I am constantly reminded (from emails and conversations ) that most people would have little way to know what professional scholars at research universities actually do.  That’s not surprising.  I, frankly, don’t really know (or much understand) what a hedge fund manager does, or a state lieutenant governor, or an industrial chemist.  I was thinking about the issue (my position, not the ones I don’t know about) last week and suddenly had a vague recollection that I discussed it at some point on the blog; I checked and, lo and behold, I devoted a number of posts to the matter over ten years ago.  I’ve decided to do it again.  This first post will repeat how I introduced the topic back then.


       In some of the back and forth that I have been involved with over the past few weeks some blog readers have asked about whether “experts” in an academic field have any privileged standing when it comes to making judgments about the acceptability or force of evidence that is adduced for one position or another.  I am not going to go into that question here, but a related topic did occur to me as I was thinking about it: my hunch is that a lot of people outside the academy don’t really know what a faculty position at a research university entails.

And so I thought maybe I should describe what it is that someone like me – a senior professor at a  large university – what a person like me actually does with his time (one quick answer: NOT watch a lot of TV!!).   I will simply use me as the example, since I’m the one I know most about.  But my sense is that my story is fairly typical, not at all unusual.  There is a range of activities that scholars like me are involved with, and my plan is to devote a post each to some of the most obvious ones, but in no obvious order.  That is, the posts will not be arranged according to the ones I devote the most time to; the ones I like the best; the ones that take the most brain power; or anything else.  They are simply a random collection of things I do.  My posts will cover such things as:

  • Phd dissertations I am supervising
  • My own writing projects
  • Editorial work I do
  • Courses and seminars that I teach (both undergraduate and graduate)
  • Undergraduate theses I have been directing
  • Languages that I work on and reading that I do
  • The training (languages; fields; theses; years) that someone like me needs to have to become a scholar in the first place
  • Conferences and seminars I attend and what doing so entails
  • Possibly other things as they come to mind

I’m not trying to make any great point by any of this.  It just occurred to me that people may be interested in knowing what it is a university professor in a Department of Religious Studies at a major research institution does, and how it is he came to start doing it.  Even if that’s not a question that much interests you (no reason it should!) I’ll try to write the posts so that they will address questions you may indeed have and provide information that you may indeed find interesting.