Tips for attending the Annual AAR/SBL meeting

Attending the American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature Annual Conference can be bit overwhelming, especially for first timers. To help alleviate some fears and unknowns this post should help direct new and seasoned members for the best ways to navigate the meeting.

With around 10,000 attendees it’s not surprising that one can feel alienated or alone while in the midst of thousands of your closest colleagues. So how should you go about preparing for the annual meeting prior to your arrival?

  • Begin by planning which sessions you will attend. You don’t have to figure out your exact schedule, but have a general idea of the sessions you are interested in. This year I made a hand written schedule to help. As you can see I used stickies to help find the session descriptions in the program book and they are also color coded. I used red tabs for all Women's Caucus events!

  • Branch out: Attend sessions you normally would not attend. Get out of your comfort zone and seek out topics that are interesting. Who knows what you might learn or whom you might meet!

  • Still on the note of sessions: DON’T TRY TO ATTEND EVERYTHING! As you can see in my hand written schedule there are several overlaps of sessions. Trying to attend everything on your schedule will drive you crazy and it is not productive. Rushing out of sessions just to make the next one is not your best use of time. It’s good to stay a few minutes after a session and talk to others or the presenters!

  • Smart Phone App: To help with the scheduling issue AAR/SBL has created a smart phone App. (This years app has not been released, but you can find it here) Last year I found the App helpful as I was walking from different locations. (Some sessions can be on opposite sides of the convention center, or even in hotels) Instead of pulling out my large program book, which I do keep with me, I pulled out my phone and looked up my next location. The app also allows you to create a schedule. Note: if you’re like me you like to read the descriptions of sessions, hence the reason for carrying the program book as well.


  • Nourishment: If you're like others attending the annual conference you come for professional nourishment, but do not forget about spiritual, emotional, and physical nourishment as well! Research lunch/dinner options prior to arriving. San Diego has a vibrant restaurant and food scene, but unfortunately most convention centers do not. I have several food restrictions and find that I can only get a cup of coffee at the convention center. There are several restaurants within walking distance to the convention center and you can always bring snacks. Follow my Pinterest board for more ideas!

  • Student Lounge and roundtables: These sessions are ripe with information for graduate students, junior faculty, and senior faculty. Sessions on dissertations, academic employment, alternate employment, and effective teaching are all sessions that will be featured this year. These sessions are great for meeting other graduate students and learning more about life after the dissertation!

Sessions Worth Mentioning

Friday - 4:00 PM-6:00 PM, Marriott Marquis-Catalina

  • Women's Caucus Sessions

Don't forget about the San Diego Page on the Women's Caucus!

By Marcelle Grano

She is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Women’s Spirituality department at California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS). Currently Marcelle is writing her dissertation on women’s ordination in the Roman Catholic Church, Episcopal Church, and Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.

She is moderating the Woman's Caucus session Taking Root: Publishing New Books on Gender and Religion at the Annual AAR/ SBL Conference in San Diego, CA.

You can contact her here.