Thursday, September 3, 2009

becoming home

I just finished my first week of classes this morning (Thursday), and I must say it feels strange to not have any classes until Tuesday.  Then I remember how much stuff I have to read and write between now and then, and I get it...Going through one round of all the classes has made me relax a lot about coming into this program, and in fact has made me really excited about the work we are doing.  For a while I was concerned that coming from a theology background wouldn't be seen as quite on par as a continental philosophy of religion or anthropology background, but so far it seems to be well received.  Also, the work we are doing is so interdisciplinary, it is already opening doors to ideas and authors who just wouldn't be in the normal path of a theology program.  The prof who taught last night's class (Classics in the Sociology of Religion) is a practicing psychotherapist in addition to being a religion professor and a trained sociologist, and he was able to very quickly point me in some nifty directions for one of the research areas I am interested in (basically, defense mechanisms that shield people from guilt in situations of violence), so I have a hunch he will be a go-to guy through to the dissertation.  At the moment I'm working through a book on memory, place, violence, and religion (for a class, but how perfect a fit is that?!) and it is driving me back to stuff I read a few years back on sacred landscapes: "What they [the desert monks] fled with greatest fear was not the external world, but the world they carried inside themselve: an ego-centeredness needing constant approval, driven by compulsive behavior, frantic in its effort to attend to a self-image that always required mending." (Belden Lane, The Solace of Fierce Landscapes, p 166)  I include that quote to call myself back to not taking my own intellectual pride seriously - this first week I noticed myself coveting my neighbors' goods, meaning their expertise in all these areas about which I am completely clueless.  As much as this department seems to be a very low-competition and low-ego place, I can see how graduate programs like this can become as cutthroat as I have heard some places are: all these egos scrabbling so hard to build a body of work, an area of expertise, but each in its own little bunker, peering out at all the other bunkers and feeling inadequate for not encompassing each of the areas of study that is possible in one's field.  A buddy of mine at SLU put the movement through the university system this way, and I think he's right: do a bachelor's degree, feel like you know a lot of stuff; do a master's degree, feel like you don't know anything; do a doctorate, feel like nobody knows anything.  All for now - just needed to comment on the homing of this place...

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