AAR/SBL 2022

This past week I attended to Annual Meetings of the American Academy of Religion (AAR) and the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) in Denver, CO. While the sentiment wasn’t universal, I’ve seen several of my friends say something to the extent that this was the best conference in a long time. I think this is because many more attended in person this year. While there was an “in person” element last year in San Antonio, it felt sparse, and half the conference was still on Zoom. I appreciate the online option for accessibility reasons, and I support future efforts to have an online version of these conferences, but just like many of us recognized with online learning, there’s something missing for many of us when everything takes place over a screen. This is likely because conferences, like classrooms, are only partially about the exchange of information. It’s the relational, face-to-face interactions that students missed during the pandemic and I think this is what many of us were missing last year.

This was my first year on the Educational Resources and Review Committee. I know this may sound nerdy but our meeting was one of my favorite parts of the conference. I’m excited about what we’re going to do as a committee, especially the emphasis that’s being placed on carving out a space for secondary/high school and middle school teachers, including those who may not teach religious studies but instead say English language or history classes.

I heard a handful of great papers, including some by friends of mine, but the best overall session I attended was last Saturday’s “Bible In America” which featured several excellent presentations—one on “the character of Dinah and on her subsequent reception in American history as a symbol of Black womanhood” (Nauff M. Zakaria); one on the non-use of Numbers 5:11-31 among pro-choice religious group (Kirk R. MacGregor); one on a specific “hologram” Bible known as the “monarchist” Bible and how it relates to Tr*mp (Rebekah Carere); one about the Bible as a celebrity (John W. Fadden); and one the invention of public school Bible courses in Colorado (Mark Chancey).

My goal for next year is to see a session on pedagogy for high and middle school teachers. It may be combined with community college teaching. We’ll see!

I didn’t get many books because six or seven that I wanted were display copy-only or sold out, but I’m excited about the three I did purchase!


AAR/SBL high school teachers meet up?

I mentioned to my friend David Burnett (on Facebook) that we should try to get together a group of people at AAR/SBL who teach religious/biblical studies in a high school context. I don’t know how many of us there are but I do know our experiences are unique to the field and it would be good to create some sort of network of support. Any takers? (And, if so, does anyone have a spot in Denver near the conference that they’d favor?)

AAR/SBL 2021: See you in Denver!

This was originally posted on November 23rd, 2021.

It may be due to having not attended an in-person conference last year but on the last day that I attended AAR/SBL 2021, I went to three sessions. Well, maybe four half-sessions is more accurate. Either way, I attended a lot more sessions than I’m prone to do on the final day.

My final day was Monday. I didn’t go downtown or sign on to any sessions today.

In the morning, I heard a couple of papers at the Johannine Literature session. Wil Rogan’s “Echoes of Sinai beyond the Jordan: Ritual Purity and Revelation in the Fourth Gospel” was packed with helpful insights but the two that stood out to me came during his Q&A. I tweeted the following as a reminder:
A couple of insights I want to remember from this paper’s Q&A:

(1) the foot washing = probably not an act of ritual purity but Peter wants to make it one; (2) JtBaptist = like Moses as purifier of Israel (Exod 19:10-11; cf. John 1:14-18).

Rogan suggested that when Peter says in John 13:9 “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” that he’s trying to avoid Jesus’ act being one of his master/teacher serving him because that discomforts him; instead he prefers to see Jesus as performing a ritual cleansing. Jesus rejects this move saying to Peter in 13:10, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.”

Then I heard Lee Douglas Hoffer’s “Jesus’s Obfuscatory Speech and the Motif of Misunderstanding in the Fourth Gospel” where he did a great job presenting Jesus as “the Isaianic agent of Israel’s hardening”. My friend Marc wanted to catch the Qumran/Historical Jesus sessions, so we headed there next to hear most of Yair Furstenberg’s thought-provoking “The Limited Scope of Jewish Law in the Second Temple Period: A Sectarian Perspective”. In essence, if I understood him, he saw Torah-enforcement as being uncommon for most people and that most local courts settled matters under Roman authority. Jesus and Qumran exhibit an alternate path that rejects the courts of the “nations” in favor of an internal, communal system based.

