A Scholar’s Experience at AAR/SBL: Feminist Hermeneutics of the Bible, Southeast Asia, and Women’s Breakfast

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Submitted by May May Latt, ATLA Metadata Analyst

My paper entitled “The Community of Internally Displaced People/Diasporas: Esther 1:10-22 and 8:3-17” was accepted by the session of Feminist Hermeneutics of the Bible at Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) in Boston, 2017. The theme of the session was “Current Voices in Feminist Hermeneutics,” therefore it included comparative readings to the Bible in South African perspectives, Burmese perspectives, and intertextual studies of women in the Hebrew Bible.

The Reasons Behind the Paper

There were two reasons to read this paper at SBL. One was that I was contracted to write an essay on reading the Bible in immigrant, refugee, and diasporic perspective in the Baptist Identities Series by Mercer University Press, therefore this paper defined the use of the term “diaspora” and reading the characters of two queens in the book of Esther in Burmese Diasporic perspectives. The other reason was that this paper addressed not only the diasporic characters in the book of Esther, but also the diaspora across the globe.

Current Burmese Conflict and the Book of Esther

Current international news has broadcast reports about the ethnic conflict in Burma, which is between the Rohingya/Muslim minority and the Burmese Military. Within Burma, there is a very different narrative on this issue; however, the world has not heard many of the voices from those inside the conflict. The ethnic conflict in Burma is between two armed forces, the Arakine Rohingya Salvation Army and the Burmese Military, and one of the results was that the Rohingya minority became refugees on the border of Bangladesh and Burma. The national leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, does not command the Burmese Military and has a history of embracing nonviolent principles while leading the country on its way to democracy. My paper presented the current issues in Burma and identified the contemporary diasporic characters with those in the book of Esther. I was privileged to present during this session as a current voice in Feminist Hermeneutics.

American Academy of Religion, Southeast Asia Unit

Apart from my session and the global feminist roundtable, I attended several sessions on the “Formation of Isaiah” and one session in the American Academy of Religion (AAR). Since my studies focus on Isaiah, Isaiah sessions are always home for me at SBL to catch up the development of the academic arguments on that particular book. I had the privilege of attending an AAR session on “Religion in Southeast Asia Unit,” in which the exclusion of Rohingya and ethnic conflicts in Burma were presented from the perspective of media outside Burma. The presentation was well researched; however, information from inside Burma is always limited for the outside researcher. Consequently, the views espoused were not wholly informed.

SBL Women’s Breakfast

Every year at the SBL Annual Meeting, the Breakfast for Women Scholars is an enjoyable moment for me to attend: meeting new friends, catching up old friends, and hearing the achievements and struggles of women scholars. This year, many young scholars and current PhD students expressed their worries for getting teaching jobs in the future. Looking around the room, more than two-thirds have been working in academic research, administration, and some other positions rather than what many PhD students dream of — a teaching job. Though the breakfast was over, some of our friends still went out with the puzzling question of whether they should give up the dream and passion of teaching.

In light of the issues raised at the Breakfast for Women Scholars, I reflect on how lucky I am to be able to contribute to scholarship and enhance my professional development by attending conferences such as SBL in my role as a metadata analyst at ATLA. Together at ATLA we are building what is probably the world’s most important database for religious studies and theology, and indexing keeps scholars informed on the latest research in “real time” as it is published.

Photo Credit: Society of Biblical Literature-Woman Scholars Facebook Page

May May Latt, PhD in Hebrew Bible, was born and raised in Burma, also known as Myanmar. Now she is residing in Glendale, Wisconsin, with her husband, Thomas R. Blanton IV, PhD in Biblical Studies (New Testament).

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