This last fall, my PhD advisor’s PhD advisor paid a visit to the IU campus and met with some of us. After chatting with me a bit, he said, “You should think about going to the Oxford Patristics Conference next summer.” Oh, I said, I don’t know that I would have anything worth presenting. “Go just to go,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity to meet people and hear what other people are doing.”
When I next met with my advisor, I told him the suggestion I had been given. “Yeah, that’s a good idea,” he said. “Let’s plan on you doing that.” So, I sort of tentatively planned to go, along with a list of other things that would be really cool to do over the summer.
In January, I met a Fordham doctoral student in theology at St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in Champaign, Illinois. (Long story.) We chatted a bit, and the Oxford Patristics Conference came up. “Yeah,” she said, “I’ll probably go, but there’s no way I’ll make the first deadline, and if you don’t make that batch, there’s almost no point in submitting anything.” I nodded in agreement, saying that I was being encouraged to go, but that I certainly didn’t have anything that was going to be ready by 31 January, and really, I probably wasn’t going to have anything appropriate this year anyway.
This semester, I took a Religious Studies seminar on early Christian mysticism — a lot of pagan neo-Platonic stuff, ironically, enough, but also Origen, Evagrius Pontus, Augustine, and (Ps.-)Dionysius. Plus, I was going to have to write a review of von Balthasar’s book on Maximus the Confessor. I realized that it was about as close to a course on patristics as I was going to get to take during my time here, and so I asked the professor, “Hey, do you think it would be worth my time to submit an abstract for the paper I’m writing for your class to Oxford?” “Oh, yes, definitely,” he said.
Well, okay, then. I thought of a topic, and I started researching it. In the meantime, I found out that some of the other cool things I thought I might do over the summer weren’t going to work out. On 25 March, I submitted an abstract for a “short communication” titled “Let us put away all earthly care: Mysticism and the Cherubikon of the Byzantine Rite in Late Antiquity”. I Tweeted, “RichardRBarrett just submitted an abstract. Yay.” This prompted Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick to ask me on Facebook, “Could you get any more vague?” Not willing to be outdone on the snark, I then Tweeted, “RichardRBarrett just did something that involved doing some things with other things. (Let me know if that’s sufficient, Fr. Andrew.)”
I turned the final paper in for the class this last Tuesday, got a very positive assessment of it back this morning, and I was inspired to drop the conference folks a line to see just what form our notification would take — we were supposed to hear by 15 May, but did we need to be checking the website, would we get an e-mail, or…?
We received over 675 abstracts, the organizer said, so what’s your reference number?
I told her. Five minutes later, I got an answer back: Yes, you were accepted.
So, there it is. I’ve presented at six graduate student conferences over the last five years, but this is my first big-boy pants conference, and it’s in my favorite place in the universe.
If I may — I’m getting a good chunk of support for this trip from a couple of sources, but it’s not quite the same thing as being a professor with a research account. If either of my regular readers have ever thought about clicking on that link up there that says “Tip Jar” and then thought, oh, well, he probably doesn’t need it, please let me assure you that this is an occasion where it would be most appreciated.
All this, and Thor rocked. It was a good day. Now I’ve got about 65 final exams on ancient Greek history to grade.