Today I returned home from the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion which was held in Montreal, Canada.
This has been a weekend of firsts: my first trip to the AAR, my first trip to Canada, and my first presentation at a national conference. All in all it was a lot of fun…
I can’t say that it wasn’t nerve-wracking. Having been sick for a week in the days leading up to the trip, I had managed to finish my paper, but the visual presentation still wasn’t ready. I spent the better part of two days in my hotel room browsing images from the Internet. At first I was going to try to use my Macbook’s Keynote, but in the end found it too stressful and reverted to PowerPoint 2007. It was the right choice.
The AAR meeting was eye-opening in several ways. I enjoyed almost all of the sessions that I sat in on and I heard a lot of interesting presentations. But I was struck by exactly how academic the whole event was. "Well, duh," you may be saying. "It says ‘Academy’ right in the name…"
Perhaps it is that my masters work was done in a seminary, but the complete divorce of practical application from the research the presenters had carried out was enough to take my breath away. I’ll write more later about how my own paper, with its theology of private prayer and Eucharist, was received in an environment with little appreciation for the intersection of theory and practice. But for now, I guess I should reveal two things about myself. First, the word theologian is frequently synonymous for me with the phrase "God lover." And second, I find Anselm’s definition of theology as "faith seeking understanding" very appealing.
Several sessions I attended dealt with LGBTQ matters in the academy. The prognosis is looking pretty bleak… As budgets are tightening in most institutions, it seems that "elective" fields are the first to be cut. If you’re going to be a scholar in the field of queer studies, women’s studies, or gender, then the advice I heard was that you had better also be prepared as a damned good generalist so that you can teach a wide variety of required courses.
It also appears that there are many fewer fulltime appointments in these financially troubled times. Many talented folks are cobbling together work as adjuncts in multiple institutions, sometimes even traveling hundreds of miles in a day as they move between schools to teach. Adjuncts, of course, have fewer benefits (sometimes none at all) and no paid time for research and writing. There were also reports of tenured faculty being layed off in various institutions and uncertainty as to whether the tenure system will survive in the new economic climate.
So as I continue on the quest for a doctoral program, I’m soberly considering that not only is it hard to find a good fit with a program, but also that it might be even more difficult to find a decent job once all the time, money, and effort has been spent. Still, I will continue in the search. Anyone know of a good doctoral program for someone interested in constructive theology, ecumenism, Eastern Orthodoxy, lgbtq topics and making a difference in the world both inside and outside of the academy? I’m all ears…