My final academic journey in Canada culminated with the Congress for the Humanities and Social Sciences (CFHSS) at Carleton University, Ottawa. From May 23-31st 2009. The theme of the Congress, “Capital Connections: nation, terroir, territoire” didn’t really excite me, but it was a requirement (by my supervisor to attend) and was also an opportunity to attend an international conference of that scale. (This was also in lieu of the AAR conference that I was meant to attend, but couldn’t due to finances, time and fear of being rejected for US visa!)

A Congress, as I understand it, is a collection of conferences, all meeting at the same time. Ideally, it is an opportunity, not only to attend the conference of your own association but also to attend other inter-disciplinary papers.

I choose to attend the Congress for three days, Saturday to Monday, and registered for the Evangelical theological Society and the Canadian Theological Society (CTS) and the Canadian Evangelical Theological Association (CETA). According to the rules, you not only have to pay the registeration fees for the Congress, but also for each of the smaller Conferences you want to attend. Already I felt this defeated the purposes of cross polination that a Congress was supposed to generate (ie. ideally you can’t attend what you don’t pay for, though many and even I attending sessions that we didn’t pay for)

Saturday was the CTS conference and the number of participants were few and while the discussions were okay, it turned out that a few of the presenters were presenting drafts of their papers that they would present for other conferences later in the Congress!

Sunday was my opportunity to attend non-theology related seminars, and the best paper I attended that day was on Narrative-based learning for Children in Schools.

Monday was the busy day with the CETA conference stocked with many papers that were run parallelly on two separate buildings! I can understand that it would be difficult to manage so many conferences being held together, but in such a huge Carleton University Campus you would think that they would have two rooms close-by. Perhaps Theology does not get preference! :)

I also had the opportunity to use the Carleton Library for the three days, and even got some helpful resources. It was interesting to see that Carleton was not as well-equipped as McGill. And yet, they had books that McGill didn’t have (and vice versa of course).

One the of the best parts of the Congress for me was that I could stay on campus. That saved me from commuting and even allowed me to attend early morning (8:30am) sessions.The Carleton campus was nice (though huge and quite spread out which took a long time to get from one place to another. This was especially difficult when you are (as I was) trying to make it to another seminar in another part of the campus.  Another good thing about the congress was the helpful support staff; they had an army of volunteers(?) who did an excellent job in keeping everyone informed. It was also a great opportunity to see a completely different university (in a completely different city – Ottawa), and the exposure, while brief, was also signficant.

The biggest regret from the Congress was that the ideal point of the Congress… to get the multiple disciplines rubbing shoulders with each other… was just too impractical. Each conference in the congress was too independently run. The campus was too far apart. And so you simply had to pick and choose where you want to go… and stay there.

But I do like the fact that I attended. There was a lot to do; never a dull moment even when no seminars were being held (art exhibitions, recreation facilities, food-courts). Plus, the Theology papers were… well… not that great.. but pretty ok… some more stimulating than others.  But in some sense, being in a Congress, with over 2-3 thousand participants has its effect (even if not maximised); and it did feel that I was participating in an international (though predominantly western) event. And that was great!