Thursday, May 3, 2018

Staying Grounded at the Academic Conference

Next week I'm heading to the regional meeting for the Society of Biblical Literature. This time it's being held at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington. I'll be presenting a paper, responding to a colleague's paper, and chairing a session. I've written before about the value of these conferences. They are worth every penny.

This week InterVarsity released a piece I wrote about the spiritual side of conference attendance. What are the dangers of conference attendance? How can I avoid them? And most importantly, how can I participate in the work God is doing in the academy?


I’ll never forget the euphoria of my first several academic conferences. I marked those long days in dozens — attending dozens of papers, meeting dozens of scholars, and buying dozens of books — until my brain was as distended as my suitcase. Walking between sessions, my eyes flitted from face to name tag and back again, registering surprise as bibliography entries took on flesh and passed me in the halls. In those years I “collected” sightings and handshakes, listing them in my journal on the way home. I was conscious of the danger of idolatry, but it was hard not to be giddy. The stories I brought home made me feel important-by-association.

August Konkel, Daniel Block, Jennifer Jones, Carmen Imes,
and Richard Hess at the IBR Annual Meeting, 2017
Things are different now, but equally dangerous. I know these scholars well enough now to see them as human. The seduction of the personality cult has been eclipsed by another phenomenon: they know me. Now the temptation is to “collect” stories of those who called out to say hello, sought me out during a reception, complimented my paper. In the early years it was a big deal to see Dr. So-and-So give a paper, and a bigger deal to ask a question afterward. Now Dr. So-and-So is taking me out to breakfast, asking about my work, and recommending me for committees and other projects.


You can read the rest of my post over at The Well

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