"Before you can search for truth, you must be interested in finding it." -Miroslav Volf

Saturday, September 1, 2012

What is the GTU? A Primer for the Puzzled

It has taken my fellow doctoral students and I a few days to figure out exactly how to articulate the makeup of the GTU to others, given the complex network that it is. Consequently, I thought others who know me might be interested in a brief explanation, especially since I’m pretty sure that on more than one occasion I’ve mentioned going to the GTU and gotten some variation of “oh...huh?”

The Graduate Theological Union is a consortium of several schools, centers, affiliates and institutes. The Christian schools that makeup the GTU come from all across the denominational spectrum: Baptist, Episcopal, Dominican, Franciscan, Jesuit, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Unitarian Universalist, and one multi-denominational school. Students can obtains MAs and DMins from these various schools (though only the GTU as a whole entity awards PhDs).

Beyond that, there are a variety of other opportunities for study at the centers for Islamic studies, Jewish studies, Buddhist studies, theology and the natural sciences, among others. Not only that, because of the relationship between GTU and UC Berkeley (which is right across the street), GTU students can take classes at UCB.

Among the new doctoral candidates—primarily from the US but also coming from South Korea, Serbia, Guatemala, to name a few—some are studying systematic theology, some liturgical studies, some art and religion, some ethics, and some with an interdisciplinary focus that includes, for example, an emphasis on Islamic studies.

One benefit of all this? POSSIBILITIES. The word gives me goosebumps. So many course options, so many brilliant minds with which to engage, so many resources for interreligious conversation, huge libraries. Overwhelming options! Registering for classes earlier this week was laborious; there were more classes than I had time and space to take, and I had to eliminate several options. A choice for something is usually a choice against something else, right? What a tragic piece of the human experience this is.

My PhD is in the area of Christian Spirituality; the general focus of my own research will take me into the convergence of spiritual formation, virtue ethics, and interreligious dialogue, which means I’ll likely milk all schools and centers of the consortium for all the data and insight I can possibly acquire in my finite time as a student here.

There also seem to be a lot of opportunities for professional development and teaching preparation, which is great; I think all of my fellow doctoral candidates realize the job market is tough, and are running on both ambition and a little bit of hope as we travel the road to the kind of professorial jobs in which most of us ultimately envision ourselves.

Based on my personality type, my interests, my theology—this really is the perfect place for me to be. Even the drivers here are helping me develop as a person, challenging me to develop a thicker skin, become more courageous, and work through people-pleasing tendencies. I don’t get too angry with drivers, I just get defensive when they get angry with me. I suppose a healthy emotional state includes both the capacity to respond with sensitivity and poise as well as an acceptance of the inevitability that you will piss people off and cannot control others' responses.

We are only human after all, and even halfway decent human beings, when thrown together with other halfway decent human beings, can collaboratively act rather indecently. Freeway traffic seems both a metaphor for and manifestation of this fundamental truth.

Digression on driving aside, that’s the GTU experience in a nutshell.

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