Important Reminder about SBL presentations

Here’s an important reminder to all of you who plan to submit paper proposals to the national SBL meeting. From the SBL site:

  • Proposers (full and student members) who have not presented at the Annual Meeting must submit the paper to-be-read to the program unit chair(s) during the call for papers period (by March 1).

If you are just planning to submit your 300 words but do not have a paper, the session chair will disregard it. Plan accordingly!

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Practice Resurrection (Or: Having a Life Outside the Library)

“Can you teach us to memorize something?” It was not a question I expected. My inquisitors were two fourteen-year-old boys who earlier that morning had been jumping off large rocks with sharp sticks in their hands and antagonizing a bees’ nest. This is my summer job, guiding backpacking trips at a camp in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York. The boys had earlier been acting exactly as one would expect fourteen-year-old boys to act, but this next moment they were asking questions about the Trinity and the Incarnation and then to memorize Scripture. Perplexed but elated I spent the next three miles of the day’s hike doing a call-and-response memorization of the prologue of John. And they loved every bit of it.

It was a teaching moment I could never have predicted, would never even have dared imagine in my wildest dreams. But it was also a learning moment. The paradox that these boys embodied—that of both jumping off rocks and crying out to the Rock—struck me then and now as nothing short of beautiful. Is this what it means to be truly human? To engage our physicality and also our noetic capacities? To be abundantly silly and deeply serious? To play in utter exuberance and joy in this life God has created, stretching our muscles and expanding our lungs in exuberant, jovial shouts as well as to embrace the One who created our muscles and lungs and the whole of us?

It seems to me that this is the kind of life, the kind of humanity, that we were created for. More importantly, this is the kind of life Jesus has redeemed us for. Many of the church fathers spoke of salvation as being recreated and restored to our original glory as humans made in the image of God, and I imagine that original glory meant a wholeness I glimpsed in these two boys. Jesus’ taking care of all the most significant movements of history frees us to play and revel in what he has given us. His command to love God with all of our heart, soul, strength, and mind calls us to engage our minds as well as the rest of us. It seems to me, then, that when we aren’t living this kind of life, we aren’t really living. If we’re neglecting the jumping and playing, or the asking of big questions, or the silliness, or the wonder and praise of God, then we’re not being fully human. If we’re not taking time to enjoy one another’s company over a cup of conversation while we also spend good time reading the church fathers, or if we fail to work hard and write good papers while we also take time to stretch our legs and play, or if we forget to laugh deeply while we live deeply, we’re not living into our salvation.

It also strikes me that these boys could do all of these things at once. They didn’t have to jump for a while and then ask questions or memorize Scripture; I watched them run and jump while asking questions about the Incarnation and salvation and hike and play hacky sack while reciting John’s prologue. To them, there wasn’t such a thing as a “secular” part of life and a “spiritual” part of life, not an “intellectual” (read: important) part and a “fun,” “emotional,” or “non-intellectual” (read: unimportant) part. To them, it was all just life. Could spiritual formation be something that happens in our classes, and not merely something we attend an hour a week for our first year of seminary? Can we worship while playing basketball or Frisbee? Can we laugh and be silly while studying atonement theories and looking up words like “extracalvinisticum”? I am inclined to think that we can, and indeed, that we should.

Our lives find us in the library a lot. A lot. But I am convinced that there is more to us than our school work, or even, dare I say it, our minds. We are not called to be walking brains but whole, real people. Sometimes, we need to get out of the library. So I challenge us all: Pray. Spend an hour being useless before God in worship. Smile at strangers. Hope. Hope for glory and for the kingdom of God and for resurrection. Use the good china. Sing, run, jump, go hiking. Throw a Frisbee, play sports you’re no good at. Go for a swim, love intensely, dance, play, learn, laugh. Take an hour to lay on the grass in the quad and read a novel.

As I reflect on the paradox of my campers, I think of something Fredrick Buechner wrote: “We are moved also by those precious moments when something holy seems to break through into our lives both to heal us and to summon us to pilgrimage” (Longing for Home). That morning on the trail through the Siamese Ponds Wilderness Area I saw something holy break into my life in the most unexpected place, and it called me to pilgrimage. God called me to follow the way of these crazy fourteen-year-old boys, which is in fact the way of his Son, who himself was once a fourteen-year-old boy. Christ has made it possible for us to live this way, desires for us to live this way. So let us find some rocks, call out to the Rock, and begin to live fully. Then go back to your carrel.

