Monday, January 28, 2013

Academic Paper Proposals

Matte Downey rocking a paper at CTS last year!
I'd like to encourage you to present papers in academic contexts. It can be very intimidating, but it is one location where the bridge between church and theology can be made. Some societies, like SVS (Society of Vineyard Scholars) and CETA (Canadian Evangelical Theological Association) encourage non-scholarly submissions, although you will find that some of these societies will require non-academic folk to present their whole paper before hand. I have been on the evaluating end of these things a few times now and I see some pretty common mistakes, so in order to help you with the proposal aspect here are a few tips.

1) Follow the Instructions.

It seems pretty obvious, but you would be surprised how many (even seasoned) academics just send along whatever they want instead of following the directions. In the last batch of paper proposals I evaluated almost half were over the word count, and some of them very much over the word count. What that communicates is that you will not respect the format for the presentation (which is often strictly timed to allow for conversation and getting all the other papers in there).

2) Tie it to the Theme

Many times conferences will have a larger theme. It is not always necessary to tie your paper to the theme, but it will rank higher if you do. I put together a proposal for a society today and even though it is for a paper I have already written, I massaged the title and proposal to connect explicitly to the theme of the conference.

3) Show Your Sources/Data

Many of us pastors are used to drawing from many wells and not always giving credit for the wisdom we garner. That doesn't fly in academic circles. In your proposal say who your work is influenced by. Also if you use anecdotal evidence or examples, like most great practical theology does, then say that. You don't need a bibliography but you do need to give the evaluators confidence that you are not just making stuff up. BTW I love practical theology presentations, probably the best presentation at the last conference I went to was all based around real experiences of a person working at an inner city church in Toronto. Absolutely encouraging, challenging and brilliant. 

4) Avoid Jargon

You might think that theologians love their jargon. But actually we spend a lot of time trying to precisely define the terms we use. The worst proposals use a lot of technical theological terms without reference to how they are using these terms. For instance the term missional seems like a great term, but which flavour of missional? Is it the Gospel For Our Culture missional? Or is it missional meaning you like missions? Or something else? If you want to use the term then budget words in your proposal for defining them, even briefly.

If you are keen on trying out the paper proposal then you still have a few more days to propose something for the annual meeting of the Canadian Evangelical Theological Association in Victoria. And I also noted that there is an online conference coming up that has a call for papers out: Ecclesia and Ethics. I encourage you to give it a try - you might just open up a whole new area of encouraging relationships to help you in your ministry.

Frank Emanuel - Ontario Region


  1. Thanks for the plug, Frank! Here is another call for papers for the AAR conference in Toronto in May. It is from the Open & Relational Theologies group and the theme is Emerging Church Theology. Looks really interesting.

  2. I Forgot about that one. I am going to add it to the calendar. For those who don't know the AAR is the American Academy of Religion. This conference is the Eastern Regional conference, regionals are much easier to get into. I've been twice to the regionals (Montreal and Ottawa) and enjoyed them very much. I presented when they were here in Ottawa, funny enough it was on the emerging church.

    The other conference to watch for will be our annual CETA conference where we pair up with an evangelical university. We had our first one at McMaster and it was really good.

  3. There are three more days to submit a paper proposal for SVS!

    I would have put it up before but I thought the date had already passed.