Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor. 1 Corinthians 10:24
It is he who has ordained your life for this order, this sphere, this academic world, and woe betide you if you stop your ears to this call or resist it. He called you by name, and you have only to answer: “Lo, here I am” and to be faithful in this service to your last breath.”
Abraham Kuyper, Scolastica I: The Secret of Genuine Study at p. 21, from Scholarship, Two Convocation Addresses on University Life, translated by Harry Van Dyke (Christian’s Library Press, Grand Rapids, 2014).
One recurring feature of scholarly life is the academic conference. These are importantly named occasions where academics and researchers gather together and talk about papers they are writing and work they are doing. They tend to be two and a half day blitzes of high-sounding talk replete with too many breakout sessions and ample supplies of coffee.
For many (including me), these conferences are seen as a welcome chance to get away from the business of office and family life and work on other tasks. We conference escapists sit tapping away at our laptops while making just enough eye contact with presenters so as not to qualify as intolerably rude. Our focus becomes our own presentation (what we are saying) and what we are writing on the sly. Sure we pick up a few bits and pieces from others, but in large part the conference becomes a window of semi-solitude.
Recently I forced myself to take a different course. This time I would experience an academic conference in community. I set out to meet with as many people as I could. I chose conversation over checking out to my room early. I would look for opportunities for collaboration and for ways that I could help others. I did not seek to do anything in the plenaries and breakouts but listen and ask a few questions.
The net result of my experience was an enjoyable, productive and refreshing time. I expect that the connections I made will be far more meaningful than the pages I could have surreptitiously typed. I also greatly benefited from what others had to share.
Christian academics have many reasons to adopt an engaged, relational and giving approach to academic conferences. We must be careful to avoid a Cain-like approach to our academic work, one in which all our efforts are focused on justifying ourselves. The list of publications on our CV can be a badge of merit. It tells the world (and even our God) that we have earned our keep. Yet as Christians we cannot earn God’s love and approval though our own hard work. Yes, publishing is important, but it is through connections and relationships that we often really see the providence and power of God.
Next time you attend a conference try using a notepad instead of a laptop. Set a goal of zero progress on all of your projects. See how many meaningful conversations you can take part in. Look for ways you can help others. Accept the opportunity of community as fully as possible and wait and see what God does with a choice to value people over production. Be with, and let God.
What approach did you take to the last academic conference you attended? Why were you there?
Should you take a different approach to community depending on whether an academic conference is an officially Christian conference as opposed to a secular conference?
Father God, it is you that have called us. Let us never spoil your plans and designs for us with our own ambition and desire to perform. Keep us open to the designs you have for us that are to be accomplished through the lives and gifts of others.
Image courtesy of Unsplash at Pixabay.com
Note: Part of the Scholar’s Compass series at the Emerging Scholars Blog.
About the author:
Brian Dennison is the Manager of Faith Learning and Service at Uganda Christian University where he also serves as a Lecturer in the Faculty of Law and Coordinator of the Clinical Legal Education Program.
Brian holds a Bachelors Degree, a Masters in Business Administration and Juris Doctorate from the University of Georgia. Prior to joining Uganda Christian University, Brian practiced law in Savannah, Georgia. Brian is pursuing a PhD in Private Law from the University of Cape Town.
Brian, his wife Mary Jane and their four children have been in Uganda since 2008. They are missionaries with SAMS USA.