A learned society (; also known as a learned academy, scholarly society, or academic association) is an organization that exists to promote an academic discipline, profession, or a group of related disciplines such as the arts and science. Membership may be open to all, may require possession of some qualification, or may be an honour conferred by election.
Most learned societies are non-profit organizations, and many are professional associations. Their activities typically include holding regular conferences for the presentation and discussion of new research results and publishing or sponsoring academic journals in their discipline. Some also act as professional bodies, regulating the activities of their members in the public interest or the collective interest of the membership.
Some of the oldest learned societies are the Académie des Jeux floraux (founded 1323), the Sodalitas Litterarum Vistulana (founded 1488), the Accademia della Crusca (founded 1583), the Accademia dei Lincei (founded 1603), the Académie Française (founded 1635), the Academy of Sciences Leopoldina (founded 1652), the Royal Society of London (founded 1660) and the French Academy of Sciences (founded 1666).
Societies can be very general in nature, such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science, specific to a given discipline, such as the Modern Language Association, or specific to a given area of study, such as the Royal Entomological Society.
Most are either specific to a particular country (e.g. the Entomological Society of Israel), though they generally include some members from other countries as well, often with local branches, or are international, such as the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) or the Regional Studies Association, in which case they often have national branches. But many are local, such as the Massachusetts Medical Society, the publishers of the internationally known New England Journal of Medicine.
Membership may be open to all, may require possession of some qualification, or may be an honor conferred by election.
Some societies offer membership to those who have an interest in a particular subject or discipline, provided they pay their membership fees. Older and more academic/professional societies may offer associateships and/or fellowships to fellows who are appropriately qualified by honoris causa, or by submission of a portfolio of work or an original thesis. A benefit of membership may be discounts on the subscription rates for the publications of the society. Many of these societies award post-nominal letters to their memberships.
Following the globalization and the development of information technology, certain scholarly societies--such as the Modern Language Association--have created virtual communities for their members. In addition to established academic associations, academic virtual communities have been so organized that, in some cases, they have become more important platforms for interaction and scientific collaborations among researchers and faculty than have traditional scholarly societies. Members of these online academic communities, grouped by areas of interests, use for their communication shared and dedicated listservs (for example JISCMail), social networking services (like Facebook, LinkedIn) and academic oriented social networks (like Mendeley, Academia.edu).