The weekend before Thanksgiving every year is the time for a series of professional meetings that relate to the academic study of religion, theology, etc. The really two big organizations are the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) and the American Academy of Religion (AAR). Together they are the largest gathering of religion scholars in the world. I’ve heard estimates in the past of 30,000 to 40,000 peole who attend these meetings.
Of course as a Seventh-day Adventist scholar, I’m especially interested in two Adventist academic groups: the Adventist Society for Religious Studies (ASRS) and the Adventist Theological Society (ATS). ATS tends to have a session of papers in conjunction with the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) earlier in the week and tends to consist of more conservative scholars. ASRS has their main meeting on Thursday evening and Friday. Then for the past several years they have gotten together jointly for a Friday evening meeting and then have separate meetings for Sabbath. This year both entities are meeting in area churches for Sabbath. Personally I have felt comfortable moving back and forth between the two professional societies.
Naturally many of the papers address recent issues in the church: questions about the historical-critical method, or, women’s ordination. I gave a paper on the development of statements of fundamental beliefs in Adventist history in a session about church unity (you can read my paper here). The session was packed and several people offered really helpful, critical yet constructive comments that will help me to enrich and expand my paper. The ultimate goal of any Adventist academic is not just to present a paper, but to produce a peer-reviewed publication–the currency of academia that gives a person credibility. I find that other people have so many different perspectives that I personally feel enriched through the dialogue.
Of course other things that I love about these professional meetings is the opportunity to reconnect with friends–some who are still finishing their graduate degrees, others who are teaching, former professors who have mentored and continue to mentor, and people who I have read their publications before. This is a golden opportunity to network. Yesterday I had a meeting for a while in which three of us are scheming up the possibility of forming a team to write a textbook. I personally find the most rewarding projects are collaborative projects because the end product tends to have more depth and helps to avoid personal agendas.
I love to learn. Academics are people who have a passion for learning. As I heard a few friends say yesterday, the more you learn the more you realize how little you know. The difference with academics is that they also know how to find the sources: reliable sources, so at least you know where to begin the learning journey. And the academics I admire the most are the ones who help to make that process as tantalizing as possible. And the most rewarding part is when people, through their papers or publications, help me to see things from a new perspective. And so the learning process continues…