This post on Nadine Muller’s blog by Imogen Clarke about her first international conference reminded me about mine, and some of our experiences were fairly similar. I did in fact also watch Jersey Shore in my guest room!
My first international conference was for early-career Theologians, mostly grads. I submitted a paper on my MPhil research which uses digital ethnographic methods to explore the development of a theology among the Pro-Ana movement. I wasnt at this point too clear on the difference between theology and the socio-anthropological study of religion… I had always described myself as a theologian, or ‘one who studies religion’. My undergrad college chums used to call me ‘Beth the Theologian’ to differentiate me from… well, no one else, I was the only Beth.
Anyway, my paper was accepted and I packed my bag to fly to Dublin.
The keynote speaker was a Professor from my own faculty. Very well known, very well published. But her definition of a theologian was “one who prays”. There followed two days of people talking about Christianity from a confessional perspective. And it was held in a seminary (I really should have guessed!).
My paper was last of all and on a panel with someone who thought that social media was morally bankrupt and isolating, a loneliness that ONLY the Church could provide comfort for… not a good warm up act to the exploration of an online community that adapts religious forms and rituals for their own ends.
My paper was actually well received. But the first question was from my Professor:
“Why are you here?”
Terror. Blind terror.
But, I had had two days of listening to proper theologians since the keynote speech so I had prepared a little for this question. I made some bold statement about having a different definition of theology (to one of THE theologians) and blabbed on about the importance of studying new forms of religiosity. Doubtless she disagreed and probably thought no time should be spent on ‘weird people doing weird things’. But I think I came across well, even if I was in a cold sweat!
Since then I’ve presented at a few more ‘appropriate’ conferences and had great feedback. I dont regret my baptism of fire. If that’s the worst that happens to me at a conference I’ll be fine…
I suppose the moral of the story is to make sure you fit the conference even if the organisers think that you do from your abstract. And make sure you are on last! But not after the person who hates your fieldsite and methodology…