RiAH at 10: We Don't Need No Stinkin' Badges!



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Elesha Coffman

I like academic conferences. Always have. Way back when I was the editor of Christian History magazine, I attended a Conference on Faith and History meeting in San Diego and then the American Society of Church History winter meeting in San Francisco, searching for new story ideas and potential authors. My husband, Eric, was with me in San Francisco, and we found ourselves in an elevator with two tweed-coated male historians who were so engrossed in their conversation that they were just riding up and down, oblivious to whatever floor they were supposed to be heading to. When we were out of earshot, Eric asked me, "Are these your people?" and I knew that the answer was "Yes." Soon I had left journalism for grad school in the history of American religion.

This blog has functioned, for me, primarily as an extension of academic conferences. My very first posts, in summer 2011, recapped the Religion and American Culture conference, which had raised two huge questions: "Do Religion Scholars Read the Bible?" and what is the "Future of Religion in America?" In my first job, at a school with just two historians and one religion scholar on faculty, I did not get to have these conversations, and I wasn't ready for them to end when I departed from Indianapolis. The inestimable Paul Harvey allowed me to throw my thoughts onto the blog and keep the ball rolling.

One of my favorite conference photos, from Mainz 2014
In the past six years, I've previewed and reviewed numerous other conferences here, as well as shared updates from the American Society of Church History, of which I became a council member in 2015. (Don't forget to renew your membership and stay at the ASCH hotel in D.C. in January!) People I've "met" through RiAH I subsequently met, and often presented alongside, at real-life conferences, where our interactions were enriched by the sustained conversation made possible at this blog. In New York, or Chicago, or wherever, instead of, "Hello, what is it you work on?" while we squint at each other's nametag, it's, "So good to see you, I loved that book review you posted, you're taller than I expected, and how is that new class going?"

In my view, the whole field functions better because we can meet here even when we can't meet in person. Thanks for this tremendous feat of event-planning, Paul!

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