ISHS Conference ThoughtsGregory EricksonISHS President » ISHS: International Society for Heresy Studies

«

»

ISHS Conference Thoughts

Gregory Erickson
ISHS President

Gregory Erickson, ISHS President, speaking at the Third Conference of the International Society for Heresy Studies

Gregory Erickson, ISHS President, speaking at the Third Conference of the International Society for Heresy Studies

As a co-founder and the first president of this society, this is the third conference that I have helped organize and that I have attended and participated in. As anyone who has organized conferences knows, it is challenging to fully engage intellectually with all the events of a conference while you simultaneously worry about the coffee or the wine arriving on time or about the legality of having snakes on the stage (seriously…see the exCommunicated issue on the 2016 conference). With the incredible organizational job done by Suzanne Hobson this year (with the support of the Institute of English Studies), I was able to relax and listen to all the intelligent voices and ideas around me. Suzanne put together an amazing lineup of speakers and events and happy hours. I also would like to thank the the Queen Mary Centre for Religion and Literature in English for their generous support and NYU London for hosting an opening reception.

All that being said, I find that my memory of the conference, even these few weeks out, is one of flashes and fragments. So in no particular order, here are some of the insights, new ideas, and outstanding moments that come to my mind a month later:

  • One of my favorite moments of intellectual intersection: An excellent presentation on comedy and religion (Bernard Schweizer) and a keynote speaker (Devorah Baum) who was equally a theorist, a critic, and a comic. Everyone is talking about comedian Hannah Gadsby these days, but we had our own moment of theory meeting stand-up comedy in the weeks before “Nanette” was released.
  • Michael Abraham, speaking at the Bloomsday Panel

    Michael Abraham, speaking at the Bloomsday Panel

    I had to leave the James Joyce conference in Antwerp a couple of days early to get to our conference in London, but the Bloomsday panel with Michael Abraham and Allison Myers was one of the most enjoyable Joyce panels I have been a part of. Our discussion of Ulysses and its falling, failing, flirting, and fornicating bodies opened up new possibilities to passages I have been reading and teaching for years.

  • I had two former students presenting at the conference. As I start to think a little more about what I will leave behind rather than what I will do next, the beautiful writing and presenting of young people like Michael Abraham and Tess Brewer warms my heart.
  • Have our views of freedom of speech changed? Should they? Does our enlightenment version of freedom of speech unfairly privilege the powerful? Does it enable dangerous levels of antisemitism and Islamophobia? To what extent are the languages of freedom of speech and comedy now tools of the Right? If the previous bullet point helps me sleep well, these deeply troubling questions that came out of the talks of Anshuman Mondal and Devorah Baum are the aspects of this conference that most keep me up at night.
  • Finally: the experience of giving my own uninformed views about gnosticism in front of the well-known scholar of early Christianity, Bob Royalty, and then talking to him afterwards are the interdisciplinary moments that are far too few in our world. I will now re-write the chapter out of which this paper was taken and then send it to Bob for further comments. How often does a modernist literary scholar get to work with an early Christian historian?

As I write these ideas, my other project of the week is a book review which has required me to review some of the foundational ideas of Victor Turner. In thinking about borders, I guess it is natural to think of his idea of the borders between structure and anti-structure and the liminal spaces in between. I have spent a lot of time in other writings complicating these ideas, and I don’t really believe in any clear separation of the structure and anti-structure, but my memories of conferences almost always happen in the blurred liminal spaces between, before, and after panels and talks. When I look back on the conference, I think my favorite memory will be of the final dinner at Antalya, a Bloomsbury restaurant I had only previously been to alone.  After several hours, as thirteen of us sat around a table drinking the last of the wine and snacking on Turkish deserts, I took a moment to myself and just looked around. Surrounding me were four deeply intense conversations. Mostly between people that two days before had never meet, these four groups of three—arms waving and heads bobbling—were engaged in collegial but animated debate, all on topics that had emerged from the conference. These are the conversations that stay with us and, to me, are the conversations that matter. Several of my favourite religion scholars often remind us that religion is not merely subjective, not only a private interaction, but that people construct their religious worlds together, and while I am certain that not all of the people around that table would identify as religious, we were all constructing worlds together, even as we disagreed and came from different disciplines. This is a model for something—I am not sure what to call it—but something that is missing from our academic institutions and our politics. We are a small group—I have enjoyed that, but I also hope that we can grow. But as I step down from the position of president, I mostly hope we keep arguing, drinking, writing, and crossing and confusing borders together for a long time. It is too much fun and too important to stop.

Post-conference Dinner at Antalya. Clockwise from lower left: Geremy Carnes, Trista Doyle, Gregory Erickson, Michael Abraham, Bernard Schweizer, Suzanne Hobson, Saku Pihko, Matthew Ingleby, Aren Roukema, Morton Beckmann, Henry Mead

Post-conference Dinner at Antalya. Clockwise from lower left: Geremy Carnes, Trista Doyle, Gregory Erickson, Michael Abraham, Bernard Schweizer, Suzanne Hobson, Saku Pihko, Matthew Ingleby, Aren Roukema, Morton Beckmann, Henry Mead

QMCRLE8942_uol_ies_logo_AW_pos_CMYK

Permanent link to this article: /2018/09/09/ishs-conference-thoughts/