Researching the Medieval Inquisition

I’m not exactly maintaining radio silence this week, and I’ll probably be on Twitter very regularly for the next several days while I am in Blackboard 9.0 training (three days of in-depth training in preparation for our upgrade and migration), but I haven’t gotten any writing done. When I was working over the weekend, I was researching the Cathar heresy and the Medieval Inquisition. I have a paper due on this topic this coming Saturday and lots of research yet to complete.

So I’m going through a stack of books, making copious notes in Scrivener and compiling all of my materials before I actually begin writing. Despite the fact that this paper is worth relatively little of my grade and I’m not generally a very diligent student, I’m actually giving this one some effort. It will probably be the last research paper of my college career, so that’s worth something I guess.

No podcast this week, though I’ve got two prepped and ready to be recorded. Each takes about 40 minutes total of recording, a bit of re-recording, upload, posting, etc. I need to spend that 40 minutes elsewhere, unfortunately. I also haven’t made any progress on fiction recently… but its time will come!

Instead, I’ve been putting movies on in the background and scanning through books, copying down the passages and information I need. Hopefully I’ll start actually writing the paper on Thursday night, and finish it on Saturday.

And once it’s all said and done, I think I’ll actually post this one 🙂 I don’t publish most of my school work because I consider it all hopelessly boring and worthless, but I really am enjoying this paper.

Dropping Out – Part 3 – Conclusion

I believe in taking responsibility for myself, so I recognize that this situation is no one’s fault but my own. I failed to read the degree audit correctly, and I failed to ask for help sooner. That being said, I don’t think there were many options for helping me–the classes I needed weren’t offered at night, and if I had realized three or four years ago that I needed so many upper-level classes and that they would only be available during the day, I’d have quit college as soon as I got a full time job.

I met with my advisor earlier, which was really helpful. As frustrated as I am with all this, it is difficult to see anything other than black or white. Either I can drop out, or I can put my nose to the grindstone and push through two more years of classes in which I am not interested, wasting my time. Lora proposed a middle-way.

Suggesting I apply some Buddhist philosophy to my studies, she suggested I let go of the concept of a deadline, let go of both the desire for finishing as well as my concern for writing time. By looking at the situation a bit more calmly, there are many more options than either bull-dozing through or quitting altogether.

The frustration I have experienced with my college education over the last several years has been due primarily to taking classes I needed but in which I was not interested. These were classes that were required by my degree program, and while the originating principle was a fine ideal, in practice it turned out pretty meaningless. I have a transcript full of classes that made no impact on me and in which I learned next to nothing.

After next semester, however, I will be done with the classes that I need, and I am in a position (having finished all my requirements in addition to being able to take courses for free since I work here) that offers me the luxury of having options. Rather than viewing this as an either-or (put life on hold for two more years so I can finish by taking classes I detest VS. dropping out), I can slow down and learn to enjoy college again. There are certainly classes I want to take, and next semester is a good example of that; I am excited to study the Talmud under Dr. Watts-Belser, and I have missed poetry workshop. After that, Lora advised I keep an eye on the schedules (English and Religious Studies) and watch for upper-division classes I will enjoy. If I see one or two offered at night that I want to take, I take them. If I don’t, I don’t. Maybe I’ll have a semester or two off, and maybe I’ll have a busy semester, but I’ll be assured of only taking classes in which I have an interest.

And in a few years, they’ll hand me a piece of paper.

The bright spots of my college career are few, but I value them. I learned how to read and study Hebrew. I competed nationally at Model United Nations and did very well, and in so doing I learned how to politic and debate better than I did in high school. I learned lots and lots about the New Testament and the parables of Jesus, and I learned the value of good translations and critical thinking. I learned how to research and write. I helped an Israeli student learn about the United States government, and I helped a lot of students learn about the Bible through a college ministry I co-founded. I learned a lot about Buddhism in perhaps my favourite class of my college career. And yet, all-told that’s only about 6-10 classes, less than two semester’s worth (as a full time student), in 6.5 years.

Now is my opportunity, Lora said, to find more bright spots. There’s nothing stopping me from only taking classes I enjoy at this point. No more gen eds, no more requirements (other than course level). There is a 500-level class offered in the evening this summer on the book of Jeremiah. There are a couple of other upper-level classes next year I might enjoy.

What’s more, she said that it should be feasible now to do this through night classes. Last night and this morning, as I considered all this, part of why I was overwhelmed was that I would have to take all those upper-division classes during the day. I’ve been taking night classes for years, and there just aren’t that many upper-division courses offered at night. The few that are simply aren’t applicable to my interests or education (things like Real Estate and other professionally focused classes).

Lora shared that this is changing, and the Religious Studies department in particular met recently to discuss the matter. For years, Continuing Education has taken departments at their word that degree programs could be completed through night classes. Now Continuing Ed is actually looking at programming to make sure it can happen, and for a lot of departments, it couldn’t. They’re going to enforce this requirement or revoke Continuing Ed status (the degree program would no longer be listed as an option for Continuing Education, which hurts the chance that people will enroll in that program), so departments are going to start offering more night classes.

