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Wednesday, November 24, 2004

AAR/SBL

This was my fifth American Academy of Religion meeting, and I think I'm finally getting the hang of it. Part of it is that I've developed enough friends, associates, and contacts, that I don't succumb to the dark loneliness that has settled on me in the past at these sorts of things. So I spent time with David, AKMA and Margaret, Jerry, and others. I made some new acquaintances, such as Kristen, David W., and Allen. I even have "AAR Friends", folks I only see at the conference, such as Jacob, Mike and Gawain. (Didn't run into them this year, though.)

The conference itself was great this year. If you're new to AAR/SBL, it goes like this: from Saturday through Tuesday morning, the weekend before Thanksgiving, this professional scholarly society meets. During the daytime, talks run from 9 until 6:30 in three two and a half hour timeslots. Sessions usually feature papers of 20 to 30 minutes each with time for questions at the end. There are innumerable sessions, with a bewildering variety: Buddhist/Christian comparative studies, The Dharma society, Studies in comparative Hindish religions, Sections on the Gospel of Matthew, Gay and lesbian issues in religion, Teaching religion, Sections on Swedenborgianism and Spiritualism, Films to watch, Studies in Schleiermacher -- you get the idea. I went to a bunch, including the Society of Anglican and Lutheran Theologians: the Society for the Study of Anglicanism; The Society for Scriptural Reasoning; Eastern Orthodox Theology; an Ethics section that featured Stanley Hauerwas, Cornel West, and Jeffrey Stout; and several others besides.

I usually take a notebook with me. I'll write down things like "how can prog. xnty give ontological security and appropriately use crit. theory?" and "great trad. has been more a talking and publishing point than a lived reality", and "does not maintain dist. betw. energea and ousia in God." Honestly, I don't know what that last one means. I mostly take notes to help me focus and think of questions to ask.

Additional sessions, obliquely related to AAR, often start around 7 am, and often go until 11 pm or so. Most of us while away the evenings drinking and eating (and drinking some more) with friends, chatting up publishers, professors or colleagues. This explains why I and so many others are so exhausted right now.

Another draw of the convention is books. I think I probably need an intervention, because every year I swear I will buy fewer and every year I buy more. If we were each allowed to live long enough to read everything we own at least once, I would grow to be very old indeed. Methuselah would have nothing on me.

But we're talking half price books here, and I'm drawn to them like a moth to a bug lamp.

People sometimes ask me what I am doing at the AAR convention, since I work as a priest not a professor. When I am not feeling like a wise guy (my answer then is "to pick up women"), I say that I don't understand where all the other priests are. Why should we let the professors have all the fun?

Overall it was a great time. I connected with a bunch of friends, heard some great papers, and bought an alarming number of books. Next year in Philadelphia!

Of course, the best part was coming home and returning to my wife and daughter. At one point, two and a half year old Alex showed me the Christmas ornaments that Mommy had made and she had painted. "This is blue," she described. "This is a boot." "This is a girl." And so on. It was a presentation I could have listened to and taken notes on for hours.

Maybe that's what energea and ousia are really about anyway.

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