Many already know this, but I recently (Nov 14) defended my doctoral project.
I passed with minor corrections, which is the most common result. What this means is that there are a few issues, but they are not significant (no structural issues, nor issues with methodology; no crippling problems).
The viva itself was a lot of fun. In the weeks leading up to the event, I was nervous, hurriedly reading back through my dissertation and trying to anticipate questions, as well as noting any issues that I discerned in the text.
But, while I had moments of anxiety beforehand, it ended up being a great back and forth between two top scholars in the fields that I interacted with (NT studies and critical legal studies/political philosophy). It was great sparring with two scholars who actually read what I wrote carefully (even the footnotes!), who didn’t simply thumb through my manuscript, skimming quickly over the the voluminous amount of ink and paper I presented to them.
This was also a significant moment for me in that not only did I pass (which is great as a distinct box being ticked), but I received feedback that really justified the time I spent, the amount of work I put into this.
The viva process is a gauntlet that a student goes through, being put through a type of ritualistic process, being pressed on weak points, and coming out the other end a recognised scholar. And, while this was great, it was amazing also receiving feedback that confirmed that, yes, I am on the right track, that my scholarship has meaning!
What was most surprising to me, actually, were the positive evaluations that I received. My project was couched firmly on the edge of several disciplines. While I do New Testament, and Pauline studies, my work sought to poke holes in both methodologies in Pauline research, but more importantly, it advocated for an unusual path in reading Paul, namely through reading with philosophy (and specifically with the Italian biopolitical philosopher Roberto Esposito). This isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. And after saying that I noted that I didn’t think that scholars like E.P. Sanders of Paula Fredriksen would be interested. Why did I say this (and even gesture to this in my project)? Because of their thoroughgoing historicism, and their reactions to Zizek and Badiou, whose work they do not think has much to add to the historical study of Paul. I’ve long held that this is short-sighted, following from work done by Ward Blanton.
But James Crossley, who was my external examiner, was adamant that I am on to something here, that my project does have the capacity to convince scholars like Sanders and Fredriksen. That, in fact, I was able to tread new ground in Paul, and that it stands up to scrutiny.
Wow, that felt great to hear in the moment! I did not anticipate being told this, especially because I am often a bit skeptical about the broader NT studies community. This was an important moment for me, verifying that I am a part of the guild. And, it has really boosted my belief in another project that I am working on, and with which I am hoping to land a postdoc. My new project (that I am have been partially playing with since the summer of 2017) is similar to my other work in that while it is multi-disciplinary and on the ‘edge’, has the capacity to (I hope) provide crucial criticism to NT studies, and chart a separate path.
So, here I am. Stuck in a strange moment where I am both completing and continuing, remembering the past, while anticipating (anxiously) the future. I don’t know where I will go, but I am grateful to be where I am.
Wow. I am still surprised that my four year journey is pretty much over.