Collect story ideas and contacts galore at religious eggheads’ annual extravaganza

Each year, thousands upon thousands of religion scholars assemble during the days preceding Thanksgiving for simultaneous conventions of the American Academy of Religion (AAR) and the professional counterpart for Scripture specialists, the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL). This year, the two organizations gather November 17-20, in Denver. Coverage this month, or planned for a year hence, is a good investment for forward-looking media with the cash and the interest.

The Religion Guy has attended several of these egghead extravaganzas and attests that it’s no simple task. The 300 pages of program listings accessible here (.pdf) and here (.pdf) offer many #MEGO (my eyes glaze over) sessions aimed at specialists. But you’ll discover journalistic wheat amid the hyper-technical chaff, usually concepts for future stories rather than breaking news (though one year The Guy scored a dandy AP spot story).

Equally important, you can prowl the exhibit hall and corridors to greet and collect contact info from a dizzying variety of expert sources. AAR’s communications director Amy Parker can facilitate coverage of both the AAR and SBL (phone 404-727-1401 or email via that website mentioned above).

The two conventions are such a magnet that several organizations schedule meetings in conjunction with the big show, as in the following examples.

Speakers at the Biblical Archaeology Review “fest” November 16-18 will range from star skeptic Bart Ehrman to evangelical exegete Ben Witherington. This magazine is in the business of translating historical disputes for non-specialists and it’s must reading for reporters who want to follow such developments.

Westar Institute, whose much-publicized “Jesus Seminar” strived to debunk New Testament authenticity, will meet November 16 on two follow-up projects, promoting varied movements that fought orthodoxy in Christianity’s early centuries, and pondering “post-theism,” including this: “Why should we talk about God at all?”

If The Guy were in Denver he’d pursue trends in two relatively unknown conservative groups, the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS), which gathers November 13-15, followed by the Institute for Biblical Research (IBR), meeting November 16-19.

ETS, the older and larger of the two, asks members to affirm that “the Bible in its entirety is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs.” That last word refers to the original writings, no longer in existence, that are the basis for the texts we know. IBR members, who work in “an evangelical context,” affirm “the unique divine inspiration, integrity, and authority of the Bible.”

So, why do evangelical Bible scholars have two separate organizations? You could ask ETS President David Dockery, leader of Trinity International University and formerly of Union University, and IBR President Tremper Longman III of Westmont College. IBR’s sessions (also Westar’s) are included in the SBL program book, but not those for ETS.

IBR mostly discusses trends in Biblical scholarship, whereas ETS has a few items with more hard news potential. Topics there include the oldie of why so many evangelicals support President Donald Trump, also religious liberty for Muslims, and conservatives’ controversial Nashville Statement on sexual and gender morality.

A session on “sexual abuse, gender and power” hosts attorney Rachael Denhollander, who led the #MeToo takedowns at U.S. Gymnastics and Michigan State University and sharply criticizes some Protestant churches.

Oh, yes. Good luck booking a hotel room.