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Teaching teenagers: a learning experience November 26, 2009

Posted by Andy in Idea History, pedagogics.
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I’ve been spending a large part of the time since completing my PhD teaching teenagers about English and Religion. It’s been a learning experience.

In many ways, preparing to complete a PhD has been a lesson in concentration. I spent one entire year studying someone (Berkeley) who barely got a mention in the final thing. You have to focus in on topics and shut out other concerns.

So going from that to teaching eighteen and nineteen year olds about Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Philosophy and Religious Studies per se in the course of one year, with three lessons per week is something of an experience. Instead of going narrow and deep, you have to go shallow and broad. A couple weeks back, for example, I ran through, in the course of about 50 minutes, the tensions between Mediterranean power blocs and Iranian steppe-based power blocs from 500 BCE to around 700 BCE as a way to go from Buddhism to Islam. I used google map and my time line.

Now I’m teaching Islam, and ploughing my way through the Qu’ran (which is also available for free as a spoken word book), which is frankly exhilerating. Also, given that I am somewhat bearded and foreign, it gets me loads of street cred. Some strangers enthusiastically engage me in conversation, others take steps to avoid me.

My point is, all of us have a series of books that are really basic, but way outside their central field of interest that they’ve never gotten around to reading. Not having read the Qu’ran is a particularly heinous academic sin, but surely most people have similar academic skeletons in the closet. So I would wish every PhD graduate a chance to teach in school for a year or two before they continue their trek towards tenure. I’ve been forced to it (although I do not know if I will even rejoin the trek…) and have already seen how wonderful it is.

Not least because you’ll have an excuse to read Critchley’s hilarious Book of Dead Philosophers.

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My Thesis online November 10, 2009

Posted by Andy in Foucault, theology.
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I’ve recently discovered that the University of Nottingham have finally uploaded my PhD thesis “The Holy Fools: A Theological Enquiry” so that everyone can take a look. In the final phases of writing, I was tempted into discerning the various reasons I had for writing this stuff.

The boring biographical reason is that immediately before finishing my MA thesis on Augustine and Signs, I had ruled out the idea of taking a PhD because I didn’t have any big idea. The morning after making this decision, I woke up with an idea.

It turned out, however, that the idea was pretty crap. I had read Dostoevksy’s novels and Foucault’s Madness and Civilisation, and wondered how the Christian holy fool tradition would face up to the Foucauldian critique, which I still saw epistemologically, as basically interpreting nonsense (itself conceived in a Wittgensteinian framework).

It is probably impossible to deny, however, that I was attracted to all this because of my charismatic background (to which I said farewell theologically in a contribution to this book), and this was brought home to me when I heard someone play the DC talk song “Jesus Freaks”.

So if anyone is going to be bothered to read my thesis, I would suggest the following soundtrack:

  • DC Talk, Jesus Freak
  • REM, Saturn Rising
  • Joan Osbourne, Crazy Baby
  • U2, Staring at the sun
  • Tom McCrae, Human Remains
  • The Divine Comedy, Your Daddy’s Car
  • The Blue Nile, Family Life
  • Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds (among others), God is in the House
  • Mew, Comforting Sounds
  • Joni Mitchell, Blue
  • Bonnie Prince Billy, I see a darkness
  • Jeff Buckley, Lilac Wine

I’d like to point out that I’m not saying any of these are good songs – the first should convince us of that – but they may have guided my thought for good or ill in the course of writing.

We could go on and mention films (Fight Club, Wedding Crashers, etc.), but that could go on for ever. I think the novels that could accompany the thesis are more enlightening, and they would perhaps include:

  • Dostoevsky, Demons, Brothers Karamazov, the Idiot (obviously)
  • Flaubert, The Temptations of Saint Anthony
  • Iris Murdoch, Under the Net
  • Kafka, The Trial.

But I would be much more willing to stand by the quality of these! Curiously, I barely referred to them in the thesis, for which I was bizarrely criticised in my defence. Milbank wanted more Dostoevsky. But then, I think that’s because he was reading Rowan at the time…

Ben de la Mare, 1938-2009 November 6, 2009

Posted by Andy in Uncategorized.
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I just got news that my dear friend and some time chaplain Revd. Ben de la Mare passed away last week, on the 29th October. I am in no position to tell his life story – I only met him in 1997 – but I do know that he had been a priest for most of his life, previously as chaplain in Oxford (where he met his wife, Clare Stancliffe), and most recently as a chaplain at Collingwood college and priest in charge in St Oswald’s, Durham. (more…)