Friday, January 27, 2012

So, What does a Theology Prof Do, Then?

A momentary break from it.

A momentary break from the compilation of the Canadian blog roll too.

I was sitting here anxiously, thinking about all the stuff I have to do. This being a day when I do not have any classes to teach.

Where the miralces happen: my contemplation of the Forms.
Leisure is not the basis of culture. Super Dad is!
Yes, that is what the mug says.
So I thought, even though I did a post on the 'Day in the Life of an OLSWA Prof...' about two years ago, I did not really talk about my office life - what I do behind closed door in 'St. Joseph Hall.' Perhaps this would be of interest to any young people contemplating scaling the mountain of the glory that is professional theologizing. And to my friends who think all I do all day is sit around reading and drinking coffee with my feet up on the desk. Perish the true thought.

Actually, in terms of productivity, other than the 'five hour' rule of reading per day I tell my students about, I do a great deal of 1) writing, 2) organization / bureaucratic stuff. (By the way, I spelled bureaucratic correctly without aid of spell-checker just now.)

Right now I am working on a great number of research projects,as perhaps I've mentioned. I have no doubt mentioned a book on Augustine's Christology I am working on. I also have several other papers in the wind. I have pushed to the fore one on the pedagogical implications of Book One of Confessions, since I simply need to get stuff published, and a paper is easier to produce than a book. That paper is coming along well, but it requires sooo much work.

How to Write an Academic Paper

This is the primary source of a professor's anxiety.

I suppose I could explain a little about how one would go about writing a paper for a scholarly journal. Deciding what to write is the biggest problem. A non-expert is in no position to make this decision. You need to know what has been written, what people are saying about a topic that interests you and for which you have a certain level of competence in order to actually dare offer your input. That decision made, you collect and assimilate what has been written. Then you formulate an opinion on all of this. You cannot just write a paper on how much you agree with everything that has been thus far said.

Churchill asks Montgomery, "How's the war going?"

Montgomery answers, "Oh, good."

You can't write that kind of paper.

I am not saying that everything written need be revisionistic. Indeed, making a presentation of the state of the research, or a paper that constitutes a very good presentation of the subject matter are papers worthy to be written. They do not have to be argumentative per se. To make a presentation is to take a stand, of course. For instance, in my book on Augustine's Christology I take a myriad of positions throughout, but the book is not 'about' any one of them. It is envisioned as a useful summary on an important topic that has never been done in English.

Another huge thing to worry about is how to draw parameters around the topic. Talking about one thing is talking about one thing only. The temptation is to solve all of the world's problems in the process. Papers need to be very narrowly focused. Books fill in otherwise. Thus, you have a right and a duty to ignore lots of adjacent topics.

I have written about 15 single-spaced pages so far, but I am constantly re-reading and finessing it. I'm not a guy who can say it just right the first time.

Of course, just as you are making good progress and feeling good about yourself (i.e. that I am not an idiot impostor) you come across another paper or book written on your topic and you begin to weep and remember that you actually are an idiot impostor. Do I have to abandon the whole thing in light of this new factor? Nope, there is always room for another view of the matter. This is not mathematics (actually, it probably holds for mathematics too), a variety of perspectives adds value. Almost always. Of course, there are objectively huge blunders you can make, like missing a seminal work. Reading a great deal is meant to render this impossible.

But the great thing about my field is that it does not rely only or even mostly on secondary literature; its object is the text of Augustine. So, your fresh eyes on his text can very likely yield valuable fruit.

Other Duties

Class prep both of classes I am currently offering and wold like to offer in the future is a constant source of work. But it is so enjoyable - at least when deadlines can be met! I love my job, my apostolate, as I consider it. If I were not married with kids I am sure that I would regularly spend 12 hour days in this office of mine. Really healthy.

One thing that I am doing right now that fits into the camp of 'future classes' is preparing a course description and rough draft of a syllabus for a class I want to create on "the thought of Joseph Ratzinger." So, I have to find texts to assign and figure out how to divide up the subject matter into 13, 2 class weeks of 80 minutes a piece. Lecture composition is a far distant task. How would you teach that class? Think about it. And that's the point: figuring out the best way to do things like this takes time. This is a task where deadlines are a factor. Any course presented at OLSWA needs the approval of the academic senate - the academic quality-assurance instrument of this college.

And then there is marking papers and tests. Then there are the myriad committees I have to do work for. This is not a waste of time. They are all necessary tasks.

Yet, nothing should come before the professor's research work. I mean that devoted to his class prep and his private research for publications. This makes him a better teacher, and that betterment is what students deserve.

So, now that I am done blogging, how much of this am I going to get done?

I have not yet mentioned my duties as the school's librarian. Friday means cataloguing books. Any readers of thetheologyofdad who live in Barry's Bay want to become a library volunteer? The payment: my friendship and gratitude! Priceless.


  1. My brother, I am in the midsts of compiling a English, Catholic, Canadian list...