I continue here my thread on how I go about writing a trade book for general audiences. So far I have talked about how I start with reading about the topics of relevance. When I’ve done a lot of that I eventually get to the point where I realize I’ve read all the major works that I need to have read in order to have a good sense both of what others have said about a topic and about what I have to say myself.
Maybe I should pause a bit – for a post or two — on this question of “what I have to say.” There are several aspects of this question that are important and fairly interesting. The first has to do with having an idea about what to write. I’ll get to the issue in a roundabout way, which is my wont, as you may have noticed…
I’ve had graduate students now for twenty-six years, and over the years they have evidenced a wide range of both ability and temperament. Of course, the only people who become graduate students are those who have not just done well in undergraduate work, or in previous masters work, but who have excelled. So these students are always very smart and accomplished. If they weren’t we wouldn’t admit them into our program. Competition for admission to graduate programs (at the PhD level at least; this isn’t as true for programs that offer only an MA) is extremely tough, at least in my field.
Over the past twenty years or so, UNC has gone from being a completely second-tier graduate program in religious studies to being one of the very best in the nation. National rankings in recent years almost always put our graduate program as one of the two or three best in the country. That’s largely due to the amazing faculty we have; my colleagues are as good as any faculty anywhere, in terms of ability, productivity, and reputation. But that means it’s very difficult to get into our program as a graduate student, since there’s so much competition.
This year, for example, I expect that we will have 30-35 applications from students who want to do a PhD in early Christianity (that would include the New Testament on up to the fourth century; the applicants will have a range of things they would like to work on in that broader field, everything from the historical Jesus, to the writings of Paul, to the persecutions of early Christianity, to Gnosticism, to the formation of the canon, to early Christian understandings of demons, to early Christian apocalyptic thought, to… to scores of things). 30-35 may not seem like that many, but we will probably be able to admit only one of them, maybe two. So odds are not good. And most of the 30-35 will be really top flight. And so it goes.
Now, my point in this little digression is that…
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