Zane McGeeThis past week marked the annual national conference for the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature (AAR-SBL). This conference is the main event in the academic world of religious studies, with over 10,000 attendees, 1,200 presentations, and 150 exhibitors. It provides an excellent opportunity to catch up on the most current research and to engage in conversations with friends and colleagues from around the world.

Since this year’s annual meeting was held in Atlanta, the Office of Student Programming and the Candler Coordinating Council teamed up to sponsor thirty Candler students to attend the conference, covering all registration and membership fees. With their help, these students were able to attend five days of sessions and events without having to worry about how to fund the experience from their personal finances. I was among those lucky students, and thoroughly enjoyed the opportunities I discovered at the conference.

The hundreds of sessions offered during the meeting are the primary attraction. I was able to attend several presentations in which I heard reports of recent New Testament research (my field of interest) presented by professors and students alike. These sessions provided a window into “emerging” research before it is formally published, and offered a time for dialogue following the actual presentations. Additionally, several book review panels were offered, in which a set of scholars offers an analysis of a recent book that has contributed to the field of study, and the author is then able to respond to this feedback. These sessions were interesting because they highlighted the differing approaches of these various scholars and also helped me realize that nobody, not even the most distinguished scholar, is perfect – a helpful reminder with final exams quickly approaching.

Aside from the formal offerings, perhaps the most encouraging aspect of the annual meeting was having an opportunity to meet with colleagues and friends from around the nation. Meals provided an opportunity to sit and talk with old friends, and other less formal events provided a chance to meet new people who shared similar interests to my own. These conversations were not only encouraging on a personal level, but also professionally helped stimulate new ideas and approaches to my own research.

The conference is a great opportunity for those interested in academic study. I would encourage you to plan to attend next year – and to take advantage of the resources Candler offers to aid students with their professional development!