The head of the Religious Studies department told me this was going to happen three years ago (that they would start offering more night classes… he retired soon afterwards and it never really happened), but maybe this time it’s true. We have a different president now, and the University is a different place. Maybe it’s possible.

Either way, it is a compromise with which I am comfortable. I stop worrying about it all and, more than likely, drop down to one class a semester (except for next semester when I will finish the last two classes actually required for my degree). I’ll focus on night classes only, because truth be told I really prefer night classes. After years of them, I don’t feel you can accomplish enough in a single hour for it to be worthwhile. I’ll take only classes I enjoy and that I feel are worthwhile.

As Lora put it, I should focus on my writing, and I should focus on taking classes that enrich my writing. Studying the Talmud next semester will affect how I write and approach writing, so that’s a good educational opportunity. Studying Jeremiah and digging into Hebrew again can do the same. I should approach classes that will further my priorities, and if they don’t further my priorities, I don’t need to worry about it.

And if I keep taking classes in which I am interested, there’s a good chance that I’ll get a degree in a few years. I only need 5 more classes after next semester, after all, and if I’m only taking one class every 1-2 semesters (as they become available), I’ll have plenty of time to write while still learning things in which I am interested.

She also talked with the head of the Religious Studies department who said I could probably take a one credit hour reading course with someone to finish a bit sooner. I actually need 13 hours of upper-division classes after next semester, so instead of taking five 3-hour courses, I could take four 3-hour and one 1-hour to make it a bit quicker. That’s a nice option.

Bottom line, I’m still frustrated, but this middle way is attractive and reasonable. I’m glad I’ve got an advisor like Lora Hobbs.

PS The Religious Studies department now has an option for a Bachelor of Science as opposed to a Bachelor of Arts. If the BS didn’t require the 40 hours, I’d maybe do that, but my passion surprised me while meeting with Lora. I told her that I was frustrated that courses like Hebrew 202 didn’t count towards the upper-level requirement despite their difficulty, and mentioned the BS (12 hours of a foreign language are required for BA, but not for BS). Softly pounding my first on the table, I said,

“But I want my BA. I’ve earned it!”

I guess, if given a choice between the two, I want the extra work recognized. At this point, there’s only one difference for me between the BS and the BA: History 104 – History since 1600. I’m going to take a 90 minute test to get that taken care of.

Dropping Out

It may take me another 2+ years to graduate from college.

I’ve been a bit frustrated for years now. Though doing things I enjoy, I feel like my life and passions have been on hold so I can do the responsible thing. I want to finish what I start, and I want to help people, and I want to do it right. I basically put college on hold for two years to co-lead FnC–I couldn’t take upper-level classes at the time because I didn’t have enough time for more intense study or research. Then I got a full time job so I could afford to get married and subsequently start a family. Throughout it all, I’ve tried to balance school with the goal of getting a degree, and all along the way my writing has been on the back burner. It was what I ultimately wanted to focus on, but these other necessities took precedence.

Now I’m trying to finish my degree so I can move on and do what I want. I thought I just had another semester and a half, another seven months, and then I’d be done. I’d have a Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies with a minor in Creative Writing at the end of Spring 2010.

I was a double major (RS and CW), but today I dropped my second major down to a minor so I could graduate sooner. At the same time, I really examined my degree audit. For years, I’ve scheduled classes based on the general education and major/minor requirements, making sure I met each one. I took every night class I could that met those requirements because my work really doesn’t like me taking day classes. Since there are no night classes left to take, I began my last four courses before completing my degree, taking them during the day.

But it looks like I don’t just need four more courses. There’s a subsection on my degree audit I missed that states “40 hours upper-division credits required.” I have eighteen, with three more currently in progress. I need nineteen more.

I’ll get six next semester with my last 500-levels. That leaves me still needing thirteen. At six hours a semester, that’s three semesters. Conversely, I could try to take nine hours during one semester (on top of 40 hours of work), but most 300-levels that would satisfy this requirement aren’t offered at night at Missouri State and I don’t think my work would be quite that flexible.

What’s worse, I have no classes left to take that actually matter. They would have to be absolutely random, unrelated 300-level classes.

The thought of being in school for another two years is devastating, primarily because I just don’t think I can do it. I have been in school for so long, and I’ve been wanting to finish something for so long, that the thought of not finishing is heartbreaking. And yet, I can’t see myself putting my true desires on hold for another two years just to get a piece of paper that doesn’t matter.

I have three desires in my life.

  1. Be a father.
  2. Write.
  3. Serve God (which I think will involve learning about and teaching spiritual warfare).

Number 1 is waiting until April’s education is complete and we pay everything off–we can’t afford to have kids until then. I’ve put number 2 on hold for years because there was always something else to do first. And while I’m trying to do number 3 more, it’s hard when I have to work 9-10 hour days because of work+class and then do homework (reading and essays) in the evening.

