Most people at work know that I want to get a PhD in religious studies (only one year left to my master’s degree!). But I was a little taken aback when my office mate said,
“John, I’m waiting for you to get that PhD so that you can come back and give me all the answers.”
I thought he was joking. He wasn’t. I responded by saying that even–no, especially–the ostensible experts don’t agree with each other. What kind of answers can they have?
Since one of my dreams is to get a doctorate degree (and since I’m married to a PhD candidate), I’ve thought a lot about that conversation. I was surprised at his level of trust in academic authority and I wonder how much this respect is reflected in society (my impression is that academics are often perceived as myopic, arrogant and out of touch). Especially where religion is concerned, there are other competing authorities, whether ecclesiastic or direct communication with The Big Bearded Man hisself.
I like academics, but they can succumb to any of the standard human biases and short-sightedness. What I do subscribe to are the skeptical attitude, rigorous critical analysis, and the process of peer review that are all part of the academic environment. Theoretically, anything is open to critique–but you’d better have a solid case or it’s going to get ripped to shreds. I know it doesn’t sound very cheery, but it’s this critical approach that attracts me to the modern academic mindset. I trust the truths achieved through this method far more than the ones arrived at through faith (especially when these conclusions are then shielded from critique).
What do you think?¬† Do you find value in applying the historical-critical / skeptical scientific method to the study of religious claims and/or the nature of reality?¬† What is the place of academics and critical scholarship in the study and public discussion of religion?¬† Bonus question: do I need to find another career goal?