Thursday, June 23, 2011

CSC 2011: Faith, Science, Babies

Before it all sinks down into that inaccessible fog of forgottenness that swamps everything prior to, say, a week or so ago, I'd like to try to say something about the Christian Scholars Conference.

This is a conference I don't skip and always look forward to, and I'd been looking forward to this one for a solid year or more--ever since learning that the theme was "Science, Theology and the Academy." And, since I was lucky enough to be informally included in some of the brainstorming and planning, I got invested in it early. And though I had exhausted myself in 2010 with multiple sessions and vowed not to ever do that again (mainly, because it means that you're always missing out on sessions you really, really want to attend but can't), I couldn't just sit on the sidelines for this one. In fact, I was so excited about it all that I made all sorts of plans, sessions I wanted to convene and papers I wanted to write and present--and it was months before a basic fact of life clicked: a baby due in April = babe-in-arms in June. Yikes! So then I had to revise expectations a bit, and figure out how I was going to make that work.

But, I'm very happy to say, it did seem to work, and I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Teresa Pecinovsky a.k.a. TKP, who volunteered to be my child-care-support (especially since it turned out that Plan A, a.k.a. "Nana," my mom, Pat Thweatt, could not attend as originally planned!). I'm sure that there were some sessions and networking and whatnot that TKP missed out on, and walking a howling desperately hungry babe around is no fun (Baby Z is quite unaccustomed to being made to wait 10 minutes for meals. She thought the world was ending.) However awesome my baby Z is--and she IS--it was still a sacrifice and one without which I could not have done the introducing/presenting I needed to do.

And, although one effect of having babe-in-arms at the CSC was a definite sense of being only half-there, perpetually late and a little unfocused and in general, just a little less than my professional best--I am super glad that I did it (with help). First, because I simply could not miss this conference. And second, because it just shouldn't be impossible for a woman to be a scholar and a mother, and simply walking around with a baby in a sling at an academic shindig makes that statement better than grousing about it on a blog.

And, next time I present something at a conference (coming up in November, where I present something on Haraway cyborg & theology in front of Haraway her very own self), if I get nervous, I can now say to myself, "Self, you got up in front of folks with about six episodes of spit-up evident on your shirt and pee on your foot. You can get through this."

My favorite question from the conference (apart from: "how old is she?"): "you're listed as 'Independent Scholar'--what exactly does that mean?" Um...polite euphemism for unemployed, and thank you for asking. Do you know of anyone with a need for some professional God-talk? I'm available. (Got a tip the other day from a friend about hawking my God-talk services--apparently someone is having some success with this! Who knew?)

Re the academicking side of things, I am very pleased to report that the session I organized on "Theology, Science and the Hermenautics of Interdisciplinary Reason," starring my superstar colleague Ken Reynhout, my ACU prof & advisor Fred Aquino, and fellow ACU alum/SMU PhD candidate David Mahfood, was a huge success (IMO). I was not anticipating a huge turnout, but the room, with 50 seats, was about 3/4 full, and the Q&A time had less awkward downtime than any AAR session I've ever been to. Apparently people are way hungrier for epistemological musing than I bargained for! So--while I have a mental list of self-critical "do this better next time" notes, I think the session itself was brilliant and I am very proud to have brought such a marvelous bunch of guys together.

My other session was also brilliant, though only a handful of folks know that firsthand. :( And again, it's Ken who really shined there--I was pretty fatigued by Friday afternoon, plus I had pee on my foot, so I was less than awesome. But despite my less than awesomeness, the topic of our session--the Science for Ministry Institute that Ken & Wentzel direct at PTS--is such a great program and model for interdisciplinary science and religion dialogue that the session rocked anyway. Just wish more folks had found their way to our little room to hear about it!

There were, of course, lots of sessions I wish I could have attended and couldn't--not just those that conflicted with mine, but sitting through a session with a babe means, really, not sitting at all, and hoping that coming in & out multiple times is less annoying to everyone than baby noises. Chris Dowdy's panel session, "After Apology: A Conversation with Royce Money on Apology, Race and Christian Higher Education," was the first session I half-attended (an incredibly important dialogue, and I have the impression that it went extremely well.) There were also several sessions on gender in the CofC, most of which I couldn't go to, but which add an important dimension to the ongoing dialogue about this within our tradition in their contribution of empirical research into attitudes and practices about gendered roles in (and out of) church. One session I did attend addressed specifically the overlap between academia and theology on gender issues: Christian institutions of higher education and the specific challenges faced by female scholars and administrators within them. Academia in general is not, ahem, very "woman friendly"--if you doubt this, cruise on over to the blog What is it like to be a woman in philosophy?--and in a Christian context, this atmosphere is often additionally entrenched with theological justifications. To hear this said out loud, bluntly, to a roomful of interested women and men who then proceeded to ask the constructive question--how do we change this? what practices need to be changed and what new practices invented? what structures need to be torn down and what new ones built? who are the key players in the institutions for doing these things and how do we teach them what needs to be done?--while I sat there, an un(der)employed academic with a baby at my breast, while the topic at hand was the how-to promotion of women scholars--I can't even really put into words what that sort of affirmation felt like.

One regret that won't go away: I missed my chance to meet John Polkinghorne. Baby Z got a little hungry for second breakfast right before the Saturday morning session, and so I was late making my way to the room. Session was already underway when I got there--and I had to catch my plane. That chance won't be coming back, and I'm a little heartsick about it.

However, I did get to meet J.J.M. Roberts, finally! Since we just missed each other at PTS, it took years and a trip to Malibu to make that happen.

But, there's next year in Nashville to look forward to, for lots of reasons. The theme is "reconciliation," I'm honored to now be a part of the science & religion planning committee, and middle TN is Home. See y'all there.


SteveA said...

Thanks for the description of the event and your experiences. Wish I could have been there. I attended on Friday of the 2008 conference and had a great time. An eight day business trip had precedence over the CSC this year. Where in middle Tennessee are you from? I think I have a vague memory of a fellow student, a young woman with the surname Thweatt, when I was at Harding between '68 and '72. Back to the CSC, when I thought I might be attending, it seemed good to emphasize the science/religion connection in my personal reading. This led to reading some of Barbour, Polkinghorne, and Haught. The latter was most helpful to me. Hope to continue that line of investigation in the coming year.

JJT said...

Steve, I'm guessing that your vague memory is of one of my aunts--not sure which one this would be. But you can bet that I'm related somehow to anyone you run across with the surname "Thweatt." :)

You read some good stuff--exactly what I would have sent you to for an initial exploration of the existing science & theology lit. Barbour, Polkinghorne and Arthur Peacocke together basically constructed the field. I'm still amazed that Polkinghorne keynoted at the CSC--that's huge. And correspondingly really bummed I didn't get to at least shake his hand. :(

So--let me pitch something slightly self-serving to you (though I think you'd love it). Think about coming out to Princeton sometime in the next year for a Science for Ministry elective. You're exactly the kind of intellectually curious individual the program is hoping to reach and further equip for leading discussions within congregational's a link:

SteveA said...

Your course appears to me to be one of the most interesting. Unfortunately I have a business conflict that week. But the one on the Challenge of Evolution is a possibility. Thanks

Indie Pereira said...

Well, if you all will be in Nashville next year maybe I'll stop by and ask some impertinent questions.

And I've noticed someone down the street from us who has the name Thweatt.

JJT said...

Indie, that would be super!

Steve--we also intend to offer my elective online, and that course will be scheduled as soon as we have a quorum of interested folks sign up. So you might consider that option!