Friday, June 17, 2011

Presenting at the Institute for Humane Studies Seminar

Part of the IHS Scholarship and the Free Society seminar are breakout sessions in which graduate students get to present their own research. The purpose of this is to give presenters the opportunity to receive feedback from a diverse academic audience as well as gain practice in this very process. In keeping with the purpose of the seminar as a whole, which is to foster academics who not only proscribe to classical liberalism, but also use it as a foundation for their scholarship, these breakout sessions also provide a forum to discuss how one's work relates to issues of interest to classical liberalism.

I was not initially invited to present when the seminar schedule was first formed, but one of the presenters did not make it so I volunteered to step in at the last minute. The seminar organizers accepted, so I ended up with a much and unexpected, but appreciated chance to do a conference presentation, speaking to a room full of classical liberals about messianism and politics. I mostly discussed the relationship between messianism and failed politics. (See "The Turn to Messianism.")

How does this issue of political messianism relate to classical liberalism? First, I am confronting the question of religion and politics and showing some of the potential pitfall in any simple attempt to split the two. Second, my work serves to challenge a traditional liberal narrative of modernity in which modernity is defined by secular political revolutions. Following people like Norman Cohn, I argue that religious apocalypticism is not something distinct from secular politics and is in fact an important forbearer of it.

Considering how last minute this all was, my presentation was even more of my manic seat of the pants, loud, throwing my hands about and going into side tangents than usual. This style of speaking has its advantages and disadvantages. No matter what I am speaking about, it is difficult to accuse me of being boring. In a regular classroom, though, this can intimidate some students and even annoy those who do not wish to care. In a professional audience like this seminar I risk coming across as entertaining, but not professional and not someone to be taken seriously as an academic. Part of my difficulty as to why I cannot simply tone down my style is that I find myself needing the energy boost I recieve from bouncing around. This is particularly the case when, as with this seminar, I have not prepared and I am really nervious. (Part of this may relate to my Asperger need for stimming.) I also struggle with a stammer, which particularly manifests itself when I am not on an emotional high.

There is a trap here; either I try and fail to play the part of the professional and risk appearing unprofessional and dull to boot or I can entertaining and even intellectually stimulating, but clearly not anyone's idea of a professional academic. I do admire those tenured academics, who can afford to walk around in jeans and a t-shirt and be eccentric to their heart's content. I simply lack the ability to play the part of the professional academic until I get to a place in which I can stop and freely be me.      

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