By Christopher Slane
This summer I was privileged to present a paper at the International Society of Biblical Literature Conference in Salzburg, Austria. The paper used Roland Barthes’ literary critical theory of narrative to examine the Manna and Quail miracle in Exodus 16: 1-15. It was an extraordinary experience, and I was able to meet quite a few international scholars from around the world and to catch up with one of my professors from the University of Nebraska, where I did an MA in Classics. While presenting my paper was the highlight of the conference, I also got to see a presentation by Dr. David J. A. Clines about the need for inclusion and equity in theological publishing. Dr. Clines passed away in December and I am so glad I got to see him and hear from him.
You may want to know how this transpired, what I learned from the experience, and whether this might be something you might be interested in doing in the future.
The first step was that I was writing a paper that I thought offered something new to the current debate on Exodus 16 as well as helping in research for my future dissertation topic. I saw the call for papers in the member email from SBL that is sent out every couple of months and I just decided to take a chance. So, I wrote an abstract for my paper and submitted it after asking Drs. Aaron and Sarason if I was allowed to do this as a graduate student. After getting permission, I submitted and thought I’d be waiting a couple of weeks for a “thanks, but no thanks,” rejection letter. Instead, after three days, I received an email accepting the paper for presentation.
To prepare for the conference, where I would have 20 minutes to present followed by a few minutes for questions, I did several things. I recreated a shorter, tightly focused, conference version of my paper. I created a précis that hit all my main points and showed heuristic illustrations of the syntactic elements of my argument, and I did a pre-conference presentation to many supportive colleagues in the Graduate School. When I got to the conference, I felt prepared, and my presentation went very well. The audience was kind and thoughtful. It was a really good experience, and being in Salzburg was fascinating.
After the conference, my wife and children joined me and we made a family vacation out of the trip, visiting friends in France and Wales. I am so glad to have had this experience. I’m grateful for the support I received from everyone at the Pines School. It was worth all the work, and I hope that you feel encouraged to go out on a limb with your scholarship, too.