By Emmalee Mattern for The Talon
Amongst a sea of graduate students and faculty, six Oklahoma Christian University undergraduates presented their literature research papers. Amid such pressure the students were able to share papers at two conferences, the Southwest Conference on Christianity and Literature and the Midwest American Society for 18th Century Studies conference.
The conferences were held on Oct. 2-4 and Oct. 9-11 respectively.
“We felt very young and very honored to be there,” senior Taylor Boston, participant in the MW/ASECS conference, said. “It was intimidating, but at the same time it was exciting and encouraging.”
The conferences consisted of multiple hour and a half long sessions held throughout each of the three days.
One panel made up a session, three speakers constituted a panel, and each speaker – or panelist – read their paper and answered questions from the audience or the panel chair. After the entire panel presented their papers the audience was encouraged to ask questions.
Both conferences lent themselves to the purpose of gathering responses and gaining perspective on original ideas and thoughts about literature and its pertinence to the world today.
“We had the freedom to be creative,” Boston said.
The MW/ASECS had its collaboration of scholarly discussions at the Skirvin Hotel in Oklahoma City while the SW/CCL convention occurred in Shawnee, Okla. at Oklahoma Baptist University.
The time period of 1660-1820 was the primary focus of the Midwest regional conference.
Boston, along with seniors Angela Bebb and Roy Rhodes, wrote and presented their papers on the works of Jane Austen and made connections between the period her novels were written and society today.
Chair and Professor of Language and Literature Cami Agan had the opportunity to chair the panel centering on the topic of Austen and her many world-famous novels. As head of the panel, Agan served as moderator, introduced the speakers, and kept the energy of the discussion at a balanced level of intellectual stimulation to keep things interesting.
“For the most part, these conferences are places for scholars to get together to discuss ideas,” Rhodes said. “For undergraduates, it’s a great way to shake hands with the gateway to graduate schools.”
Besides the work done at the conference itself, there were weeks of time spent laying groundwork for the presentation of ideas to an audience of literature and history enthusiasts.
Topics were researched, practice panels were held, and papers were written and rewritten numerous times.
“The students are all extremely dedicated and passionate; they’re the cream of the crop,” Agan said. “They represent the intellectual work that OC is doing.”
The theme standardizing the panels at the SW/CCL conference that weekend focused on modernism literature and its relation to Christianity.
Senior Matt Miller said speaking on the differences between the despair and skepticism of modernism and the beauty and truth of God was an interesting way to compare beliefs.
“Relationships between religions, faiths, Christianity and the art of literature, [is] a really interesting way to look at literature works,” Miller said.
Senior Jessie Sanders joined Miller as they also represented two of the few undergraduate students participating in the SW/CCL conference. Oklahoma Christian alumnus Paul Mitchell also attended the convention.
Sanders enjoyed listening to Mitchell because she understood and appreciated the ideas he presented. She said the opportunity to share her ideas with these graduate students was unique and contributed to what she considered one of the highlights of her experience.
Interaction between all levels of scholarship helped give students an idea of what it’s like to be an academic.
Associate professor of English and French Merle Gatewood accompanied the students participating in the SW/CCL conference.
She has attended this particular conference every year since 1994 and represented the organization as secretary-treasurer for nine of those years.
“It has been a joy to meet Christian colleagues from a variety of institutions, both private and public,” Gatewood said.
The atmosphere of Christian scholarship and the common pursuit of higher academia allows attendees and participants the opportunity to grow through learning experiences.
“Students who attend are exposed to Christian writers and ideas they might never encounter in their classes,” Gatewood said. “Those selected to read their papers and answer questions have a challenging experience that builds their self-confidence for academic work and graduate school.”
Faculty members of the English and literature department were pleased with the preparedness and maturity the students exhibited.
“I’m extremely proud of them, and I think the whole campus should be extremely proud of them as well,” Agan said.
The SW/CCL annual convention location travels throughout the region each year. In 2010, the Oklahoma Christian language and literature department will hold the SW/CCL convention in conjunction with the annual McBride lecture.