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Hilltop Views

The Student News Site of St. Edward's University

Hilltop Views

The Student News Site of St. Edward's University

Hilltop Views

The biggest weekend in religious studies

My experience at the AAR/SBL annual meeting
The Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center on the weekend of the annual meeting.

While the Super Bowl might be the event of the year for football players and fans alike, I have never personally been interested in sports. However, from November 18 to 21, I was at a Super-Bowl-like event of my own. 

The American Academy of Religion (AAR) and Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) meeting is an annual event in which over 5,000 professors, students and clergy in religious studies gather at a convention center in a large city. People travel from all over the world to attend. This year, the meeting took place in San Antonio, Texas, only an hour away from St. Edward’s University. In the true spirit of the Super-Bowl of Religious Studies, there were collections of books that spanned the area of two football fields. 

At the meeting, scholars have the opportunity to attend panels and seminars or even present in these panels as well as purchase books and resources at extremely discounted prices. For undergraduate students like myself and fellow student Chrissy Munafo, the conference provides us with opportunities to narrow down our interests, explore potential graduate programs and meet with professors that we might like to study with in the future. This event is fast paced and allows us to hone in on our options relating to our next steps in academia. 


Above is the nametag that I wore at the meeting. Everyone had one like it, and it was often by these nametags that I recognized authors and scholars that I knew of. (Nia Botti / Hilltop Views)

The Experience


Immediately upon arrival, Chrissy and I noticed that we were some of the youngest attendees. Initially, we felt intimidated by this, but soon found that most of the graduate students and professors were extremely welcoming. At one point, I was standing by myself waiting for my first panel to begin, and a professor approached me and introduced herself, asking about my studies and what I was interested in. I actually had a lot of common interests with her and was able to have a great conversation. This was interrupted by the beginning of my first panel, which was on post-apocalyptic literature. I learned a lot about the relationship between evil and time, and I was even able to participate in a conversation with the entire group. Being able to ask questions contributed greatly to my understanding of the topic, and I plan to use that knowledge in future research. Each day continued in this manner, as we were able to attend different seminars and panels relating to our interests in Religious and Theological Studies. 

Throughout my time at the conference, I was able to meet authors of books that I have read and discuss my own research and interpretation of their books with them. I have always enjoyed reading, but never in my life have I had the opportunity to meet so many of my favorite authors at once. There were two highlights of the conference for me. The first surrounded attending a panel on a topic on which I am currently doing research. I am examining “The Greek Life of Adam and Eve”, a book popular among ancient Christians and Jews. The panel that I attended was about a commentary on this book by Dr. John Levison, a professor at Southern Methodist University. Chrissy and I had the privilege of speaking with Dr. Levison personally and learning more about his studies. I could have stayed at this panel for hours! 

There were so many books for sale at the annual meting. These are some of the books that I bought as well as some that I am already using in my research. (Nia Botti / Hilltop Views)

The second highlight of my experience was attending receptions hosted by various graduate schools from around the country. Chrissy and I walked all over the San Antonio riverwalk, visiting different hotels where graduate schools were set up in conference or event rooms. We met with faculty that shared our interests, and we were able to ask questions and learn about the graduate programs at each university. This process was very fast paced, as we had to visit as many universities as possible within three hours. By the end, we were hungry and exhausted. 

Additionally, I was able to use my first language. I grew up speaking modern Greek and have been exposed to ancient Greek throughout my life, as I was baptized Greek Orthodox as a baby. There were several panels that discussed texts that were written in Greek; being able to attend without a language barrier allowed me to learn so much more than I would have otherwise. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I attended a panel on esotericism with Chrissy, as this is a topic that she is very interested in. While this panel was entirely in English, there was quite a bit of terminology used that I was unfamiliar with, as it discussed a topic that I have never studied. While this was something that I would not have chosen to attend on my own, I am so glad that I attended the panel. I often find myself becoming literal and technical in my studies, and learning about a more spiritual, abstract side of religious studies helped provide me with some new perspectives on my favorite topics. 

This spring, there will be a smaller conference where I will be presenting on “The Greek Life of Adam and Eve.” I would not be able to do this, however, if it were not for the professors who made the text and its accompanying scholarship accessible to me. I was fortunate to be able to meet them at the AAR/SBL annual meeting, an event that I hope to attend many more times in the future. I am also thankful to my professors from St. Edward’s University that made it possible for me to attend this event.They guided me in the process of preparing for it and navigating it while in San Antonio. While I know that there will be great experiences that will stem from my studies to come, my first annual meeting is an experience that I will never forget.

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