So now that I’ve got a full week and a half of regular term time under my belt, I figured I’d give my intial thoughts about Durham.   

  • Supervision…I’m very glad to have John Barclay as a supervisor. He is very gracious and has a great family. They had us over for a meal, and it was great to know that I’m working with someone who I would like to model both academically and personally. We met before the term started to get me going, and for the first year he expects to meet ever other week or so. This is definitely more attention than I expected, but it is very welcome. Loren Stuckenbruck my second supervisor mentioned that he typically meets once a week with his students, but I assume the meetings are shorter than the 1.5-2 hrs that John and I do.
  • Libraries…The library here leaves quite a bit to be desired.  As a result, they automatically give a stipend to research students for interlibrary loan, but I’d rather that they just beef up the library!  However, I recently learned that if you have a book that you’d like for the library, you can just send a request to the Theology Dept’s library person, and it will probably be purchased.  So in that way, you have more influence on purchases.  Another issue is the distance to the library.  I didn’t realize it at first, but the library that has the main Bible/theology holdings is about a 20 minute walk from the main campus (or 45 min from my house).  There’s a library (Palace Green) right across from the Theology Dept, but it only holds Law and Music.  There is also a library in the Cathedral with decent holdings for its size but less than the main library.  St. John’s college also has a decent theological library since it is also an Anglican and Methodist seminary, but again it’s smaller than the collection at the main library.  What that means is that between the libraries they duplicate the major works, and none (probably) have the more specific works in an area.  One boast of the school is that the Lutheran church gave the Anglican church a German library accumulated from a theological college or two that shut down, and out of all the places in the UK it landed at the Cathedral.  So the largest German library in Europe outside of the German speaking countries is here in Durham–all the more reason for me to master German!
  • Research space… They have quite a few venues for theology research students.  The Palace Green Library has a postgraduate study room with about 12 study carrels (unassigned), lockers, and wireless internet.  Because of its proximity it’s been my primary study spot, but it’s been getting busier with law students.  The Cathedral library is in the old monks’ dormatory.  It’s a huge room (40 yards long?) with a 30 ft high ceiling.  It definitely has the ambiance of a 700+ year old building–like you are following in the footsteps of generations of scholars before you–but it’s lacking electrical outlets and much heating.  Last year the Faculty of Arts and Humanities opened a study area (15 min walk) that can fit ~50+ students and has quite a few computers.  Very nice, just seems like it will be too distracting since it’s mostly open.  There are also a couple of other allocated spaces for theology researchers, so there is quite a variety of places to study.  None meets all needs in one place, but so far I’m happy.  There’s also my study at home, but with Heather and Silas around during the day, I don’t seem to get the focused time that is most helpful.  I’ve been moving between spaces to break up the day, and that seems to work well.
  • Seminars… I’m currently attending the weekly NT and Patristics seminars.  (You are expected to attend the seminar in your area.)  The NT seminar doesn’t have a theme this term, so just an amalgum of visiting scholars mixed in with the home grown ones.  It’s by far the largest/most well attended of all the Departments seminars.  For Patristics we’ll be translating through Gregory of Nyssa’s On the Creation of Man, when someone is not giving a paper.  The other seminars are open to whomever, and I’ll pop in those as interesting topics arise.  For instance, I went to one yesterday on Intelligent Design at the Theology and Ethics seminar.
  • Classes… PhD research students also have the freedom to sit-in on MA modules (classes).  I’m going to the Paul & His Interpreters (historical overview of interpretation of Paul) and the Theological Anthropology (patristic) modules.  These relate directly to my thesis.  I’ll also probably sit in on a Midrash translation group to keep my Hebrew/Aramaic up.  Next year I’ll pick up a couple of other modules that interest me, but that I don’t have time for now.
  • Community… Since research spaces are spread out, it is a little harder to run into people regularly (outside of the seminars).  However, a handful of the students have organized a weekly brown-bag lunch to meet at St. Chad’s college.  It’s mostly a hangout time, but monthly a faculty member will come and informally chat about issues.  It’s a good start, but the format here will definitely force you to build relationships.  One advantage is that the people here are really nice.
  • Languages… They’ve got a part time lecturer here that is excellent with modern foreign languages.  He leads weekly German study groups for postgrad students in the department.  He also helps students with other languages as needed.

Overall, I’m definitely happy that I’m here.  You give up some conveniences by studying at a 1000 year old site, which doesn’t have much room at times, but the ambiance, atmosphere, and lecturers definitely make up for it.   

3 Responses to “Initial Thoughts”

  1. Dave Shaw Says:

    Hi Ben,
    Between you and Nijay Gupta, there is not much that hasn’t been covered concerning studying at Durham and you both make it an attractive place to study. I did have a question for you concerning languages. I have been refreshing my Greek and intend to start learning German but was wondering how much work on these you had done prior to heading the UK? Languages are not my most natural forte’ and I want to get a leg up if I can. Additionally, if I have a cross disciplinary thesis idea (I’m thinking NT / Sociology) would it be worth my while emailing two prof’s together to get their feedback on the proposal or just the one?

    1. Ben Says:

      Hi Dave. Here’s a bit I wrote about preparation which includes things about languages. Also, I have some more general things about modern languages here. Essentially more prep is better, so you can spend your time researching not learning languages. On the proposals, I would email the two people separately, but let them know that you would be interested in the combination of expertise brought by the other. If you email them together they might perceive the other as the ‘primary’ and not respond in as much detail as you might prefer, but you never really know with that. Godspeed. Ben

  2. Dave Shaw Says:

    Thanks Ben, most helpful. Best wishes.

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