The SBL-Alone Annual Meeting: Challenges and Opportunities
In four years' time, the SBL and AAR annual meetings will cease to be held together. "San Diego 2007" will be the last joint meeting for the foreseeable future. This split, like many divorces, is incomprehensible to many members of the two societies. Colleagues who are members of the AAR inform me that there have been petitions opposing such a split. Whether a future reconciliation will take place remains uncertain.
Meanwhile, what are the challenges and opportunities facing the SBL? To begin with, let me discuss the challenges. There are practical challenges that will face individuals who attend SBL-alone meetings and institutions that finance conference attendance and receptions.
First, scholars who have interests that cross the disciplinary boundaries will have to attend two different meetings in two different cities at two different times, or go alternatively to the one or the other, or simply opt to attend only the SBL or AAR. There are now many international conferences each year vying for the scholar's participation. The joint SBL/AAR annual meeting has hitherto been one of the "must attend" conferences. I believe that SBL-alone annual meetings will remain so. But there are hard decisions to be made for individuals and institutions that fund conference travel. Whether one travels within the US or from abroad, the same issues of time and money remain. These problems are particularly acute for small institutions where one academic, who teaches across the range of disciplines of Bible, Religion, and Theology, may well have to choose between the two annual meetings.
Second, academic institutions that finance receptions during the annual meeting will be faced with the prospect of duplicating their costs. Take the Scottish Universities Reception as an example. This popular reception, sponsored this year by the four ancient Universities in Scotland, including my own in Edinburgh, warmly welcomed alumni, friends, and prospective students for drinks and nibbles. It drew many besides, not only those associated with Britain. The SBL/AAR split will mean either double the costs or alternate receptions. It could also mean double the administrative organization for a colleague.
Third, publishers who display books at the annual meetings will be faced with the same challenges of time and money. The bookstall is an integral part of the joint annual meeting; it is not only a place for browsing and purchasing books and computer programs, but also a venue for meeting editors, publishers, and old and new friends alike. Large publishing houses will likely set up bookstalls in both annual meetings after 2007, but their costs will double. Smaller publishers may have to choose between the two.
In my view, there is very little that one can say in favor of the split between the SBL and AAR annual meetings. It causes unnecessary problems and difficulties for the members, institutions, and companies that support them. I believe that SBL-alone annual meetings will continue to thrive because they have the critical mass of support to provide a vibrant program of papers, scholarly research, and publications, while commanding the favorable hotel room and conference room rates that make this annual meeting distinctive and attractive. On the other hand, the SBL-alone Annual Meeting will not be small enough to foster greater intimacy as one might find in, say, some more narrowly focused European conferences.
Are there opportunities in doing our own annual meeting? Given that the decision to de-couple the joint meeting has been taken unilaterally by AAR, it seems to me that there is an opportunity to expand the programme of the SBL-alone annual meeting, so that it will embrace those sessions that hedge the boundaries between the two societies. Skimming over the joint annual program books for the last eight years, I find that there are several sessions that fall into this category. There are joint sessions between SBL and AAR, such as the plenary interview with the late Jacques Derrida in Toronto 2002. Without much difficulty, SBL can continue to organize these sessions as sole sponsor.
There are other sessions that may be included in SBL-alone meetings. The study of Judaism, for instance, has sessions in both the SBL and AAR, split roughly along ancient and modern lines. Those sessions in AAR tend to focus on research into mediaeval and modern Judaism, whereas those within the SBL are centred on the Hebrew Bible, Second Temple Period, Qumran, Rabbinic Judaism, Hellenistic Judaism, and Jewish mysticism. The remit of the SBL program is broad enough to include not just "Biblical Literature" in the strict sense of the term. Why not also include sessions on Maimonides or Rashi? From time to time there have been sessions on topics relating to Judaism in post-rabbinic Judaism times; such units could be encouraged and supported in the new SBL-alone meetings.
There is, of course, no advantage in broadening the remit of SBL to such an extent that it loses its coherence and becomes entirely unrecognizable. The Society needs to maintain its mission of "fostering biblical scholarship." Nonetheless, this time of change could be seen as an opportunity for the Society to reinvent itself. Is it too far-fetched to think that the SBL could fully embrace the three abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam within its walls? The common origin and source of all three faiths is of course the Hebrew Bible. There are already program units on Islam, as for example on the Qu'ran and the Bible, and these could be supported and encouraged. Interfaith dialogue could be fostered not just between Christianity and Judaism or Christianity and Islam, but also between Judaism and Islam.
With the upcoming split of the joint annual meetings beginning in 2008, there are challenges, primarily financial ones, to be faced by individuals, institutions, and companies, and there is also opportunity to consider the future shape of SBL-alone annual meetings.
Timothy H. Lim, University of Edinburgh, Scotland, email@example.com
Citation: Timothy H. Lim, " The SBL-Alone Annual Meeting: Challenges and Opportunities," SBL Forum , n.p. [cited Jan 2005]. Online:http://sbl-site.org/Article.aspx?ArticleID=351