As some of you know, I’ve been working on a PhD dissertation for the past five years. The first couple of years were largely reading and reflecting, what my friend Tamsin Jones Farmer calls “passive cogitation”. The scheme of the dissertation was pretty much in place after the first year, and I started writing bits and pieces, slowly. In particular, I was distracted by such things as being a full time parish priest from June 2014, the refugee coordinator of the Anglican Diocese of British Columbia from February 2015 to May 2017, as well as two separate bouts of illness that led to me being on medical leave. However, I am now in my final year, and it is time to get it done.
Roughly speaking, the dissertation is supposed to be 100,000 words, or about 300 pages, double-spaced, not including any bibliography or appendices. I am roughly halfway there with the first draft. The title is “Unsettling Theology” and it addresses the the theological legacies of the “Indian Residential Schools” that were operated by the churches on behalf of the Canadian federal government. The first section is an introduction to the history of the schools and asks how it was that basically good people got enthusiastically involved in what is essentially genocide. The first part also has a literature review noting key texts and also identifying any number of rabbit holes I am not going down. The second part examines the philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas (1906-1995), a French philosopher known for arguing that “Ethics is First Philosophy”. I consider his critique of what he calls totality” or “totalizing thought” and generalize it into a method for looking at any form of rational discourse. The next section looks at the theologies that informed the people operating the Indian Residential Schools, and I subject it to Levinas’s critique. The final section then looks at what kind of theologies survive a Levinasian critique, and I suggest that kenotic theology is one way to ensure that we do not follow in the footsteps of the missionaries who operated the IRS. I end with a final conclusion reviewing what I think I’ve done and proposing further research.
This is an ambitious project, and one that only someone with over five decades or reading and rumination should undertake. Any one of the sections might be a dissertation in itself, but at my age I try to see things in an interdisciplinary way, so my work combines history, philosophy, biblical studies, and theology, and I am influences by feminist theology and postcolonial theology, which makes it all the more complex. So how do I get it all done?
I have spent some of the past few months – Advent and Lent – doing daily commentaries on daily office readings. A short one is 500 words and some have been 2000 words long. I intend to do the same, only by writing a daily chunk of my dissertation. I will probably jump all over the place, and some of which I write will be cut and not make it into the final draft. However, if I am consistent and spend an hour or two a day on this, I will have the complete first draft by Christmas and then I can revise and get the darn thing handed in by early Spring 2018. This may make for rather dull blog posts, but it will be an academic discipline that will get this thing done.
So there’s the intention. Let’s see if I stick to it, eh?