Tuesday, November 28, 2006

It's a big world after all

I found these observations, calling out Reformed and Emergent leaders and urging them to participate in venues such as the Evangelical Theological Society, to be interesting, though a bit uninformed. The writer seems to assume that Reformed guys are avoiding ETS and are practicing "sectarianism" vis-a-vis the larger Evangelical world.

A couple of things here. First, I'm not certain that ETS is the best place to "start attempting to make a difference in the academy." I think it is one possible, even good, venue for doing and sharing academic work; but I also find that many of the conversations there tend to be a bit self-referential and even, ironically, a bit ghettoized. And so, while the writer seems to believe that ETS is "the academy," I'd suggest that it is actually a small, though valuable, part of that academy.

Closely connected with that point, I'd suggest that simply because Reformed scholars aren't "showing up" at ETS (which is a claim that I actually doubt, through my own years of involvement with that society) doesn't mean that they are not "attempting to make a difference in the academy."

If it is not immodest to use myself as an example, since 2002, I've presented papers at the American Society of Church History (three times, spring meetings in 2003 and 2004; winter meeting in 2007), the Conferenece on Faith and History (twice, in 2002 and 2006), The Historical Society (in 2002), The Douglas Southall Freeman Symposium at the University of Richmond (in 2002), and the Institute of Faith and Learning at Baylor Unviersity (in 2004). I suspect that the itineraries of those whom this writer upbraids are similar or even more diverse.

In other words, it is a big (academic) world out there; ETS is one small part of it.

Also, when they moved ETS to a Wednesday through Friday schedule to avoid competing with SBL/AAR, which runs Friday to Sunday, it made the trip pretty difficult for those who have to teach during that time. Granted that others make that sacrifice, I have a hard time rationalizing getting a substitute for two class periods in a single week. I also have other events and conferences that need that time and I can't shoot my entire "substitute" allotment on one week tied to a conference that may or may not be of value.

As a result, it may not be "sectarian fundamentalism" that is keeping Reformed scholars from ETS, but rather something much more mundane--the problem of busy schedules and other venues for doing scholarship that Christ the Lord of all has called us to do.


Roger Overton said...

Thanks for your response Sean,

You're probably right that ETS is not "the best" place to engage the academy (and I don't think I equated ETS with the academy), but it is a good place for such ventures. Sure many of the conversations there are self-referential, but there's still opportunity there for significant impact in my opinion- impact that I do not see Reformed scholars having.

My point wasn't simply to say Reformed scholars should be focused on all things ETS. Rather, their general dis-involvement from ETS is a reflection of a bigger problem. Reformed scholars tend to stay in their Reformed academic clicks, rarely venturing into non-Reformed conferences and publications. I would like to be wrong about this, but I don't see it.

I don't think the scheduling issue is really that serious. Most professors at Talbot, for example, cancel classes that week in order to attend ETS. They do this because they see their involvement there as important. What peer-review conferences do Reformed scholars view as important enough to cancel class?

I'm relatively new to the scene, so I grant that I may not have all the info. I'd like to be shown wrong by seeing where Reformed academics, such as that ones I listed, are actually putting their work before the larger Christian academic world.

Roger Overton said...

Dr. Lucas,

If I may venture a second comment, I first feel the need to apologize for my earlier comment. Had I viewed your profile and realized who you are, I would have addressed you properly as Dr. Lucas instead of by your first name.

Second, between yours and Dr. Clark's comments on my blog, I'm satisfied to the point of admitting my criticism was uninformed (as you suggested) and I apologize for the harsh language I used in my post. I'm happy to hear that I'm wrong in my assessment.

Sean Lucas said...

No worries, Roger; I appreciate your kindness, especially in your second comment. I went over and read Scott Clark's comments and I agree with him as well.

As an academic dean, one of the things I wrestle with for our faculty is how little money they get to attend conferences. That coupled together with the fact that institutionally, I can't afford to cancel the week of classes for people to go to ETS (like Talbot; SBTS has actually adjusted their scheduled to be done near that week), means that, from year to year, Covenant faculty will be out in stronger or weaker force.

And so, it is a number of things--ETS as an appropriate venue for scholarship as well as more mundane matters of schedules and money. Thanks again for your comments. sml