Concurrent AAR/SBL meetings set stage for packed YDS reception

For Yale Divinity School faculty and alumni who met Nov. 19-22 in San Francisco at the concurrent meetings of the American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature, it was like old times.  And, by all accounts, that was a cause for much celebration.

From 1970 through 2007, the AAR and SBL held joint annual meetings, but in 2008, for a variety of reasons, they began meeting at different times and venues.  In 2011, for the first time in four years, the groups were back together again, beginning a new era of concurrent meetings.

For Yale folk, a highlight of the concurrent meetings was the traditional Yale reception, hosted by YDS and open to faculty, alums and friends of both YDS and Yale’s Department of Religious Studies.  Naturally, since this year’s reception brought together scholars linked to both the AAR and SBL, the number of attendees was large—about 250—and made for a packed room at the Hilton Union Square Hotel.

“Though this merger meant that the venue for the YDS reception was bulging at the seams, it was a lively occasion well worth attending,” said Ken Kuntz ’59 B.D., an SBL member who taught Hebrew Bible for many years in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Iowa.

He reported, “On the edges of the meetings I was delighted to interact with AAR as well as SBL associates, especially those former Ph.D. candidates whom I had taught and counseled at the University of Iowa for whom biblical studies was not a concentration.” 

Likewise, Kate Ott ’00 M.A.R., who has served as a lecturer at YDS in pastoral care and is now assistant professor of Christian social ethics at Drew Theological School in Madison, NJ, noted that it was nice to be able to meet with SBL members as well as AAR colleagues. “It was a joy to see many familiar faces at the YDS reception,” she said, “and have the opportunity to be with friends and colleagues that I otherwise might go years without seeing in person.”

“The annual meeting and the YDS reception hummed in a way they haven't in years,” said Martha Serpas ’94 M.Div., an AAR member who teaches in the Department of English at the University of Houston and is a trauma hospital chaplain. “I was very glad to see SBL friends and to attend the Biblical poetry sessions I've been missing.”

While there is overlap in the missions and activities of AAR and SBL, the mission of AAR is grounded in “reflection upon and understanding of religious traditions, issues, questions, and values,” whereas SBL is focused on fostering biblical scholarship.  In some cases, scholars are affiliated with both groups, but usually they affiliate with one or the other.

Yale Divinity School boasts former presidents of both organizations.  Dean Harold Attridge and Holmes Professor of Old Testament John Collins each headed the SBL, while Associate Dean of Academic Affairs Emilie Townes served as president of the AAR.

For them, there were both practical and social aspects of the concurrent meetings that made this year’s gatherings particularly fruitful.

“Having the two major scholarly organizations together again eliminated the duplication of efforts of recent years that was a drain on our resources,” Attridge observed.  “The synergy between the two organizations was manifest in many ways, in attendance at sessions, in the collaborative efforts of faculty who were interviewing candidates for positions, and perhaps most strikingly in the Yale reception.”

Collins said, “There was general relief at the reunion of AAR/SBL. The separation had been especially difficult for booksellers. It had posed two problems for schools like YDS: the problem of double receptions and the difficulty of getting a quorum for search committee interviews at the meeting.

“Both of these problems were relieved by the reunion. It was especially good to see lots of YDS alumni who would have attended the ‘other’ meeting if the two had been separate.”

Said Townes, “Having the annual meetings of the AAR and SBL meet concurrently in the same location made it possible for many groups and individuals to do the kind of intellectual networking that is only feasible when the groups meet in this manner.

“I found the conversations to be lively and engaged, the interdisciplinary insights provoking. .  .All in all, it was and will be a very good thing!”

As usual, scores of lectures and panel presentations formed the core of both the AAR and SBL meetings, and Yale Divinity School faculty were well represented.

Among the faculty making presentations at the various sessions were:

American Academy of Religion: Emilie Townes, Overcoming Barriers to Underrepresented Scholarship: A Strategy and Action Workshop; the Wiley Blackwell Companion to Practical Theology; Womanist Theological Ethics: A Reader. Teresa Berger, Gender Differences and he Making of Liturgical History. Mary Evelyn Tucker, film, Journey of the Universe. Janet Ruffing, Presidential Address, Society for the Study of Christian Spirituality. Thomas Ogletree, Facilitating Human Freedoms and Constraining Persistent Abuses. Miroslav Volf, Confronting Islamaphobia; Allah, A Christian Response; Divinity and Business School Cooperation; Beyond Atheistic and Religious Fundamentalisms. Willis Jenkins, Faithful Presence: A Response to James Hunter’s To Change the World.  Shannon Craigo-Snell, Disembodied Knowledge as Bodily Practice. Sally Promey, Artifacts of Crisis: Religion and the Material Culture of Cataclysm. Jan Holton, How are You Blessed by God? Negotiating the Fluid Boundaries of Pastoral Theological Ethnography in Post-conflict Zones.

Society of Biblical Literature:  David Eastman, Old Rome as New Rome: The Cult of Peter and Paul and the Recreation of Roman Identity. Judith Gundry, Does Paul Think Singles Avoid Hardship, Anxiety or Conflict of Interest? Carolyn Sharp, Buying Land in the Text of Jeremiah: Feminist Commentary, the Kristevan Abject, and Jeremiah. Adela Yarbro Collins, Rewritten Prophets: The Use of Older Scripture in Revelation. Harold Attridge, Symposia and the Fourth Gospel. Jeremy Hultin, The So-Called “Epistula Anne ad Senecam”: A Jewish Pseudepigraphon in Latin.

Posted: 12/05/2011

Revised: 12/06/2011