Skip to main content

thesis defense

I had my thesis defense on Monday. It was a good experience, a very good experience, for me. Not at all the scare-fest I thought it would be. When I first began my master's degree, one of the things I was sure I didn't want to do was defend a thesis, and that was why I chose the project option. The idea of standing in front of a committee of learned scholars and being grilled was a scary thought that made my stomach lurch in nasty ways. I would rather eat sushi (for those of you who know how much I dislike the Japanese fast food, this is a rather strong statement).

I have moments when my mind goes blank. I struggle to remember names and dates. For some reason, my mind likes to file away important, general information in a storage facility where it is very hard to access at short notice. Also, I have been known to easily get distracted and lose my train of thought. All of these can be deadly in a defense situation where one needs to be able to respond quickly to challenges and questions in order to demonstrate a broad knowledge as well as insightful depth regarding the subject of their thesis.

About a year and a half ago, one of my professors challenged me to reconsider doing a thesis. He is a very persuasive man and what he said made a lot of sense, so I gave it some serious thought. Shortly after that conversation, I was watching the movie Invictis and had an epiphany about not making choices based in fear (you can read a bit about it here). I realised that I had taken the project route because I was afraid to defend a thesis, and as someone who desires to live life without fear, I saw clearly that I had to change my course of study. So I started down the thesis road, a road which is ended on Monday.

To my surprise, I had no fear going into the defense. I was well-prepared, I knew my topic, and I knew I was in a room with friends. The kind of friends who are rooting for you, but who challenge you, who gently point out your mistakes, and who won't let you get away with doing less than you are capable of. I love all that these teachers have brought to my life in the past few years. And love is always stronger than fear. The three professors who questioned me were not trying to trip me up - they were giving me a chance to prove to them and to myself that I had mastered a subject. Of course, there is still plenty I don't know, and when the questions ventured into territory that I was unfamiliar with, I stated as much. Knowing where your knowledge ends is as important as knowing what you do know. And I surprised myself with how much I did know and was able to articulate not only clearly but with confidence and conviction.

In a preliminary thesis proposal that I presented in December, I made the claim that if I could learn to love Evelyn Underhill (my thesis subject), then I could understand her and learn from her. And I believe this is my strength as a student and a somewhat unlikely theologian: I learn by loving. Because I have found that love enlarges not only your heart, but your mind and your capacity to understand.

This is a photo of one of the books that I cited in my thesis.

By the way, my favourite book of Underhill's is The Fruits of the Spirit. It is a short, easy read that demonstrates her remarkable ability to fuse profound spirituality with everyday life. Plus, you get to experience her distinctive early 20th century, middle-class London style of writing. Read it sometime if you can.

Comments

One of Freedom said…
You rock Matte. I love your project of learning to love your subject. The whole reason I undertook my own subject is that I fell in love with the possibilities I saw for German Political theology in my own life as an evangelical longing to love and serve my Savior. Because I am trying to speak comprehensively to evangelical theologies I read a lot of stuff I don't love - but every now and then I find the jewels in there that remind me why those men and few women were loved by evangelicals in their time. I think you have encouraged me to be more deliberate about loving my subjects.
steven hamilton said…
that's so encouraging! Thanks for sharing...
Shelley said…
I'll have to look her up! I think you are absolutely right about love...

I know it is difficult, if not impossible to learn anything from someone who I feel I must hold at arms length.
Cynthia Orr said…
Wow! Some people find thesis defence to be nerve wreaking, but you really are different for finding it interesting. Yes thesis defence can be hard, but it would really put you in the position that you really know and have the right information and knowledge for your area of specialty.

Popular posts from this blog

what binds us together?

For the past few weeks, I have been reading a book by famed psychiatrist M. Scott Peck which chronicles his travels (together with his wife) through remote parts of the UK in search of prehistoric stones. The book is part travel journal, part spiritual musings, part psychology, and part personal anecdotes. A mixed bag, to be sure, and not always a winning combination. At one point, I considered putting the book aside, not finishing it, but then Peck started writing about community. He is no stranger to the concept. He has led hundreds of community-building workshops over the years, helped start a non-profit organisation dedicated to fostering community, and written a compelling book about the topic, one which greatly impacted me when I read it oh so long ago.[1]

In preparation for a course I am teaching next year, I have been doing quite a bit of study on unity and community. Once you start thinking about it, you see and hear evidence of it everywhere. (See my blog on the impact of b…

job hunting

I am on the hunt for a job. PhD in hand, I am a theologian for hire. The thing is, not a lot of places are hiring theologians these days, and if they are, they are usually looking for scholars with skills and experience outside my area of expertise. Today I found job opportunities for those knowledgeable in Religion, Race, and Colonialism, Philosophy and History of Religion, Islam and Society, Languages of Late Antiquity, Religion, Ethics, and Politics, and an ad for a Molecular Genetic Pathologist. Not one posting for a Dramatic Theologian with  a side order of Spirituality and a dash of Methodology.

I know, I know. My expectations are a bit unrealistic if I believe I will find an exact match for my particular skills. I know that job descriptions are wish lists to some extent, so no candidate is ever a perfect match. I also realize that one must adapt one's skill set according to the requirements of the job and be flexible. But there are so few jobs which come within ten or even…

lessons from a theological memoir and a television series about lawyers

It's a hot Wednesday afternoon, so let's talk about false binaries. Basically, a false binary or false dichotomy happens when a person's options are artificially limited to two choices, thereby excluding all other possibilities. Insisting on the limited choice of either A or B leaves no room for middle ground or another, more creative solution. In other words, a false binary assumes the rest of the alphabet (after A and B) does not exist.

Binary thinking is quite prevalent in our society. Either you are for me or against me. Either you are guilty or innocent. Either you are a Democrat or a Republican, conservative or liberal. Either you are a Christian or a pagan. Either you are all in or all out. Admittedly, it is convenient to see things as either black or white, but we live in a multi-coloured world and not everything fits neatly into two categories. This is why insisting there are only two choices when, in fact, other options exist, is labeled as a fallacy in logic an…