Association for Jewish Studies: Conference 101

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The AJS Conference 101 — a primer:

Not many people come to these conferences, so I thought, before I got into the guts of this experience, that I would offer up a primer on academic conferences, and specifically the Jewish Studies Conference, where I’m sitting now.

The Association for Jewish studies is a professional organization for (mostly) scholars who are involved in the study of Jewish, Jewish texts, Jewish phenomena, and other things Jewish.

This is the annual gathering of AJS members – again, mostly academics and aspiring academics. It is a peculiar annual ritual, this flocking to far-flung cities (we’re in San Diego, this year), to sit in hotel conference rooms and either give papers about our current research, or listen to other papers about other people’s current research.

The basic unit of the conference is the “panel.� This is a more-or-less organized group of three or four people who agreed to deliver 20-minute written presentations (and academics have, as you might imagine, not the finest performance skills) that are more-or-less thematically linked.

So, I’m sitting here in a panel called “Orthodoxy and the Internet,� and I’ll report more on that later. And I just finished my presentation as part of a panel called “studies in synagogue change,� or something like that.

The panels vary widely in terms of attendance (my panel had about 15 people. This one has about 35), and in what I might call “goodness.� Sometimes they are dreadfully boring, and if you’re one of the 4 people in the audience, you often feel badly for leaving despite the painful boredom (this has happened to almost everyone I know. Often, sadly, more than once).

Other common experiences:

  1. sitting far from the door and having to go to the bathroom
  2. panelists speaking for longer than their allotted 20 minutes (this is, from my perspective, an unforgivable sin).
  3. Members of the audience, when given the opportunity to ask questions, just blather on about their own work.
Posted on December 17, 2006

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