Monday, January 16, 2012

On Cultivating Virtues in the Academy: Introduction

These past few weeks I have spent some time reflecting on the sort of habits I want to be cultivating as a doctoral student. The fall semester, like all first semesters in PhD programs, was one long exercise of learning as I went, adapting on my feet to the new and unique challenges present in this next stage of graduate study. Following that, the Christmas break afforded a bit of sustained time to reflect on the experience and make intentional plans for how to grow and succeed in substantive ways this semester and on.

I have already begun to share some of those reflections, in the form of goals for becoming a better reader and setting aside time each day for quiet and prayer. The nice thing about being a graduate student and preparing for a career in the academy is that the habits and virtues developed at this point in the track are largely transferable into life as a professor (granting all the various differences between them).

I also understand the challenges the academy poses to its members to be distinctively pernicious to those of us seeking, at the same time, to be faithful Christians. The temptations run in every direction: ambition, narcissism, snobbery, elitism, greed, deification of knowledge, idolatry of this person or that idea, sacrifice of family for career, lack of belonging to any particular place, locating value in others' esteem rather than God's, substitution of talk for action, entitlement mentality, loss of ability to listen to others, relentlessly critical attitude to the exclusion of gratitude or joy, homogenization of what matters in life in terms of what matters to you (and "your field"), and so on and so forth.

So I thought that, since I'm already thinking about these issues, and apparently writing about them without larger intentions, I would share my reflections in a little ongoing series. Life in the academy today is a strange and unwieldy thing, and I know I have benefited from others' wisdom before me. Hopefully my own small contribution will be similarly helpful, along with the comments of friends and colleagues (prospective and actual) who find themselves on the same path.

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