Along with assorted others from Durham’s Department of Theology and
Religion, I recently attended the 2015 American Academy of
Religion/Society for Biblical Literature conference in Atlanta. The
conference is notoriously enormous – 10,000 delegates was the number I
heard bandied around, and while I didn’t do a head count it does at least
seem plausible. The conference took place in several hotels in downtown
Atlanta, though in some ways it would be more accurate to describe it as
multiple conferences happening in roughly the same area. Never mind the
Society for Biblical Literature: you could spend most of the length of the
conference just reading through the book of AAR abstracts.
My strategy was to go to the panels my friends were presenting on, and to
spend less time in panels than I did taking the opportunity to catch up
with old friends from around the world and finally meet people I’d only
met online. It worked pretty well, for me at least. Social media really
came into its own for me here: in the middle of such a vast and anonymous event it was weird but nice to turn round in the first panel session I went to and realise that half the room was made up of people I’d met, but only on twitter.
I went to a great panel about debt, which dealt with the historical
connection between Christian theology and ideas of indebtedness, a
critique of the demand for Jubilee as a solution to indebtedness, and a
discussion of the role of Christian charity in the questionable pursuit of
microfinance as a solution to global poverty. I presented on a panel about
‘Thinking Critically about the Future(s) of the human’: I gave a paper
about angels, cyborgs and theological accounts of work, while my
co-panelists (including Durham alumnus Thomas Lynch) spoke about religion, hope and nihilism, and messianism and nature through the lens of Ismaili Islam. I finished the conference at a panel on ‘Micrologics of the
Postsecular’ which dealt brilliantly with a huge range of topics, from
creolization to black theology to death, with a discussion of Pussy Riot
thrown in for good measure.
I didn’t enjoy the jet lag, which had me awake from 4am every morning
right through the conference, but it’s good to get out of Durham
occasionally, especially for a city as expansive as Atlanta. The
intellectual stimulation and academic meeting of minds was all very well
but I’d do the whole trip again just for the vegan wings I had in a smoky
bar the night before I came home.
Dr Marika Rose is a former research postgraduate in the Department of Theology and Religion, and is currently Research Fellow in Digital Discipleship and Curator of the Discipleship, part of the CODEC Research Centre in Durham.