Wednesday, June 08, 2011

What am I doing for my PhD?

I've seen the following quote twice - perhaps both times on the UKZN website. It is something to the effect that most PhD theses are simply the transferring of bones from one graveyard to another. I really have tried to avoid studying 'truth for truth's sake' in both my Masters and now my PhD. But it is actually quite hard! I have journeyed through a number of iterations of modifying my research question and am still not quite happy. Sometimes the concept seems totally naive (let's solve all of South Africa's problems based on the book of Romans), at others preposterous - although that is how the thought that I can generate anything new always strikes me! I tend to wander off into theology when I am supposed to be doing Biblical Studies. At the moment my research question is:

As we bring Paul and Desmond Tutu into dialogue, while limiting ourselves to the themes of liberation, reconciliation and individual identity, can we find a fresh perspective on Paul’s letter to the Romans that is useful to the South African church today? 
This is perhaps not terribly meaningful - so to explain. The idea is to do exegesis on certain passages from Romans (there is not enough space in a thesis to do the whole book) doing readings from a South African perspective (as epitomised by Desmond Tutu) and then again from an original context point of view using the approaches of NT Wright, JDG Dunn and Richard Horsley (which are something like the search for the historical Paul). The principle is that the readings will inform each other and out of it will come better understandings of both Paul's writing and its application to the current South African context. This method of using two readings is called, where I come from, Inculturation and has been described by Nigerian scholar Justin Ukpong - who is  working at UKZN just for this year.
In some ways this does seem a bit contrived - but somehow one has to juggle the bones a bit in between graveyards, just in the hope of finding something interesting!
Just hoping now to hear something from my supervisors to say whether this has enough merit ...

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