We finished that Qumran/Historical Jesus session with a couple of good papers from Hannah Harrington (“Purity, the Scrolls, and Jesus”) and Jeffery Garcia (“‘Support the Poor’: Charity in the Damascus Document and Matthew’s Gospel as a Case of Mutual Illumination”). Then in the afternoon I mixed wondering the book halls, saying hi to friends, and a paper from the Gospel of Mark session (Josef Sykora’s “Hope for Dogs: The Syrophoenician Woman in Mark 7:24-30 as the Unchosen Who Saves Her Children”) with the presentations from the Racism, Pedagogy, and Biblical Studies panel. My allergies were wicked yesterday, so I didn’t stick around for the subsequent discussion. It was time to go home.

And now my first “in-person” conference since the beginning of the pandemic has come to an end. It was fun and refreshing even if the attendance was thinner and the atmosphere a little strange with us all wearing masks. Hopefully, when we gather in Denver next year, it’ll all feel a little more “normal” (whatever that means now).

AAR/SBL 2021: Day 3

This was originally posted on November 22nd, 2021.

I stayed home yesterday. All the sessions I attended were virtual. That includes “Racism, Pedagogy, and Biblical Studies/Academic Teaching and Biblical Studies” where I heard papers discuss the relationship between settler colonialism and the Book of Joshua (Mari Joerstad); the mentioning (or, lack thereof) of slavery in biblical studies textbooks (Eliza Rosenberg); a project that helps students learn about local racism that begins with a study of Deuteronomy 15:12-15 (Seth Heringer); and two papers that explored the racism/racial prejudice of Jesus’ words to Canaanite (Matthew 15:21-28)/Syrophoenician (Mark 7:24-30) woman where he alludes to her as a “dog” (Jione Havea and Gideon W. Park). All of those papers were very challenging and provoked my thinking on how I teach biblical studies to my students.
In the late afternoon, I attended “Exile (Forced Migrations) in Biblical Literature” where they discussed the topic “Legacies of Exile in the Prophets and Torah”. It was a panel that morphed into more of a traditional paper presenting session, so I don’t have the titles, but I did learn about how the exile was interpreted in prophetic literature, how much blame was or wasn’t put on kings, and a few other insights that I’ll take back to my classroom.

But the most exciting part of the day is when I had the opportunity to sit in on the “Educational Resources and Review Committee” meeting. I join the committee in 2022 and I’ve very excited about what’s on the agenda. Mark Chancey of SMU has finished his terms on the committee and as its chair. The new chair will be David Eastman of The McCallie School—a fellow high school teacher, so that’s amazing. As I can say more and promote what we’re doing, I’ll do so here.

Attending AAR/SBL as a high school teacher

This was originally posted on November 20th, 2021.

The annual AAR/SBL meeting used to be a mixture of excitement and high anxiety for me. This is mostly due to imposter syndrome. I’ve been around long enough to know that many people who are absolutely qualified to represent their fields of study also happen to struggle with imposter syndrome, so it’s comforting to know that the feelings that accompany imposter syndrome aren’t discriminatory. But they’re real and can be destabilizing.

These days, I don’t feel the imposter syndrome as much, mostly because I’ve found my niche teaching religious studies in a high school setting. But there is a different feeling that comes with this reality: it’s sort of like being a minor leaguer who gets called up for a few games. I know, it’s a silly self-perception, but there’s definitely the sense that I’m getting the opportunity to be a “big leaguer” for three days before going back to where I belong.

This isn’t a bad thing though. The anxiety associated with imposter syndrome usually has something to do with the question of whether you belong. I know I belong, just in a certain role, and it’s a role that I greatly enjoy but that is envied by very few of my academic colleagues. I’m still trying to do some scholarly things on the side like editing and writing or being part of SBL’s “Educational Resources and Review Committee” beginning next November. But I’m not gunning for a college or seminary job; not facing the pressure of “publish or perish”; and not worrying about the competitive camaraderie that comes with befriending your potential competition for a job.

