About Providence, Divine Action and the Church

In this blog, Terry J. Wright posts thoughts and shares research on the Christian doctrine of providence. This doctrine testifies to God’s provision for all things through creation’s high priest, the man Christ Jesus. However, the precise meaning and manner of this provision is a perpetually open question, and this blog is a forum for discussion of the many issues relating to providence and the place of the Church within God’s action.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Being an Independent Scholar [3]

What do I say to independent scholars?

First, read Thomas S. Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, first published 50 years ago, and see how changes come about. Although written about a world very different from biblical studies, it shows how establishments resist changes until in the end the next generation [us!] forces a paradigm shift. The current paradigm is going towards a non-faith-based study, which has no future. By this I do not mean simply that the study is not faith-based; it is based on non-faith, and so criticism does not mean close study; it so often means destructive study. New paradigms emerge from those aware of the crisis, who recognise that the situation is not likely to be remedied by the methods that caused it.

So, do not lose confidence in yourself or in your importance to your faith-community. 
Second, remember that those with the privilege of earning their living by their scholarship are not necessarily better than you; just more privileged. It is possible to survive without research grants and paid sabbaticals, paid conferences expenses, secretarial support, etc. I have never had any of these.  The standard of biblical scholarship would improve if no post in higher education could be held for more than 7 years, not renewable, and if nobody could spend more than 21 years in their lifetime in any form of employment in higher education. This would stimulate circulation and make for a healthier body of scholarship.

Third, remember that your ideas may not be well received by established people; this does not mean that your ideas are wrong. They may be, but then so may be the ideas of the established person and s/he will not welcome any really serious threats. This is the problem with peer-reviewed journals; the ‘peers’ can often be the establishment perpetuating itself. There does, however, have to be a way of ensuring that the quality of independent scholarship is maintained. This is something that needs to be worked out. Being published is not necessarily an indication of the quality of your scholarship; a publisher is running a business and s/he publishes what will sell. 

Fourth, never compromise your standards or integrity for the sake of any perceived immediate advantage – such as getting published. You will regret it. Stick with your vision until you yourself find the need to modify it.

Fifth, do not be put off by a bad review, unless it is from someone whose scholarship you know and respect. When you have taken the considerable time and trouble that is needed to write a book or paper, you will know a lot more about that subject than many of those who will review it. No one should review books who has not actually published one. Anyone can express an opinion on, say, Amazon, and these are often anonymous. You will also find yourself the focus of discussion groups who debate something you have never said. That just has to be accepted as the negative side of the otherwise huge advantage that on-line material offers to the independent scholar. 


On the practical side, you will need to have another profession to earn a living, and you must usually be content to remain fairly low down in that job, so as not to allow it to take up too much time and energy. This does not apply if your other profession commands high fees, and you can therefore work fewer hours in a week. I taught in various schools: English, Classics, Maths and even RE. I do not recommend the latter though, even though this seems an obvious choice for a biblical scholar. Political correctness makes it a very trying way to earn a living, and your managers may know less about the subject than you do, if they have devoted themselves to the management and administrative skills necessary for promotion in the teaching profession.

You will need to find space for books, because these will not disappear from the scene in the near future and you will want to write things in your own copies. 

Always keep time for your family; blood is thicker than ink, and they are a part of your life in the way that friends and colleagues are not. Cherish your friends, though, and listen when they offer honest criticism. Join [or set up] a group in your area that shares your interest in biblical studies. You may be surprised how many people there are who pursue biblical studies to a high level whilst earning a living in an entirely other field. Among my email friends publishing biblical studies I number a research scientist, a lawyer and a computer boffin, as well as people who are ordained.

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