Samantha L. Miller

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Mock Phone Interviews

For those interested, here is an excellent resource for practicing job interview skills:

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The Art of the Interview

"The Study of Adam," Michelangelo

“There will be time, there will be time,” writes T.S. Eliot, “To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet.”

Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

- “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

Interviewing for a faculty position is a lot like these words from Eliot: it involves preparing a “face,” a way of presenting yourself articulately, a manner of knowing what you’re about while still being flexible enough to think on your feet. The following reflections relate to things I learned as I went, things that helped me prepare, and what I would have liked to know ahead of time. I have divided these reflections into three categories: (1) questions I was often asked, (2) exhaustion, (3) “all in all…”

It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
“That is not it at all,
That is not what I meant, at all.”


(1) Why are you interested in [insert name of institution here]?

What might first come to mind when asked this question is something like, “I’m just plain excited anyone is interested in me!” Do not say this. Ever. What they are looking for here is what makes you, as a professional, interested in the school that is interviewing you. What about the place is attractive to you? Why did you submit your CV? Give it some thought, and show how your interests align with the school’s. Be alive to who they are.

(2) What can you contribute to [unique attribute of institution]?

Make a study of the department’s website. Know the faculty and the classes. Get a sense of their identity and mission. Be able to articulate some of these things when asked this sort of question, and show how you reflect these emphases. You also want to show how you are able to expand a department or school’s toolbox. Most schools have a sort of mythos, a self-narrative that they repeat to explain who they are to their students as well as their employees. (“We are a Jesuit school…” “We were founded by…” “Our focus is always on…” “What we do better than anyone is…”) Be aware of these “mythical” attitudes: know the basic contours, and be prepared to respond to them.

(3) What sorts of classes do you see yourself teaching?

Here it gets a bit more concrete, more nitty-gritty. They want to see that you have been thinking practically about how you can contribute to a department’s duties as an active and creative faculty member. Look at course lists, imagine classes you might pick up or that you might create. Write down some of these ideas, and think of a few texts or methods that you might use. This is one of the hardest questions to anticipate, as it is not always clear what sorts of classes they are interested in having you teach, but it is also one of the most common questions you will receive. The more teaching experience you have, the easier it is to answer the question. Don’t back down from these kinds of questions, even if they ask it in a way that surprises you, and don’t be afraid to ask them for what they are imagining for you. Make it into a conversation; be responsive, and do your best to imagine with them.

(4) What makes you an effective teacher?

Here you can explain how you see your students, what you see as your strengths, and that sort of thing. This is more about pedagogy than specific classes. They want to see someone who reflects carefully on how to teach, and someone who likes teaching. Your job talk, your class lectures, your dinner with the department: these all help them see if you mean what you say in theory. So think about how you relate to people, and be aware that they are constantly observing you. They are trying to pick up on the signals of an effective communicator, and not just when they are asking you a question about it.

(5) Where do you see your research going in the future?

The faculty and other higher-ups will be asking you questions about your dissertation and the like, but they will also be asking you about your future. They want to see someone who is itching to keep publishing, keep asking questions, keep exploring. Give them general ideas, and try to be specific about one or two. It is possible to give a sense of research interests (which are broader), while also showing that you have been concrete about where these interests might go in the near future.

(6) Do you have any questions for me?

Come up with questions for them! Learn about the faculty and staff, get a feel for the school. You are interviewing them as much as they are you. Prepare a few questions based on your research on the school, and add to these questions as your day moves forward. You will get a better sense of things the more you talk to people, and your questions will shift. It is always good to ask about students, to ask about research, to ask about the department or school’s mission. These general questions lead into more specific concerns. Pay attention to these, and start to narrow in on them. This shows your interest in them, and it also allows you to gain a more accurate view of an institution.


Be prepared for near-total exhaustion. You are going to be dragged around for a day or two and asked a million questions by more faces than it is possible to remember. There is not a moment to relax. Even the dinner at the end of your day: that’s another interview. You are going to feel a lot like Eliot’s poem:

And I have known the eyes already, known them all–
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin…

The questions are constant, probing, helpful, and frustrating. Some questions come to you empty of meaning; others are loaded with so much meaning that it is overwhelming to start answering. Every question and response, no matter how genuine, is also calculating. It is draining.

