One of the greatest things about studying at the Graduate Theological Union is how many different types of students there are with different goals, different perspectives, different interests. In my epigraphy class, for example, there is a Catholic priest, a Franciscan nun doing a doctorate in Hebrew Bible, an Ancient Near East scholar who works in several Semitic languages, and a retired community college professor who studies biblical languages as a hobby. Oh, and me, a biblical studies MA student passionate about interreligious dialogue.
After class a few weeks ago, a group of us were talking about the direction of the field, the divide between scholars working in the technical aspects of biblical studies (paleography, philology, text criticism, etc.) and those concerned with how we read the scriptures today. Of course, any decent scholar should be concerned with and competent in both. Any scholar doing the “what does it mean for us today?” work should know the text criticism, the language, etc. (Larry Hurtado has argued this better than I can, so I’ll link to him.) As one of my fellow student’s adviser put it, “You can’t have your dessert until you’ve eaten your potatoes.”
But I’m really not sure where I fall on this spectrum. When I applied to my graduate program, my application essay described my goal as being a bridge between antiquarians and activists. At the end of my first semester, I am still that bridge, but I am feeling more vividly the difficulty and the possibility inherent in being that bridge. I have one foot in each camp, but am not rooted fully in either camp.
For example, I really enjoy my “potatoes” courses. This semester it was Hebrew epigraphy, which I jokingly told my friends and family was the most arcane thing I have ever studied. I genuinely enjoy linguistics, text-criticism, etc. I’m good at it too. But I can’t see it being my specialty for life at this point in time.
Looking at what I have researched in the past, and what I get really enthused about for presenting and writing, I see mostly “dessert” topics. Right now, for example, I am preparing a paper for a conference in February on the Saint John’s Bible and Jewish-Christian dialogue. I’m applied to present on the relation between dialogue and apologetics for a graduate symposium next May. This is not typical biblical studies stuff.
But when I’m in a group of dialogue people, I tend to be the one frustrated with banal generalities about scriptures. I want to know: which manuscripts? What’s the verb form there? So I go back and forth.
When I apply to Ph.D. programs in two years, I will be applying to biblical studies programs, God willing. There are great programs like Boston or Georgetown that focus on comparative theology, religious pluralism, and interreligious dialogue. But I don’t want to be a dialogue person who dabbles in Bible. I want to be a biblical scholar who engages in dialogue. I want to be seen as intentional and interdisciplinary, not eclectic and unfocused. By focusing coursework on meat and potatoes but writing (here and elsewhere) about dialogue, I hope I can pull it off. I hope that those two – the potatoes and dessert, the antiquarian and activist – can go together.
That attempt will probably be the greater focus of this blog in the future. I originally started this blog as a way to talk about ancient languages. But as a grad student doing Bible and Qur’an, my language requirements are enough that I don’t have time to do them as a hobby as well. I’m keeping the blog’s name but will reorganize the menu to reflect this new direction.