I had a good conference at SBL Atlanta this year. In fact, it was one of the better ones. I heard several good papers and enjoyed catching up with others in the field. The location was excellent since Atlanta is easy to get around and food, although more expensive than Ashland, was reasonable for a major city.
I must confess, however, to holding a certain level of disquiet when I think about my chosen field and what the future holds for it. This stems not from my regular work environment, my colleagues nor the students I teach. I admit that I am quite happy there and with what I do. I am still thrilled to think that someone actually pays me to do this. Some days I am afraid I will have to find a “real job”.
No, my anxiety level rises up each year when I attend the annual meeting. Somehow the meetings have had the same waning effect on me as Christmas. I remember the first one that I attended. I was overcome by the sheer number of papers. I scheduled my days so full that I was often unable to find time to eat lunch between sessions. I read name tags on the sly and began to put faces with the names on the articles and monographs I had read. And oh the books! I had never seen so many and at such good prices. Surely there was a God and his address was someplace in Grand Rapids Michigan.
But eventually, like a child who no longer believes in Santa Claus, the magic of the meeting wore off. Now, having attended the meetings for more than a decade, I no longer find that they provide the level of intellectual stimulation that I crave. The papers can, I am sorry to say, be somewhat underwhelming.
But more than the sessions the thing that bothers me most is the sheer volume of material that is being published each year. I am not talking about peer reviewed scholarship. Rather, I am thinking about all of the other books that appear each year and are usually out of print within five years. I walk around the stalls and wonder how many more commentaries we need on Matthew, Joshua or any other book of the Bible (says the man who signed a contract to write a commentary).
What are we doing? Our scholarship has become, in some ways, a celebrity sport. We stand in awe of speakers who are introduced as the author of twenty books, over one hundred articles and three video series. Bart Ehrman and NT Wright appear on the Colbert report, and while I admit I found their performance entertaining, I wonder why it is that these people are held up as the representatives of scholarship in our field?
Whatever happened to the individual who only wrote three to five books in his/her whole career and yet truly left a lasting impression on the field? The sheer volume of books put out each year makes me suspect that the tail is wagging the dog. Sometimes, I fear that we consider the volume of publications produced as an indicator of our importance and indispensability. Like squids, we squirt ink and conclude that the small cloud produced in the water is indicative of the influence we are having in the greater ocean in which we live.
I wonder if I am the only one who feels this way or if I am just way too tired having coming off of the SBL experience.
Anyone out there have any opinions?