Part of the exhaustion involves the long days, the constant activity. The other part is being under constant supervision, always observed. You will feel a lot like a bug pinned on a wall. The faculty will have an idea of who you are based on your CV, an idea that will be accurate – and inaccurate. You also will have something you imagined about them. This is also accurate and inaccurate. Be prepared for the odd disconnect. The interview is about learning how these early premonitions about one another need correcting, expansion, depth.

It can be disheartening sometimes, and sometimes exciting. I find honesty has been important: I know what I am good at, and I know what I don’t know. At the same time, this is not the moment to reveal all of one’s insecurities and weaknesses. This is not a confessional. Be serious, prudent, and attentive. Show a willingness to grow as a scholar. Be personable as well as professional.


All in all, is important to discover what sort of person a department is looking for, and to show them how you are able to fit that need; it is just as important to reveal who you are as a scholar and what makes you tick. The procedure is a balancing act, a constant attempt to manage external expectations and interior desires. The “face” you prepare is a professional one: it should never be a lie – that will be found out almost instantly, so don’t try it – but should be one meant to express what makes you a desirable candidate for a position. You are not going to be perfect, but you can always give it your all.

And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question…

It all takes a great deal of effort, and I cannot say what does and does not promise success. That is too much for any of us to know. All we can do is prepare and do our best.

I hope these reflections are helpful to you, and that you have enjoyed my little re-imagining of T.S. Eliot’s famous “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” along the way.
- Anne M. Carpenter

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The DDO – A Student Perspective

Written by Anne Carpenter, Ph.D. Candidate, Systematics

Click here to download the Word file.

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The DDO – A Student Perspective

Written by Brian Sigmon, Ph.D. Candidate, JCA

Click here to download the Word file.

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Doctoral Dissertation Outline (DDO) Guide

Presented by Dr. Julian Hills, November 4, 2011.

1Definition, purpose:  The DDO (in some schools the “Prospectus”) is a semi-contractual document that (a) delineates a subject area; (b) articulates a clear method;  (c) situates the subject matter and method in one or more context(s); and (d) suggests one or more ways in which the project will result in a contribution to knowledge or understanding.  In general: use good prose; avoid typos; address educated non-specialist.  Committee / Board: Take advantage of the dept.’s faculty strengths / range.  Co-directors?  An external reader?  Note Board + ABD meeting after DDO approval.

2.  THEO-specific readings in the MUGS’s language in “Outline / Proposal . . .”:

         B.  Title:  Avoid anything lengthy, “cute,” or plain boring.  If using title + subtitle, try not to use the same words in both parts.  Best: possible book title.

         C.  “Statement of the Problem”: “Problem” can be a notorious scholarly question; but more often it is a network of interrelated questions, texts, or traditions, e.g., second-century Christology; late 19th-cent. ecclesiology.  Or it may be a context in which a certain author has gone almost unnoticed.  Why worth pursing?

D.  “Present Status of the Problem”:  Here the absolute necessity is careful classification of past and present opinions, often as a condensed history of scholarship.  This is not the place for a lightly annotated “literature dump.”  The Grad. Comm. wants to see clear lines of thought — discussion that is going somewhere.

F.  “Statement of Procedure or Methodology”:  Where do you situate your work?  What will you do, and why?  What hunch or hypothesis will you test, if any?  Perhaps most importantly, what steps or tasks do you already see as constituting the heart of each chapter?  How is your work sustained methodologically?

G.  “Tentative Outline . . .”:  Please avoid great detail or multiple layers of indented subheadings.  (“Tentative”: the major work lies ahead of you.)  Note also that despite the MUGS’s instructions somewhere, in the Humanities “Introduction” and “Chapter 1” are not the same thing.  Chapter 1 is “new work,” so to speak.  Likewise, the final “chapter” is not the “Conclusion,” which follows.

H.  “Bibliography”:  Bibliographies presented with the DDO are often clumsily produced: foreign names/words misspelled; inconsistent / incomplete citation; lack of titles in French, German, other research languages, etc.  No excuse for this.

3.  What is really CHARACTERISTIC of your project?  Where is the challenge?  Is the center of gravity fresh subject matter, fresh method, or fresh context?  Imagine a grid thus:             subject matter                method                                      context

very familiar                   w                                           x                                                     y

familiar                            z                                            w                                                    x

unfamiliar                        y                                            z                                                     w

completely new                x                                            y                                                     z

4.  “Level of difficulty”:  Attempt a realistic assessment, and present it modestly.  This will usually be done indirectly: the entire DDO will reflect your informed judgment as to the difficulty / weight / significance of your proposed project.

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