when am i gonna be one of the cool kids?

That was quite a day.

The AAR is being held at the San Diego convention center, but many of its seminars, panels, and meetings spill out into the the Marriot and the Hyat next door. The Marriot and the Hyat are nice. But more than just nice hotels, I think it needs to be said that they both have Starbucks in their lobbies. In fact, the convention center itself has two. And in the seven or eight blocks between my hotel and the convention center, there are another five or six.

All of which has nothing to do with anything. It’s still pretty early in the morning, I’m rambling, but I really wanted to get on to some deeper reflections about what’s going on in the World of Buddhism at the AAR. That is, after all, why I’m here. But first I think I ought to set the stage a bit. Do some academic name dropping.

Apart from the employment services thing, yesterday morning I also went to the book publishers exhibition hall. This is one the things I love the most about coming here. Books books books. I think I did pretty well. But apart from the books I got, it’s also sort of interesting to see what’s coming out of the academy. What the academy thinks is important. Two years ago, it was all about the Chronicles of Narnia and C.S. Lewis’ theological writings. (Clearly the publishers were trying to capitalize on the movie.) This year I saw a lot of Stephen Prothero.

The first panel I went to was on feminist approaches to the study of Buddhism. It’s interesting that this year there’s a sizable contingent of Buddhist nuns and monks here. When I was in Philadelphia two years ago, it seemed like there was an absence of visible Buddhists. But that might have something to do with (a) the AAR’s focus this year being on China (and in Philly it was on Mormonism) and that (b) we’re in California which, I suspect, has a higher per capita number of Buddhist monastics. Anyway, one of the panel presenters was a Buddhist nun, and, personally, I always like to see an overlap between Buddhist scholars and actual Buddhists.

The second panel I went to was the brand-spankin’ new “Buddhism in the West” consultation. (I’m not clear what a “consultation” is other than a not-as-yet fully accepted subdiscipline within the larger hierarchy of the Academy). My advisor was giving a paper and so was one of my fellow doctoral students. In attendance were all manner of well-know scholars including Thomas Tweed who’s written a new book on the theory of religion. All very exciting. After the formal presentation of papers, the new area’s convener opened the floor to discuss ideas for future areas of study; I participated. I’m doing my best to make a name for myself as a scholar. I accomplished something. Hooray for me.

Afterward was an IBS-(co)sponsored reception honoring the editor of the University of Hawaii Press. Very Big Deal. (The U of H Press has published some of the finest books in the study of Buddhism.) Those in attendance included several of the Big Names in Buddhist studies. I spent most of the evening talking with my co-workers and advisor. At one point we noticed that some Really Big Names in Buddhist Studies were all sitting at the same table, deeply engrossed in conversation. We’d wanted to talk to a couple people at the table, but we felt uncomfortable breaking into such a group. My insecurity felt very much like junior high school.

So I had another glass of wine and called it a night.

Now it’s eight thirty in the morning, and I’m off to more academic silliness!


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