Life's Lessons Learned
Yesterday, I alluded to religious studies as "a field in which I once worked," and some might wonder why I'm not still working in that field.
In a sense, of course, I do continue to work in religious studies; I just do it in disguise.
Thus while I may publish an article on Paradise Lost or Piers Plowman or Sir Gawain and the Green Knight or Beowulf as if I'm doing literary analysis, I'm secretly still doing religious studies but in the guise of a literary theorist.
Why the disguise? Short answer: I didn't get a job in religious studies.
Fortunately, I can do other things, and I have during my time in Korea -- teaching literature, history, political science, and even theology . . . along with grammar, conversation, and writing.
But why didn't I get a job in religious studies?
I have no adequate short answer to that. I suppose that I didn't get the right break at the right time. The job market was bad when I was just out of graduate school, and I had been doing my research in Germany for six years and not making the right connections back in the States, so even though I gave three lectures at the SBL/AAR conference in Boston in 1999 and received some attention from other scholars, I didn't have even one single interview for a job.
Around that time, but several months prior to the conference, I had applied for a position at a small but worthy college in the Ozarks and felt that I had a real chance, but the position called for someone who also could teach on women in religion. I hadn't focused on that issue in my years of study, but I had worked on a postdoctoral research program in Australia with a woman who was an expert in that field, and I had informally edited her book on women in religion, making improvements that she acknowledged at the time. Because we were friends, I assumed that she would help me by strongly supporting my application. Instead, she informed me:
"I am on principle opposed to a male teaching courses on women in religion."That shocked me. It shouldn't have done so, I suppose, for I knew that some women held this view, but I hadn't expected my friend to think this way.
Anyway, she wrote a lukewarm letter, which in the States would be read as saying, "Don't give this guy the job" -- precisely as the letter was meant to be read.
Because of this incident, as well as some professional discourtesies on my friend's part concerning our mutual research on an area of Gnosticism, our friendship did not survive. That was hard, but one needs to outgrow one's imaginary friends.
I also learned an important lesson about life from that experience. One might suspect that the lesson learned was "Don't trust anybody!" I chose not to learn that lesson, however, which would likely have given rise to a manner of living in which I would in fact make myself unable to trust anybody . . . or for others to trust me.
I did learn to lower my expectations, of course, but the more important lesson was different. I learned to try to become more generous because too many people are not.
I could have drawn the opposite conclusion, learning to be ungenerous . . . but I didn't want to become like my former friend.