Academic Conferences and Spiritual Practice

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For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. — Romans 12:3, NIV

For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not? — 1 Corinthians 4:7, NIV

As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. — Proverbs 27:17, NIV


Commencement is over. Grading is complete. Perhaps you have even taken a few days off to mark the end of the spring term. And now it’s summer.

Summer means different things depending on both discipline and type of position. But for many of us, summer means research. Perhaps your abstract was selected and your summer includes preparation for a conference presentation in the coming months. This post is for you.

This is the third in a series of posts about academic work and spiritual practice. The first post suggests viewing grading as a spiritual practice. The second urges the submission of academic work as an act of faith and faithfulness. Now we turn to conference presentations.

Academic conferences are sort of an odd thing. They seem to have a culture of their own and can be intimidating to figure out. I’m still in my early years of conference presentations, but I’d like to offer some spiritual practices to consider.

Practice humility.

At academic conferences, humility is in short supply. There is one-upmanship, boasting, name-dropping, and other forms of pride. It doesn’t have to be this way. Why not practice thinking of ourselves with sober judgment? Remember that there is always more to learn, and it’s always possible that we’re mistaken. Isn’t it fun when senior scholars give credit to others, appreciate the work of those with whom they disagree, and offer self-deprecating comments? Let’s take ourselves a bit less seriously. Christian humility recognizes that we are weak and frail and God’s grace and presence provide the only reason for boasting. As we present our research, may we be open to the comments and questions of others with humility. Let’s pray for humility as we interact with others about our work and about theirs. Remember that all have value and worth apart from their views and arguments.

Practice faith.

We must practice humility. But that doesn’t mean not to step out in confidence. Maybe you’re intimidated by everyone else and aren’t feeling prideful after all. Maybe you feel like the imposter and are considering hiding in your hotel room instead of showing up to give your paper. Plenty of us feel like imposters.

Feeling like an imposter, though, does not negate God’s presence with us, the ways he is calling us to research and work, and the ways he grows us in the process. When we face our fears of sharing our work, opening ourselves up to criticism, or arguing against another’s work, we take another step along this journey of living out the academic calling. We realize that God has given us passions and work to share with others. We grow in our confidence. God gives us a healthier sense of how he is using our strengths and passions. Practice faith in God’s calling on your life and in God’s presence with you as you step up to the podium.

Practice community.

It took me some time to figure out that the most important aspect of the academic conference was the relational one. I always enjoyed catching up with friends and acquaintances, but I didn’t always meet new people. It can be tempting to creep away without making an introduction or a connection, without asking a question or suggesting a resource. But the more we can build relationships with other scholars, the more progress we all will make in our own work and in the collective body of scholarship. Not only that, we’ll sharpen one another’s findings as we learn the passions and blind spots of colleagues cum friends. And doesn’t that sound a lot like the way we practice spiritual community? In spiritual community, we get to know others: their passions, their work, and their struggles. We encourage one another, mentor one another, and receive help from one another. Even if your academic community does not share your faith, practicing community may not only help your work and your network, but may also build friendships and give you reminders to pray.

Next time I’m in a conference session, I want to practice humility, faith, and community. Will you join me?

Questions for Reflection:

  • Do you struggle with pride at academic conferences? Do you feel like an imposter? Confess your struggles to God and ask him to give you his perspective on your work.
  • How might you plan ahead to incorporate spiritual practices at your next conference? What is one way you might be more aware of God’s presence as you present, interact with others, and build relationships?
  • Do you have an academic community? In what ways is your community similar to a spiritual community? How is it different? Who is one person in your field you’d like to know better?


Almighty God,

You are present in hotel rooms, in meeting rooms, in conference exhibits, in auditoriums, in restaurants, and in reception halls. Make us aware of your presence. You call us to step out in faith, trusting in you to make clear our callings, to use our work for your glory, to give us wisdom and sober judgment. Give us humility as we do so, not trusting in our own strength, knowledge, or giftedness, but in you and your work in our lives. Give us grace to continue our journeys of research, writing, and presenting. Form for us communities of scholars that may enliven our work and our lives. We trust you for all this.

In the name of Jesus,


Image courtesy of tpsdave at

Scholars-Compass-image-40x40Note: Part of both the Scholar’s Compass series and Anna’s Academic Work as Spiritual Practice series on the Emerging Scholars Network Blog.

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Anna Gissing

Anna Moseley Gissing is an associate editor at InterVarsity Press and senior writing instructor for Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Her writing has been published in Let Us Keep the Feast: Living the Church Year at Home and Not Alone: A Literary and Spiritual Companion for those Confronted with Infertility and Miscarriage. She lives near Chicago with her husband and two children.

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