Behind the Ivory Curtain: Working on the York Christian Apocrypha Symposium

Apocrypha scholars strike a pose for  the camera.

UPDATE: Other participants have posted their observations on the symposium…

I’ve been blogging a bit about the York Christian Apocrypha Symposium which took place in September at York University. Many of you may have been wondering what that was all about. (Christianity? On Invocatio? Certainly there must be some mistake!).

No mistake. As a student of ancient religions, Christianity is right there. And Christianity actually has some pretty funky stuff going on, especially once you get beyond the New Testament. When the opportunity came up to help out with the Symposium, I jumped at the chance. Now that the conference has wrapped, I’d like to share with you the student perspective on putting together such an event.

The conference organizer, Tony Burke, asked if I’d be interested in working on the conference back in June. He had already recruited one undergraduate student, but was looking for a second to share some of the duties. I had heard nothing but good things about Professor Burke from my classmates and absolutely jumped at the chance. Really. There was no way in hell I was going to say no.

Since the conference was several months off, I figured I’d have a bit of time to do whatever it is non-students do in the summer. (Go to the beach? Sip drinks on the patio? Relax?) But emails quickly poured in about the conference while I was in Sweden, giving me an indication that we would be hitting the ground running upon my return.

And we did.

My first task was to put together biographies of our speakers. We had twenty-two of them, all top-notch figures in their fields*.  As I scanned through their résumés, I quickly realized how accomplished these folks were with their dozens of ancient languages and multiple pages of published works. As for me? I speak a mighty good English and can juggle. So, there. Top that.

My next job was to create a website to showcase all these amazing speakers and make it easy for potential attendees to, well, attend. Furthermore, this was the second in what is planned to be an ongoing conference series, and it just made sense for the Symposium to have its own web space.

Flash forward to the end of September and it was crunch time. Last minute website updates, schedule changes, missed flights—you name it, we were adjusting to it. My role here shifted from behind the scenes web golem to up-front chauffeur, shuttling speakers to-and-from the airport. At this point, I should mention that, while I fully intended to improve my driving skills for the conference, this didn’t happen.  Luckily, The Husband shared this role with me. And by “shared” I mean that he drove the car while I mucked about with the radio. What can I say? I owe him one.

The Symposium itself was really strong. We had some really solid panels and a wide variety of speakers. From the first paper to the last, each presentation was a snapshot of the field’s depth and a testament to the way scholars are approaching this material. I’ll admit, some of it was over my head, but it was obvious there was plenty of source material to work with and many avenues of research to pursue.

Our keynote address by Annette Yoshiko Reed did a wonderful job of bringing these texts into the present, giving examples of how fringe Christian works have influenced, among other things, anime and comic culture. This was a nice foray into the modern cultural implications of the apocrypha, and showed how these texts are far from marginal works, but have influenced popular thought throughout the ages and even into the present-day.

For me, the interesting thing was seeing how the conference has grown from the last one. I attended the Secret Gospel of Mark Conference in 2011, which at that time was a one-day event. This year, the scope had widened to include many different apocryphal texts and well as its related genres in apocalypticism and gnosticism. I really enjoyed this aspect, as the shift in material gave one a bit of a break, while also showing how these areas overlap in terms of study.

What’s more, all this could no longer be contained by a single day. This year’s conference was two solid days of presentations and panels. The speaker roster had doubled. When the conference closed with an eye towards figuring out where to go from here, it was apparent that the apocrypha, as a field of study, was large enough to merit more than a footnote in the world of New Testament studies.

And we had our own hash tag. So you know we’ve arrived.

Of course, we had a great team we had working on the conference. I’d mention names, but I’m not sure if they want to be part of the blogosphere, so I’ll remain mum on that point for now! For me, however, I couldn’t have worked with a better group, and I consider myself amazingly lucky to have been a part of something like this at such a hands-on level. My thanks to Tony Burke for including me on his team. Here’s hoping for continued success in the future!

*Please don’t think I am responsible for all the biographies. Putting everything together was definitely a group effort!

Tony Burke was kind enough to cross-post here at his blog Apocryphicity.