More scattered reflections from Oxford

I hope you don’t mind these rambling conference dispatches:

Day 3 at Oxford Patristics. I enjoyed some interesting papers on Gregory of Nyssa. It’s always tricky at a conference to go to papers that are not directly tied to your interests, but are tied enough that you will (hopefully) learn something new and broaden your understanding. Hearing a paper that quite directly touches on your interests, that’s a rare find!

I went to one paper about the debates among Evangelicals over Eternal Functional Subordinationism, which was (and still is a bit) a hot topic for some sectors of Evangelicals. This paper was looking at how accurately both sides have read Augustine. I had hoped for more from it, I didn’t learn anything I didn’t already know.

I spent some more time with the Digital Humanities session, and then sat around with a few powerhouses of DH afterwards. It was fascinating and enlightening to listen to them bounce ideas of each other in this intersection of geekdom and humanities/classics/patristics.

One of the great things about conferences is those moments when you realise that (most?) scholars are just like you: whenever one thinks about one’s own work there are many caveats, insecurities, and sense that it’s only barely ‘just there’; whenever you think about someone else’s, you assume there is this huge wealth and depth of knowledge of everything that backs it up. No, usually they’re just barely there like you. It’s comforting. I mean, sometimes there is a vast knowledge of everything, and that’s both scary and good. And sometimes there’s people who act like they have a vast repository of all knowledge, and you should just not worry about those people and move on with your life.

Part of me feels like I could write a series of posts deconstructing imperial and academic culture and empire of Americans, but this is probably not the time or the place.

Here are things that make conference life better (not just this one):


  1. Have a clear structure to your paper
  2. Have a clear handout for your paper
  3. Talk loudly, at a measured pace, with confidence
  4. If English is not your native language, speaking softly will not improve this problem.
  5. Respect your audience. They choose to give their precious attention and time to listen to your obscure and not-really-relevant-topic paper (all papers are like this, in the end. If it was universally relevant you would have written a monograph already and done a book tour).


  1. Don’t shift to let people through to a seat, move over so they can sit where you are.
  2. Don’t leave unnecessary empty seats – they’re unnecessary!
  3. Do your absolute utmost for the cause of silence. Of course some noise is unavoidable throughout the whole conference area, but noise accumulates quickly. Whether in a session or out, keep quiet.
  4. If you don’t have a good question, don’t ask it. We don’t need your soapbox issue.


More rambling tomorrow, or the next day!

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