My PhD is in philosophy, which literally translates to 'love of wisdom' (philo + sophia).
When I think about it, it's pretty cool to have a PhD in 'love of wisdom'. I feel very grateful to have spent 10+ years of my life pursuing this love at University, both as an undergraduate and then a postgraduate student. However, when it came to choosing a thesis topic, 'love of wisdom' wasn't really going to attract scholarship funding. And I was realistic enough to know that a scholarship would make the 3+ years of further studying much easier on myself, and my family.
Fortunately I manged to find a topic to attract some attention. I found an unwilling writing subject in the German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was involved in resistance and conspiracy plots to assassinate Hitler during WWII.. In my scholarship application, I was able to draw a long bow between Bonhoeffer's actions and violence and terrorism. Fortunately, as some philosophers (sophists, Socrates used to call them) can make long bows sound like reasonable propositions, my scholarship application was successful. Or perhaps it was actually a good thesis topic. I was able to later publish this into a book, and that's difficult to do on rhetoric alone.
Having committed myself to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I subsequently spent a lot of time reading early to mid-20th century German philosophers and theologians, sometimes delving into other time periods. Basically, anytime around the 400+ years of exciting changes in Europe that followed Luther's Reformation. Some historians actually suggest what we call the modern period began with Martin Luther. The Nazis thought so, when they enthusiastically celebrated the 450th anniversary of Luther's birthday in 1933. They believed they were completing the German Reformation with their Third Reich. Reading that made me slightly uncomfortable.
And of course I read Bonhoeffer. And people who also read Bonhoeffer, and who would subsequently write long journal articles and books about what they had read. Not everyone who reads Bonhoeffer writes long journal articles. Some people write violent anti-abortion manifestos. Reading those, I felt I was actually starting to earn my scholarship.
Eventually I finished the thesis. It was submitted for examination and then glowingly praised by two examiners as very well researched. The third pointed out all the errors and typos, and declared there were too many footnotes. That was fair. Almost half my thesis word count was in the footnotes, but I call that research! It just goes to show that you really can't win all the hearts. I was grateful for the list of errors and typos, as it made the final submission process very easy. Since completing my PhD, I've written academic articles and book chapters, and eventually I turned the PhD into a book.
So where to today? Whilst my initial PhD research topic was chosen on somewhat mercenary grounds, my philosophical approaches and the kind of issues or topic that drive my desire to keep learning remain constant. What motivates me to keep reading, thinking and writing in the academic world, is a deeper understanding of ethical or humane relationships in a complex and increasingly fractured world. How do we navigate the myriad of relationships encountered each day, especially with those who seem to challenge our own identity and sense of safety and security at every point? I believe that this is faithful to the spirit of philosophy, which is to practice a love of wisdom. To me, wisdom is found through learning to live with one's self and others, in the context of daily decisions and actions, in a rich and complex mosaic of relationships. My preferred way of asking these questions is through an existential, hermeneutic, phenomenological approach. This is something of a mouthful, but it basically means that I seek understanding through interpreting subjective, lived experiences that emerge from embodied human existence. These lived experiences disclose certain values, purposes, ideals, intentions, and emotions that in turn help us to consider the broader social, communal, or historical context in which individuals live their lives in relation to themselves and others.
I began this journey through a deep interest in forms of philosophy and theology that emerged from a European context. But I don't want to remain 'Euro-centric' in my own approach. Today, I'm also interested in new thinkers and writers who explore what it means to be human when one's identity is also classed, gendered, racialised, ethnicised, and deeply socialised from birth. How do these markers of identity impact on our capacity to make decisions and actions? And how do we relate to others as free individuals, when our very individuality is so deeply impacted by multiple identity markers? So I am still reading philosophers that emerged from a challenging and crisis-filled period of history, and I believe their insights remain highly relevant to our contemporary age. But I'm also interested in other conversations, outside philosophy as an academic discipline. I want to engage with many voices that in some way contribute towards pursuing not only a love of wisdom, but also give insight into all the different ways of being and living in the world today. This desire to engage in wider dialogue is part of what drives this blog. I don't just read and reference 'philosophers' or 'academic researchers', but my writing is enriched by looking at the work of all sorts of interesting, strange, compelling, moving, articulate, and colorful individuals.