Thursday, October 1, 2015

October 1 dissertation notes (Week 6)

At the meeting with my advisor two weeks ago, he suggested some areas where he wants me to sharpen my thinking, and we're meeting this coming Tuesday to discuss those. So, this week I've continued thinking about how Gregory of Nazianzus thought about the act of preaching as a distinctly Christian event, and how that was different from the (largely pagan) rhetorical education he'd received. It's very interesting at points. For instance, as important as rhetoric was to the Greco-Roman culture of late antiquity, that culture didn't have a concept of the "sermon"--of rhetorical practices being used to explain sacred texts and teachings in a context of worship. Certainly there were speeches on religious topics, but these wouldn't have been delivered in a liturgical setting. It was Jewish synagogue worship that developed that practice, and early Christianity which, naturally, picked it up and developed it, incorporating aspects of Greco-Roman rhetorical practice as they went. Interesting, right? I think so. There was way more to giving a sermon than just delivering a persuasive speech or lecture. As a Reformed Christian, I know this instinctively, and I've been trying to show that it's something Gregory and his contemporaries took for granted, too.

When I looked over the written comments from that meeting two weeks ago, though, I felt really discouraged. I still seem to be struggling to articulate ideas I thought I had made clear a long time ago.

When I read back through the dissertation chapters I've worked on over the past two years, I thought there was some solid material there. I also felt discouraged when I thought about how quickly I churned out much of that material. If it were simply a matter of producing pages on a steady basis, I would probably have finished and graduated by now. I don't have much trouble with the writing aspect of this task. It comes quite easily to me, in fact, when I have my research and ideas laid out. If I felt clear about all of that, I could have this thing written within the next few months. That has never been in doubt for me.

But most of 2015 has been spent not on writing, but on meta-issues -- trying to prove that I really do have a viable argument that is not merely common sense, and that my writing really is building toward an analytical argument, not just paraphrasing Gregory's sermons. In other words, rehashing things I believed had been settled by October 2013. And by now, I've restructured this project more times than I can keep track of, which leaves me feeling confused about how to deploy the material I already have, how much more research I need to do, and where I really stand with it all. It's so frustrating and discouraging. And as I went through my material yet again this week, I had a hard time resisting feelings of futility. I've tried over and over and taken several different approaches in managing my time, organizing my research, and presenting my material -- and it doesn't seem to be getting me very far. I don't know if it's a matter of not trying hard enough, not seeing eye to eye with those who are evaluating my work, or not having a sufficiently analytical mind -- or all of those things.

Anyway, I guess we'll see what comes of yet another meeting. Taking classes had its own stresses, but it was so much more fun than this, guys.

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