What do I think about this year's meeting?
1. The SBL staff in Atlanta have to figure out how to stop overlapping similar sections. This has been a problem since I started chairing a group fifteen years ago (which I no longer chair). It never gets better and it has never been solved. It was bad when groups were only allowed two sessions each, and it is worse now that the groups have proliferated. Our mysticism sessions were held at the same time slots as the Nag Hammadi and Gnosticism group, the Religious Experience group, the Pseudepigrapha, and a number of others. The problem is that many of us are members of several of these groups, and the overlap means that we have to choose between groups instead of supporting all of them.
2. More is not better. We have too many groups now that the Society has allowed them to proliferate after the split with AAR . The sudden drastic increase in groups means that there is more competition for audiences. I cannot tell you how many rooms I saw as I ran from one thing to the next that had five or less people in their audiences. This is embarrassing all around - for the presenters who prepared papers, for the groups who sponsored them, and for SBL.
3. We were told at the Chairs' Breakfast that 4,400 attended this year (compared to 5,000 last year). We were told that this is because the meeting was not in the northeast where there is more attendance, but this is not the reason I was hearing from colleagues who didn't come. I think this number is inflated since this must be the registered people, not the attendees. Many people who had preregistered canceled at the last minute and did not come as they had planned.