Instead, considering the fact that higher education is broken and there are more people receiving terminal degrees in the humanities who don’t have a job waiting for them, I’m grateful that I get to do what I love. I get paid to talk about what I spent most of my life studying and earning degrees in. All without the anxiety and fear that comes with trying to make it big. So, the “minor leagues” are good for me and honestly, at this juncture, I’m so used to teaching adolescents that I’m not sure I could easily make the adjustment to an older demographic. Instead, I aim to be the best religious studies high school teacher I can be and whenever I have the opportunity to learn from the big leaguers like I’ll have this weekend, I plan on taking full advantage in order to nerd out and perfect my craft.

#SBLAAR2020: See you in San Antonio!

The (online) 2020 Annual Meetings of the Society of Biblical Literature and the American Academy of Religion have come to an end. I wish I could have seen y’all in Boston but it’s 2020, so the pandemic has ruined everything. Hopefully, I’ll see everyone next year when it comes to San Antonio, where I live!

I only caught pieces of sessions the past couple days since the school year is winding down simultaneously and I’ve been busy with all that entails. If there’s anything good about this conference it’s that I have access to the recordings. I’m sure I’ll find more sessions to watch in the coming days. But online sessions can never replace the in-person meeting, so let’s hope this pandemic is toast by next November.

#SBLAAR2020: Day 8

Today’s sessions:

-SBL’s “Ecological Hermeneutics”
-SBL’s “Christian Theology and the Bible / Matthew” focusing on “Women Interpreters of Matthew’s Women”

I signed into the first one during lunch break, so with what attention I could give it, I did enjoy Paavo Tucker’s “What Does It Profit? Qohelet and the Commodification of Nature”; Dominic S. Irudayaraj’s “Destruction-Restoration Dichotomy in Isaiah 34–35: An Ecological Reappraisal”; and Rebecca Copeland’s “Blessing the Fig Tree: Redeeming Nonconforming Bodies in Matthew 21:18–22:14” before I had to resume teaching.

I’m two papers into the Matthew session and it’s been great.

#SBLAAR2020: Days 5-7

I guess Friday was day 5 of AAR/SBL but there was nothing for me to attend. Yesterday, I listened to the wonderful SBL Presidential Address by Adele Reinhartz: “The Hermeneutics of Chutzpah: A Disquisition on the Value/s of ‘Critical Investigation of the Bible'” (I highly recommend it) before catching part of the AAR Plenary Panel: “What Do We, as Scholars of Religion, Value?” Today, I’m listening to the session “Bible and Emotion / Prayer in Antiquity” on my lunch break and I hope to catch the session “Biblical Literature and the Hermeneutics of Trauma” later today. 

Muddy Paper in Plastic Bags: my SBL presentation recording

On Thursday, I presented a paper titled “Muddy Paper in Plastic Bags: Practicing Textual Criticism” at the Society of Biblical Literature’s Annual Meeting 2020 (online this year). The recording is available for those who registered for the conference. (Hopefully, someday, for the sake of public scholarship, most of these recordings will be made available on YouTube!) To find it, just search by my name. Here are PDFs of the handout and slides I used:

Here I am presenting on the ol’ Zoom machine!

#SBLAAR2020: Days 3-4

Yesterday, I attended the joint session “The Intersection of Bible and the United States 2020 Politics” of SBL’s Bible and Practical Theology and AAR’s Evangelical Studies Units where I heard Anna Hutchinson’s “The Role of Theological Education in Evangelical Bible Reading and Interpretation” and Marie Purcell’s “A Battle between Good and Evil: Ethnographic Reflections on the Election from First Baptist Dallas”. Both were fascinating. Then I got to hear some of the presentations from the Ecological Hermeneutics/Paul and Politics SBL session.

Today, I’m presenting at 5 pm EST (4 pm CST) on the topic “Muddy Paper in Plastic Bags: Practicing Textual Criticism”. It’s a “teaching tactic” style presentation on an activity I had my students do in order to teach them a little bit about how the Bible is formed. If you’re interested, here are PDFs of the handout and the Slides:

Here are a couple of posts I wrote after I offered the activity to my students: