Proposing Sessions at THATCamp AAR 2014

With THATCampAAR less than a month away, it’s time to start thinking about the conversations you want to have and the problems you want to work on.

If you look at the schedule for the day, you will notice that with the exception of the directed, hands-on workshops, the topics of the rest of the sessions are all “TBA.” This is where you come in! Since technology is subject to rapid change, THATCamps purposefully leave the schedule blank until the weeks before the event when campers who will be attending the event are able to propose and vote on the sessions they would like to attend. In short, you control the schedule by proposing sessions, commenting on the session ideas you find interesting, and, on the morning of THATCamp, voting for the sessions you would like to attend.

A brief note about proposing sessions. THATCamp Headquarters has posted a super helpful guide on proposing sessions that you can find here. For now I will just say that by proposing a session you are not declaring yourself to be an expert on a topic. In fact, it’s just the opposite. One proposes a session at THATCamp not because they have answers, but because they have questions. And the hope is that once you make your own interests and needs known, other people will chime in and say “Yeah, I want to learn about that too!” and next thing you know you have a session devoted to the collaborative discussion of the issue or topic at hand. These sessions can take many and any form. They can be topical–“What kind of digital projects does the study of Islam need?”–pedagogical–“What kind of digital tools do graduate students need to know? What kind of digital sources can undergraduates trust?”–or technical–“What is this tool and how can I use it?” The only requirement you have as the proposer of a session is that you are committing to be a part of the conversation as its convener–perhaps by kicking it off with a reflection on your interest in this question. If you need some inspiration, check out some of the great proposals from last year’s THATCamp AAR here.

Don’t wait until the last minute! Propose topics and questions that you would like to have a conversation about now. And comment on the sessions that you would like to participate in. Conversations that start now are more likely to be part of the schedule on November 21.

What makes a good session proposal?

Good sessions come in many varieties. Often they are organized around questions, projects, or points of concern.

For example, if you are interested in using technology for teaching, you could propose a session to talk about what strategies and tools other have used, what worked (and what didn’t), and what outcomes were seen.

Or if you have concerns about the ways a particular tool models space, language, or time and the implications of those assumptions, you could propose a session to discuss and evaluate that tool and its usefulness to scholars of religion.

Any topic connected to religion, technology, and the intersection thereof is fair game.

One useful way to structure a session is to focus on producing something that would be a resource for others. This could be an annotated list of current strategies, a manifesto or call to action, a collaborative essay, or a digital tool. You can include what you would like the session to produce as part of your proposal or suggest that it be determined by the group during the session.

What should I expect in a session?

You should expect to be an active participant in the sessions you attend. This means asking questions, sharing your ideas and opinions, and contributing to the goals of the session.

If you proposed the session, you should expect to be responsible for starting and facilitating the conversation and, if there is a particular goal, focusing the group on achieving that goal. You are not expected, however, to have the answers or to present the solution.

You are also under no obligation to attend only one session during a time block. If there are multiple sessions you want to be a part of, you can and should split your time between them. And if the conversation in a particular session shifts to a topic you are not interested in, join another.

How will the sessions be chosen?

We will finalize the schedule by voting during the first session on Friday.

All the session proposals will be printed and you will be given stickers to vote for the sessions you would like to participate in. The votes will be tallied and those sessions that have generated the greatest interest will be assigned to particular spaces and times.

You are also welcome to start up ad hoc sessions during the day as new conversations develop.

How do I propose a session?

To propose a session, log in to WordPress with the account information emailed to you when you were approved. On the left hand side of the window, select “Posts.” This will take you to a page that lists all the post currently published on

WordPress "Welcome" screen.

From here, select “Add New Post.” This will open up the post editor.

WordPress Posts Page.

You can either write your session proposal here or copy over the text from Word or another text editor. Give your session a title and assign it a Category. You can assign multiple categories to describe the topic you want to discussion. Also, be sure to also select “Session Proposals” and the type of session as two of your category choices.

Add New Post

Category: Session Proposal

When you are finished, select “Publish.” The post will appear on the home page of!

Don’t hesitate to comment below if you have any questions. Someone from the organization team will get back to you.

Workshop Preview: An Introduction to Voyant Tools

Today’s workshop preview comes from the workshop’s leader, Marcus Bingeheimer of Temple University. He’ll be running a workshop on an open source text mining tool called Voyant, and has provided the following preview.
How many books do read in a week? One? Two? Perhaps two or three thousand, that is, in 30 years. What about the other hundred million? One of the promises of digital text is that it will be possible to use larger corpora for research, by finding patterns or discrete items of information across thousands of texts. Attempt of “Distant Reading” (Moretti) are technologically mediated; besides corpora of digital text one needs software tools to analyze and vizualize them. Voyant Tools ( is a free, online suite of tools that is develped to let Humanities scholars explore digital text in various ways. After a short introductory lecture on the functions of the online interface, participants can try things out. I will prepare some corpora to work on, but encourage participants to bring their own digital texts (preferable as plain text or xml). 

The workshop will run from 2:45-4:15pm in a room TBD.

Workshop Preview: Podcasting Religious Studies

As some of you may know, the program of any THATCamp is comprised to two kinds of meetings: hands on, directed workshops and user-proposed sessions. I’ll be sharing more information about proposing sessions at the end of this week. Today, though, I wanted to start a series of previews of the three workshops we’ll be hosting at THATCamp AAR2014. The first workshop will be on Podcasting and will be run by two stellar scholars, S. Brent Plate, host of That Religious Show, and Kristian Petersen, host of a number of religious studies podcasts. Here’s what Brent and Kristian say they’ll be covering:

Podcasts are poised to be one of the major forms of U.S. media in the coming years. The public is listening to stories on “This American Life” and its spin-off “Serial,” while comedy shows like “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me” entertain and Krista Tippet’s “On Being” examines issues of faith and life. Estimates indicate 75 million Americans listen to at least one podcast a month, and Apple recently announced that there are one billion podcast subscriptions via iTunes. Podcasting is a low cost, flexible medium that allows for great experimentation.

So, what does this mean to faculty and their students? How can podcasts and podcasting be used in the classroom? And how can they be used as forms of scholarly production? During this workshop we will explore the why, what, and how of podcasting.

  • Why? Reasons for using podcasts in both teaching and scholarly production.
  • What? Equipment, programs, web-hosts, etc. for creating and dissemination podcasts.
  • How? DIY instructions for podcasting, problems or complications we have encountered, and successes.

So bring a computer, portable device, maybe some earbuds and a mic, so we can get some playtime.

Running from 10:30am-12:00pm. Room TBD.

DeGruyter Press Sponsoring THATCamp

We’re very excited to announce that De Gruyter Press will be sponsoring AAR’s THATCamp for the second time. Now in addition to all of the great skills, connections, and ideas campers will get, we’ll also be able to offer free coffee and some swag! De Gruyter’s series of theology, Judaism, and religious studies texts has long been established in the field, and we’re excited the press is also showing an interest in digital scholarship.

So a special thanks to De Gruyter for the caffeine!


THATCamp & Religious Studies at the American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting

The advent of digital technology and social media has not only transformed how today’s religious communities function. They have also changed how scholars teach about and conduct research on religion more broadly. If you are interested in how technology is changing—or can change—the work of religious studies scholars, then we invite you to attend the AAR’s THATCamp!

THATCamp stands for “The Humanities and Technology Camp.” They exist to bring scholars and technologists of every skill level together to learn how to integrate digital technology into their teaching and research. This means the format is not your typical conference proceedings.

THATCamps are “unconferences,” which means sessions are built around hands-on workshops and collaborative working groups rather than formal presentations. Participants are encouraged to propose sessions they would like to attend in advance of the meeting on the THATCamp AAR13 blog. Topics we could cover include academic blogging, social media in the classroom, social media in religion, digital research methods, web-based class projects, online publishing, and countless others.

Sessions largely take one of four formats.

  • Talk Sessions offer the chance for a group discussion around a topic or question.
  • In Make Sessions, someone leads a small group in a hands-on collaborative working session with the aim actually making something–software, best practices document, a syllabus, etc.
  • In Teach Sessions, an individual leads a hands-on workshop on a specific skill or software tool.
  • In Play Sessions, anything goes. You can suggest literally playing a game, or spending some quality time exploring existing tools and resources for digital work.

For more information about proposing sessions, visit the “Propose” page of this site. All new session proposals will be posted to the home page. If you will be attending, please be sure to comment on the sessions that you would like to participate in!

The final schedule will be determined during the first session of the day, so be ready to vote for your favorite session ideas.