Not normal

The weekend just gone would have been the Spalding Symposium on Indian Religions, held here in Edinburgh, the final one with me at the helm, and an opportunity to welcome a host of wonderful colleagues to this wonderful city. Today would have seen Oliver Freiberger stay on for a little extra panel discussion on comparative approaches to the study of religion. Last week, Maria Heim was due to be here, offering the Khyentse Buddhist Studies lecture.

Instead, I spent the weekend in the garden. Today, I spent the day at the dining table looking at the garden, tapping at my laptop, with coffee breaks in the garden. I like the garden, but still….

Things are not normal at the moment. In fact, to use a word that has had more airings in the last couple of months than it probably had in the previous decade, things are unprecedented. Or perhaps, we are told, we are all getting used to a new normal. We won’t be returning to normal normal for quite some time.

I can’t wait to get back to some aspects of normal: working in my office, hanging out in cafes, meeting up with friends….

But one of the last aspects to return to normal, I suspect, will be international travel for work. Not only will quarantining and other control measures likely persist for a long time, university budgets and the increased costs of flying will take a toll on academic gatherings in particular. And, perhaps, this might actually not be such a bad thing.

After all, even after this pandemic is over, there is still that small matter of a climate crisis. Perhaps this is our chance to reinvent how collegial academic networks are built and sustained, and how we relate our own research plans to the audiences we imagine across the world.

I have already taken a few tentative steps in the direction of virtual events – some peer review virtual exchanges, and an online comparative religions panel discussion to look forward to – and I know others are experimenting too. It is harder, admittedly, to form relationships virtually than to sustain them, but perhaps we just need to get more inventive in our formats. Just as online teaching is different to simply teaching online (as we are all discovering!) perhaps online conferences need a different format or framework.

And honestly, if I can attend an international symposium without leaving my garden, I’ll be pretty happy with that! So, invitations welcome….

Hope you are all keeping well.

About naomiappleton

I work in the Divinity School at the University of Edinburgh, where I research and teach subjects related to South and Southeast Asian religions.
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