June 2006 Reflections

The past two months have really flown by, as I have devoted myself to placing little checkmarks in my Lonely Planet guide to Ireland, in a desperate (and surely futile) attempt to see the entire country in one year. At first, I limited myself to traveling when it wasn’t raining. Then I realized that this strategy was fatally flawed, and would probably result in my never making it more than an hour outside of Dublin…!

My classes have been done since early March, so over the last couple of months I only had to focus on writing my final essays. Now that all of those are handed in, I haev begun work on my dissertation. I’m writing on early medieval Syriac theology as a resource for contemporary interfaith dialogue. I’m desperately excited by this topic, although it does often seem that I’m just about the only one… (I am completely in love with the Syriac theologian Isaac of Nineveh and have declared my intentions to marry him, although this plan is admittedly complicated by the fact that he is celibate and dead…)

The best part about my thesis, for me, is that it allows me to resolve the tension I often feel between studying the things that I care about because they are important, and the things I care about just because I irrationally love them. Contemporary interfaith dialogue certainly falls into the former category, while Syriac theology remains in the latter. But I want to try to take the early and medieval texts which I love and try to show how they are relevant for contemporary problems. I often find myself frustrated with theologians who think that theology began in the 1960’s. Even the most historicaly sensitive often seem to think that we should only go back as far as the 19th century. But there are so many earlier sources within the tradition that can offer themselves as real resources for the current discussions.

This is admittedly straying from the theme of “reflections on Ireland”, but since I can quickly turn almost any conversation into a discussion about Syriac theology, it is hardly out of character!

Earlier this month, all of the Mitchell Scholars gathered together for the last time this year. The reunion of all of the previous classes was wonderful (and I was delighted to find that there were plenty of other theological types all seated at Table 8 with me at dinner). But it was equally wonderful to spend time with the other scholars in my class. Most of us have already said goodbye for the year, since our travel schedules mean that our paths won’t cross again over the summer, which seems hard to believe. I especially enjoyed returning to Glenstal Abbey, and being able to share that with with the other scholars. Probably to my parents dismay, I have become increasingly drawn by the possibility of becoming a nun during this year. (We’ll see where that leads…)

I really value the friendships that I have made this year, both with the other Mitchell Scholars and with others in Dublin. One of the interesting things about my experience this year is that almost none of my Irish friends are “native Irish”. Some are Scottish or English, and others are Romanian, Slovakian, Polish, Russian, Lithuanian, Chinese, Nigerian…The diversity of religions reflects the diversity of national backgrounds, and while some of them are only here for a short time, most consider Ireland to be home. Many of the Mitchell Scholars (including myself) expressed the thought that we didn’t feel like we were in the “real Ireland” until we were away from Dublin, out in places such as Dingle. But is not the new, multicultural Dublin equally the “real Ireland”? It may not be the fantasy Ireland that many of us had imagined before we came here, but it’s the real, lived experience of very many people.

I leave in just two days for a trip through Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan–a trip that I have been looking forward to all year. But the experience of traveling also makes me realize how very at home I have come to feel here, and how I look forward to my return back home to Dublin even as I am planning adventures away. This next month will probably be a frenzy of travel and thesis writing, but I thrive on having too much to do, and so it’ll probably be good for me!

Once again, I want to thank all of the sponsors of the Mitchell Scholarship for everything they have done to make this year possible.

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