Tomorrow I will begin the first phase of the Ph.D. program in theology in the Religious Studies department of the University of Dayton. UD is a Roman Catholic, Marianist institution, with a well-respected faculty and penchants for attracting a variety of Protestant, Catholic, and Baptist students. (For all the Protestants and Baptists out there, it would be worth your time to take a look at the story of the Marianists. I recommend reading more about them here, here, and here.
Many of my readers will wonder, I'm sure, why I chose the University of Dayton. There are a number of good reasons, but four are primary. First, and most simply, it is the best option for us within the area. Dayton is a reasonable driving distance (45 minutes) and has a reasonable cost of living in the event we decide to relocate there.
Second, they accepted me and offered a generous Graduate Assistantship, which provides tuition remission and a stipend. This means I will work for a professor for the duration of the first phase (assuming I am renewed every year), providing research assistance, teaching assistance, and other duties as assigned. Also, from my second year forward, I will teach two sections of the introductory level Religion course for UD undergraduates (a required class for all degree programs). This kind of responsibility so early in the Ph.D. process is an invaluable experience for those hoping to teach theology in the future.
Third, they are a proudly Catholic institution and I am dreadfully unschooled in US Catholicism and Catholic theology generally. Often, doing theology in conservative evangelicalism (or more narrowly, in the Southern Baptist realm) is a bit like listening to yourself speak. (I hope you know what I mean. Even those who disagree strongly tend to disagree strongly about issues unique to evangelicalism, not engaging the broader Christian traditions, who also have tremendously valuable things to say.) I wanted a more ecumenical and more challenging environment to experience the highest level of my education.
Finally, the Religious Studies department is intentionally interdisciplinary, encouraging the use of a variety of academic disciplines in the pursuit of truth. Thus, we will be expected to engage history and historiography, theology and ethics, biblical studies, philosophy, social sciences, and other areas as they are relevant to our course of study.
As far as the details of the next several years, it is estimated that I will spend three years in the first phase, completing required credit hours, passing a series of three general exams (covering biblical studies, history, and theology and ethics), mastering three research skills (Latin and two other research languages), and passing the final qualifying exam (covering the U.S. Catholic experience, broadly conceived). Then, I will spend about two years in the second phase, completing and defending my dissertation.
I am grateful to the Religious Studies department for their willingness to take on an evangelical like me, with a background so steeped in the Southern Baptist world. So far, as I have attended the department orientations, I have met a variety of interesting people from all sorts of Christian traditions. I look forward to the time I will spend with them and I anticipate with gratitude the way that their presence will form me as a scholar and a person.
By the way, on a more personal note, Ronnie and I will be working it out with his employer so that one of us (or Will's grandmother, my mom) will be taking care of him on a rotating basis throughout my time in school. I have plenty of fears and concerns about my ability to mother and study well, but since we are convinced that UD is the right move for me, then we must trust also that God will show us the way. I have been told on numerous occasions by those who have completed the journey that both parenting and grad school are unpredictable roller-coaster rides, so its perfectly natural to combine the two. We'll see if that proves to be true for us.