I just enjoyed a worthwhile experience attending the joint Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) and the American Academy of Religion. It was held at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver this past Friday through Monday.
I have been a member of SBL since 1999, so the past twenty years. This 130+ year-old organization consists of about 10,000 members worldwide. Most are biblical scholars with PhDs who are professors, although that is not a requirement for joining. My friend Dr. Scot McKnight talked me into joining it because I write theological books.
Since I have been an SBL member, I have attended its Annual Meeting all of the twenty years of my membership, except I missed one year. This event is often a highlight for me for the year. This affair occurs in North America in a different city each year. There are about a dozen cities that rotate for the location each year. It must be a large city that has a downtown convention center that can accommodate this conference.
This Annual Meeting of SBL/AAR is the largest meeting of biblical scholars in the world each year. So, you often see there some of the world’s most distinguished Bible scholars. For example, England’s Tom (N.T.) Wright, who is considered by his peers and religious book publishers to be the leading New Testament scholar in the world, always attends this convention. Bart Ehrman, an agnostic though an authority on Christian origins and New Testament textual criticism, does too. I have the privilege of meeting many of these people and sometimes getting to know them more personally.
I think Tom and Bart are still the best-selling authors in the U.S. of books having to do with the Bible. HarperOne publishes some of their books. This publisher is tops in the U.S. for religious books aimed at the general public. Many books on theology and biblical studies written by professors are not that accessible to popular audiences. This causes a disjunct between people of the pew and the academy. This is a problem that some religious publishers are encouraging authors to try to solve. Tom and Bart are doing it. This is the main reason I decided long ago to try to become an author of theological books.
This Annual Meeting consists mostly of two parts: each of about a thousand SBL sessions meet for usually 2.5 hours in which about four or five scholars deliver papers that take 20-30 minutes to read. Afterwards, there is often discussion or Q&A between the presenters and the attending audience, who are members. Sometimes, the session may consist only of a panel of 3-6 scholars who discuss among themselves some theme, with the audience being able to ask questions. Occasionally, a session may consist of a panel critiquing some new book recently published about a theological topic or a book on biblical studies, and that author being present to reply.
I will be posting on my blog for the next few days about some of my SBL experiences this weekend. So, stay tuned.