous conclusion that the September conference cannot now go ahead. Even if international travel will have returned to some semblance of normality by September-and this is far from certain- we cannot expect normality to be in place at every location around the globe. Moreover, travel resumption will not mean a return to our normal lives. The consequences of these weeks and months in quarantine, lockdown, self-isolation and social distancing will linger long after airports and trains stations reopen, and we are aware that adjusting to what will likely be new realities for the coming academic year will demand more of our attention as scholars and educators than any of us can currently anticipate. It seems unwise to expect our conference could function as normal under these circumstances.

Our solution is to postpone the conference by one year, and Alana Vincent, head of Chester’s organising committee, has already secured new dates at her institution: 19-22nd August, 2021. The venue will remain the same, the keynote speakers will remain the same, and the programme, at least in principle, will remain the same. Please, if possible, secure this date in your diary now.

We are conscious that delaying the conference by eleven months will have implications for us all. For some, the new dates may not work. For others, funding may now be in question. For postgraduates, a different stage of their studies may bring complications. And all of us will be confronting a changed global zeitgeist, one, we suspect, very far removed from the pre-Covid-19 world in which we first conceived our Call for Papers and our paper proposals. But there is no way around this continental shift, and sticking to the original 2020 date would have caused, we feel, even more logistical complexities and predicaments. Moreover, the Society has gained a justified reputation for addressing the most exigent issues of our day. The extra year may be an opportunity for us to transform our thinking to the new realities, and in turn to transmute our original proposals into something more in line with the current crisis and its aftermath.

There are a few implications we can inform you of immediately, however. First, registration will now close and be re-opened next year. Because Chester’s conference office adjusts costs year on year, we will need to recalculate fees once next year’s costs are confirmed. The few of you who have already registered will have your registration for next year honoured at this year’s rate, or, if you need to, you can contact Alana Vincent to arrange a refund (bearing in mind that if you re-register later, it will be at next year’s rate).

Second, bursaries: while we have already received applications, it is likely that people’s circumstances will change over the next year, and so we feel the best thing here is to withdraw all current bursary applications and run the process anew from next year. If you are a present applicant, please retain your current application, from which you may be able to cut and paste into the new form should your circumstances remain unchanged. We apologise to all applicants who are affected here.

Several panel convenors wondered about online options in lieu of a face to face conference this September. Though we quickly decided hosting an entire virtual conference was not feasible, we have been open to perhaps a smaller online event or series of short online gatherings that could be held around that time, connections that may provide some continuity for the postponed version in 2021. We are currently pursuing these options. If anyone has any ideas or wishes to initiate something under the auspices of the Society, please do contact any one of us on the Committee.

We do regret having to postpone our original September conference. For many of us, the biennial conferences are a highlight of our academic year. But we know as a society that we are not alone in cancelling or delaying. And we felt it would be in the best interests of everybody, all things considered.

Panel participants should contact their panel convenors directly for any personal information or queries about the effects of postponement. This would be most important if participants are aware now that the new 2021 dates will not work for them. Anyone should feel free to contact any member of the Committee for more general queries or suggestions.

We hope you are all coping, each in your way, and taking all the precautionary measures for staying healthy and safe. The world is undergoing a transmutation, it is plain to see. May your reflections now, in isolation, transform into reflections to be shared when, as will happen, we gather together again as a group, and consider things both plain and hidden.

With all best wishes,

Andrew Hass (General Secretary
Alana Vincent (President
Mattias Martinson (Vice-president
Petra Carlsson (Vice-president
Committee for the International Society for Religion, Literature and Culture