Monday, March 21, 2005

Guilt Trip

My daughter and son speak fluent Korean, in part because of me. They weren't born here in Korea -- Sa-Rah was born in Armidale, Australia, and En-Uk in Jerusalem -- but I advised my wife to speak to them only in Korean. I wanted them to be bilingual even though I didn't expect to wind up living in Korea.

I expected to be a great, non-gypsy scholar at some university in the United States.

American universities, however, didn't show as much interest in me as I showed in them. In 1999, coming off of a Golda Meir Fellowship at Jerusalem's Hebrew University and heading for the annual AAR/SBL Meeting in Boston to give three presentations, I imagined at least a modicum of interest. None. Not even an offer of an interview at the conference.

For the first time in my life, I understood the importance of connections. I had never taken them seriously before, and hadn't especially suffered from lack of them. I also began to recognize that my intellectual path baffles academics who think along departmental lines. My Berkeley advisor and friend Robert Bellah once confirmed this:

"Your unusual academic path has contributed to your intellectual development, but it's made you hard to classify."

True enough. Even I have trouble classifying me. I studied English literature for a B.A., then history of science for an M.A., then passed my oral exams in history of science but changed fields to ancient history, then headed off to a German seminary as a doctoral exchange student doing research on John's gospel and Gnosticism. After that, a postdoc on Manichaeism, followed by another on Judaism and early Christianity. Now, I teach mainly English literature but also some history.

Though I would like to think otherwise, I see that my gypsy-scholar status was not something imposed on me by external forces. It's my authentic intellectual spirit -- I've simply never settled down intellectually.

At my age and with a family to support, I ought to be more established, but I've indulged in an intellectual journey that, circuitous and long, has taken me not very far professionally, and from this road less traveled by, my family has a lower standard of living.

You might call it a guilt trip.


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