Thursday, August 27, 2015

August 27 dissertation notes

A little background:

My dissertation, to put it most concisely, is on Gregory of Nazianzus (c. 330-c.390) and his theology of preaching. Since December 2013, I’ve written around 120 pages.

At my last advisory meeting, my professor didn’t have a good grasp of what the bigger picture of my dissertation actually is. In the course of that somewhat frustrating discussion, it became clear that the current structure of the dissertation was a relic from an older version of this project (there have been several), and it wasn’t necessarily serving my argument well. So I was asked to submit a detailed outline that better reflects what I’m actually trying to argue. This doesn’t mean I’ll end up having to rewrite large portions, necessarily, but that the way I’m fitting it together will need to be re-thought.

In the process of filling in the outline, I’ve basically been making an assessment of all the material I have so far, trying to determine where further research is needed, etc. To help myself out, I’ve also written a kind of mini-prospectus/summary of the project, which is around 9 pages or so. For better or worse, I need to submit this stuff next week.

Things done this week:

  • Finished going through the research notes I currently have, noting things on my outline where appropriate
  • Finished reading through relevant parts of Carol Harrison’s The Art of Listening in the Early Church.
  • Revisited an article I read three years ago on the genre of the homily/sermon in late antiquity
  • Typed up notes from a book I read earlier in the summer on John Chrysostom’s preaching method (not my guy, but still methodologically useful)
Other thoughts

With the outline, I feel like I’ve reached a point where I’m mostly spackling, trying to show that I really do have enough material, and might have passed the point where it’s actually a helpful exercise.

To be perfectly honest, I’ve never really gotten outlines. All the numbers and letters and Roman numerals really confuse me; I never remember what is supposed to go where, and it distracts me from the actual content. I’m not sure my brain is that logical.

Rare is the day that I can just “sit down and write.” I’m not sure how doctoral candidates do that, even. There are so many subsidiary tasks that set you up to write, and they’re not always a linear, predictable set of tasks. I’ve never mastered how to balance these effectively.

I have gotten better at breaking the big, overwhelming job down into smaller, more manageable bites. The problem with this is that I might actually be too good at it, and I lose track of the bigger picture and the relative importance of various pieces. What sounds like a simple step (reading back through my research notes, for example, or typing up and translating some Greek quotations) ends up expanding to consume more time than I had budgeted for it, and I end up feeling disoriented and farther behind than before. I’m sure I’ll have occasion to comment on this again.