What does getting a degree do to advance those priorities? After next semester, I will have already taken every class required to get a BA in Religious Studies, I just haven’t taken enough “upper division” classes. I won’t be furthering my education by taking another five classes, I’ll just be paying the University more money and time to give me a piece of paper that doesn’t go towards advancing my priorities.

I have been in school for twenty years at this point. And it has been inarguably valuable. But do I really need to do more?

I do not want to be defined by a college degree.I want to be defined by what I do with my life, and perhaps that’s where my desire for completion comes. I lack definition, and getting a degree would have given me something while also marking the transition to pursuing my passions. So I could spend another two years in college to get a degree that gives me a label, or I can actually do something. I could write the book of poetry I dreamed up in the shower this morning, and return to my scifi novel, and actually finish a fantasy fiction short story. I can start experimenting and learning how to live and write about it. I could take up photography.

In a sense, I don’t want the sense of accomplishment that comes from getting the BA, because I don’t feel it is justified. What does that piece of paper prove? That I stuck it out? That I delayed my life another 1.5 years?

How much longer do I have do walk on this treadmill?

I have been looking forward to the end of next semester for years. Looking forward to finally having time to write, to being more involved with the church, to starting attending a small group again, and to figuring out how to live.

What is there besides school? I’ve been in school since I was four years old–I have no experience outside of it–and I wonder what’s out there. What else could I be doing? What would life be like?

I could live, instead of just waiting to live.

I’m not doing anything. I go, I do enough to get the grade, and I wait for them to hand me a piece of paper. Is this what life is supposed to be?

I’m going to meet with my advisor tomorrow to see what she says, but I doubt there’s any way around this 40-hour rule. And if it comes to that, is there any point in pushing myself through another two years?

And for those who are inevitably going to post, “Get your degree! It’s so worth it!” please, tell me why. Why is it worth it? Note that I already have a secure, full time job paying a good amount more than average for Springfield, and I’ve already learned everything the degree is intended to confer. Note that a degree in religious studies has no direct application to anything I want to do. I don’t intend, nor do I foresee, going on to graduate level studies, and if I did enroll for a graduate degree then I think it would have to be as a full-time student, not someone trying to do it while working full time (and if that were the case, I could finish up my undergrad in a semester or two). Note the above priorities.

I can’t help but wonder what life would be like if I were really engaged with what I feel God is calling me to. I can’t see any reason to delay any longer.

What is happiness, peace, and fulfillment worth? Would a degree make me happy? Would I be happy if I let that goal go? I don’t know… I really don’t. Like I said, the thought of not finishing the degree–my thoughts going round and round for the last five hours–are stunning. It’s hard for me to accept the thought of not finishing. But the thought of going for another two years, for having been in college for nine years to get a degree to hang on the wall, and for no other purpose, is even harder to accept.

I’m going to brush my teeth and go to bed. God, be with me. Help this all make sense.

Criticisms of Class

Our first essay in my religion class this semester is to write some sort of response to the reading so far. We’ve gone through almost 200 pages about theories of religion and our class format is for the teacher/presenter (students are actually teaching each class, one chapter a day from a different student each day) to walk through an outline of the chapter, summarizing its key points.

The paper, however, is not supposed to be a summary. Recognizing I’ve missed 2.5+ weeks of class, I asked somewhat timidly what the professor was looking for in this paper. It’s not supposed to be a summary, but summarize is all we seem to do.

The professor screwed up his face, seeming flabbergasted that I would ask such a question. As my peers responded in kind (looking as if I’d asked what only an ignoramus would), he asked in a somewhat condescending tone, “Didn’t I put the assignment on Blackboard? Isn’t it all out there already?”

I didn’t know it was, and apologized and said I’d take a look. Opening Blackboard, I went to the assignment and read it.

In this essay, discuss the 19th century theories of Müller, Tylor, Smith, Frazer and Marx. Begin by spending about three pages summarizing the theories of each thinker concerning religion. The challenge here is to identify the essential ideas and concepts of each theory and express them accurately and concisely. Conclude your essay with a critical analysis of each theory. What do you consider to be the major strengths and weaknesses of each? Be sure that you make clear why a strength is a strength and a weakness a weakness.

Be aware that each chapter concludes with an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of a theory.

So… how is this not summarizing?

I hate being made to feel stupid without valid justification.

This 500-level religion class, though infinitely better, is frustratingly similar to the 100-level history class I’m dealing with this semester. In that class, the Asian instructor essentially covers nothing but names and dates. These names are occasionally given the barest context, but that context is sadly lacking. The purpose of studying history, to me, is to analyze the events, the inspirations, the motives, the whys and the hows. We’re not even getting a good timeline because he jumps around the globe and back and forth across centuries so we can’t even do a comparative analysis.

I don’t know how many thousands of dollars I’ve given this university for what essentially amounts to book recommendations. If not for reading the books, I’d have gotten no real education at all.