The conference unit I chair – “Science Fiction and the Bible” – is going into its second year. It started out at the EABS’ 2013 meeting as an exploratory session and was upgraded to a three-year research programme afterwards.
Last year at the joint SBL/EABS meeting in Vienna, it had its highest volume of submissions so far. It is quite a specialized niche concern and – as regards submission numbers – cannot be compared to the big blockbuster sessions “Old Testament/Hebrew Bible”, “New Testament” or “Reception History”. I still see it very much as an exploration of what can be done beyond the latest in historical-critical approaches and beyond reception-historical “list-science” (“here is a list of biblical references in the TV show *title*”).
I have spoken to many scholars working on interdisciplinary topics who have found it hard to inspire others to try interdisciplinary approaches, too. While many speak of interdisciplinarity as the future of the discipline (Biblical Studies), it seems to be quite difficult to get people to try. It’s understandable: everyone is really busy and an interdisciplinary topic requires really sitting down and doing reading from scratch. The “Science Fiction and the Bible” panel gets many submissions from graduate students. Maybe because they are not yet as burdened with administrative duties, deaning, committee work, and tenure pressures. It’s not really possible to write an interdisciplinary paper on the plane to the conference.
Interdisciplinarity makes you potentially vulnerable to sweeping dismissal: “You’re not a sociologist!” – “You don’t have a background in network theory!” I have never encountered such responses in real life, thankfully. In most interdisciplinary panels I have been to, discussion is usually not burdened by fear of being dismissed, but excited, supportive, and lively.
However, interdisciplinarity sometimes puts you in front of a room full of blank stares and the only feedback you get after a presentation on – say – the sociology of scholarly reading in Biblical Studies, which you spent half a year writing might be: “So are you saying Caleb is not a historical figure…?” (So you get on your 700-Euro flight home and feel guilty about your carbon footprint while thinking, “I could have just read this paper to my cat…”)
The most important thing to take away from conferences is constructive feedback and especially new ideas that develop in conversation between one person’s ideas and another person’s ideas. The point is not really being applauded for a great presentation but being constructively challenged and coming away with new ideas. In this spirit, I try to get people with different ideas and approaches into the same room and leave plenty of space for discussion.
Long story short, here is the line-up for this year’s “Science Fiction and the Bible” panel, EABS Annual Meeting, Cordoba, Spain, July 12-15, 2015:
Science Fiction and the Bible
“Jewish apocalyptic in Japanese pop culture: Neon Genesis Evangelion and Shin Megami Tensei”
Carlos Santos, University of Salamanca
“Marionettes, Cyborgs and Forbidden Fruit: Understanding the Technological Singularity as a Fall From Grace”
Alice A. Petty, Stanford University
“Local Apocalypses: The Wicked City and Human Abundance in the Hebrew Bible and in Science Fiction and Popular Science of the 1960s-1970s”
Eva Rose Miller, Oxford University
“‘Let Us Go into the Field:’ Genesis 4 in ‘Dexter’ and ‘The Walking Dead'”
Eliza Rosenberg, McGill University