the Religious Studies world:
I was (politely) accosted by a younger undergrad after my Protestant Reformation class. In this particular class, which is an upper level undergrad course (I'm one of two grad students), I make it a somewhat usual habit of kicking up a fuss about various inconsistencies in the lectures or texts. Not because I need to show off as a grad student and not because I'm an expert on the Reformation, but because I'm quite sure no one (me included) learns anything without actively engaging. This usually results in outright condemnation and attempts to embarrass me by my professor, so I take my lumps with everyone else who dares speak.
Today, we were discussing the idea that Martin Luther rejected only one of two tenets of Catholicism: the first was the importance of tradition, and the second was the notion of revelation by Scripture. Luther, obviously, chucked the first one into the Danube, but adhered quite seriously to the second one. My question was, essentially, how does one experience or acknowledge revelation alone? That is, without church authority or tradition with which one might be assisted, how does an individual *know* or *feel* revelation? Assuming the text doesn't magically illume itself or angels come down from heaven to reveal the true meaning, how would I, as a good Lutheran, be able to determine revelation? How does one reach assurance that they are reading exegetically rather than eisegetically?
The general gist of an answer was that, because Scripture itself was the perfect and divine word of God, it would itself tell you what to do and how to act. The text itself, then, would be the revelation, and all of life set against that template. Which doesn't really satisfy my concern that individuals have no real way of knowing whether they're reading into or out of the scripture. So I'm still not sure I got an answer to that one, or, for that matter, that there is a good answer (please correct me if you know otherwise).
Anyway, more germane to this story, after class, as I said, this guy struck up a conversation with me (I'll call him Matt for sake of pronoun confusion). Matt essentially wanted to talk about how I, as an Episcopalian (he'd overheard another conversation I'd had with the professor), managed to be so amazing (his words) at religious studies. The questions I asked and the general knowledge I seemed to have didn't seem to fit with being Christian, he said. I cringed at that particular phrase. Matt's own experience, he said, was that the discipline had made him more and more atheistic, so he couldn't understand how there were some professors/grad students who still believed.
Now that's a loaded topic for any religious studies scholar.
I was honest, and said that my commitment to the Episcopal faith had actually deepened after coming here, and that I felt, to go back to today's class, that only tradition grounds us and guides us. Revelation alone is isolating and arbitrary, and to be Christian is to live in community. My scholarly work aside, I find in church life a kind of grounding and sustaining tradition that keeps me from the kind of "ooohh, I'm sort of Buddhist, and then I like a little bit about Judaism, and then on Saturdays I'm a Hindu". Nothing wrong with that thoroughly modern approach, but it leaves one without guidance or circumscription. Which makes me a very strange kind of Protestant....I love the Episcopal faith.
I also said that it has been very difficult for me to bear up under the strain of all these extremely nihilistic and minimalistic thinkers (damn you, Michel Foucault), but that there were some extraordinary ones who made up for it (kisses to Derrida).
The second entertaining bit: my professor, in this same class, had made a joke about how Nietzsche is my dead German boyfriend (it's true, and if you try and take him away I'll beat the living daylights out of you....he'd like that), and also joked that it might make for a very odd Valentine's Day. Matt mentioned that, and was absolutely stunned that I did, in fact, find Nietzsche to be a hot number and the passionate love of my life. How, he asked, could I possibly love Nietzsche and be a Christian (again, a wince on my part)?
I said what I loved in Nietzsche was his fierce and passionate refusal to compromise; he was, even on the brink of madness, blazing forth with his writing. And, I added, his critique of Christianity was dead on. But his absolute command to stop living for the next world and live in this one seemed thoroughly concomitant with my beliefs.
I think I just blew the fuses at that point. There was more talking, but very little headway because Matt was so astounded I could hold all these things in common and not go completely crazy. Which is not an inaccurate assessment, but it was extremely entertaining to watch him try and fit it all together, which I never manage to do anyway.
That conversation almost makes up for the nasty display of temper from a fellow graduate student, who took it upon himself to upbraid me for several things, including my sense of "hopeless optimism". How I love being called an optimist. It usually comes from people who call themselves "realists," as though not groveling in pits of despair puts me in the category of naïveté.
Anyway, that's the day in the life of a graduate student. That, and reading some Heidegger. That man seems to revel in circuitous and devious writing.