“From Book Exhibit Manager to Plenary Speaker”
(Colloquium on Violence and Religion, June 3, 1999)
Richard A. Koenigsberg
This is Volume VI of the History of the Library of Social Science.
To read Volumes I-V, please click here.
Theophus "Thee" Smith
Theophus "Thee" Smith
Program of the 8th Annual Meeting of the Colloquium on Violence and Religion (COV&R) at Emory University (Atlanta), June 2-6, 1999
René Girard
René Girard
In Volume V of the History of the Library of Social Science, I mentioned that the highlight of my conference-going career occurred when I presented a paper on June 3, 1999 at a meeting of the Colloquium on Violence and Religion (COV&R)—and organized a book exhibit at the same time.

How did it come to be that I was a Plenary Speaker? Well, my presentation was the direct result of the fact that I created a book exhibit for the meeting. This is how I met the conference organizer and program chair, Thee Smith.

In order to create a book exhibit for a meeting, one first has to connect with a conference organizer—who gives the “go ahead.” This is the first sale I have to make. The conference organizer is my first customer.

Sometimes, the organization I approach had created their own exhibit in the past; often the meeting hadn’t had a book exhibit. In any case, I seek out conferences that are on the highest intellectual level—featuring top speakers.

Once I identify an important meeting, I connect with the individual who is “in charge” of running it. Since I didn’t purchase a computer until 1998, this means that most of my work—1990-2000—was accomplished via telephone.

Sometimes I work with an administrator or “executive director.”. More often than not, however, I connect with the President of the organization—or another prominent academic in the group—who was given the “honor” of running the meeting for a given year.

The conference organizer has numerous tasks he or she has to perform, including establishing a venue, selecting and inviting speakers, setting up registration, putting together the program, and ordering coffee (among many, many other responsibilities).

In early 1999, I discovered “The Colloquium on Violence and Religion” (COV&R)—and decided this was an excellent organization—one worthy of a Library of Social Science Book Exhibits: the participating scholars were top-notch, and the topic—the relationship between religion and violence—meant there would be a wide range of appropriate titles for our display.

The person I ended up working with for the meeting was conference director Theophus “Thee” Smith, professor of Religion at Emory University. He was a quiet, thoughtful man—quite competent.

In the course of working out details of the book exhibit over several months (beginning February 1999), Professor Smith and I frequently spoke on the phone. Most discussions revolved around the exhibit set-up (location, timing, shipping, etc.). However, since one of my main research topics is sacrificial violence, I often introduced my own ideas into our conversations.

At the beginning of our relationship, Theo Smith had never heard of me. And I had no history with COV&R—a tightly knit group. But after several months of rapping on the telephone—to my surprise—Theo put me on the program as a plenary speaker!

I arrived at the conference on Wednesday, June 2 to set up the book exhibit with the help of my assistant, Sally Levit. One never knows what a venue will look like from a floor plan (it’s amazing how many ways physical spaces can be configured). The plenary talks (as opposed to the “break out” sessions) would be held in a medium-size auditorium.

Sally and I cased out the space—and decided that the back of the auditorium would be an excellent location for our book exhibit (10 tables, organized in a U shape). With the lectern in front, and the exhibit in the back, people would have to pass by the books (and hopefully check them out) when they came into the auditorium and when they came out.

As always, I opened the cartons (box cutters were no problem then), removed the books—and set them up in an aesthetically pleasing way on the tables. I rapped with attendees as they arrived on the scene (the LSS book exhibit is often the first thing attendees see at a meeting, providing orientation and comfort). Sales were good on Thursday, June 3.

But then it was Friday, June 4, 9:15 am: time for my lecture. I left the exhibit space in the back of the auditorium (leaving Sally to guard the books), and walked to the lectern in the front. Theo introduced me. As I began speaking, there was Rene Girard—whose theories were the basis for the entire conference—sitting directly before me in the front row.