Next week, within spitting distance of my 51st birthday, I begin my quest for a PhD in the History of Judaism from the U. Chicago Divinity School. I've decided to use this blog, largely dormant for the past year or more, to write about the experience, because I'm going to need a therapist, but I won't have time for one, so this blog will be it.
In June, I earned my M.A. in Divinity from the D School. A lot of my friends, most of them Jewish, didn't know Divinity was something you studied, much less earned a degree in. I get asked about it a lot: "Divinity? What's that?" The shortest answer is that it's the study of theology. The longer answer is that it's concentrated thought about and study of the (theory of the) divine. It's viewing matters of the spirit from an intellectual and historical perspective.
It's also a kind of fudge, ironically.
The urge to learn has always been with me, as have the need to write and (more recently) the enjoyment of teaching. I hope that combining these interests will yield some kind of quiet satisfaction; that sitting in the reedy silence of Regenstein Library, or in the fusty old classrooms of Swift Hall, will proffer a delightful anonymity, and an intellectual stimulation, that will keep my gray matter from settling into the Barca-Lounger of Senility. At the University, in whose shadow I grew up, I can learn for learning's sake.
Of course, it's rarely that easy. In the business world, competition is on the surface, but in the academy, it's under layers of politesse and intellectual code, creating a cozy viciousness of an almost Kabuki-esque intricacy and intensity. In the business world, you execute. In the academy, you debate and deliberate. And then there are the more practical considerations: how do I still get my job done? How do I devote enough time and energy to the PhD? How do I get all this done, without cheating my family?
And most important: Why am I doing this?
I thought and I prayed and I analyzed and investigated. I studied, I read, I thought. I talked to people, I meditated, I did an accounting of my "internal books." Then I took the Graduate Record Exams, my first standardized test in almost 30 years; and I applied to two graduate admissions programs, and got admitted to the Divinity School, which so far has surpassed my wildest expectations.
In this space, I'll explore the experience of the older student, not just for myself, but for everyone who's curious about it. I'll explore Jewish philosophy and theology, and life in the academy, and I'll ponder how it affects life at home (without violating the privacy of the One True Wife, or of Gabe, who does not want to be written about).
I think going back to school, if you can afford it, beats the hell out of buying a Porsche or having an affair (not that I've tried either of those, mind you). It's both challenging (like a Porsche) and liberating (like a Porsche), but it costs less.
Also, it's not some shadow existence or some prestigious and presumptuous physical asset. It's a gift. As an older student, I'll care less about what my professors think of me. I'll be more directed, hungrier, more willing to take risks (I hope). And as someone involved in business, I'll be able to watch how a major university and its departments run, how they compete internally and externally, and how they are facing up to the massive changes with which colleges and universities are about to be faced.
And of course, I'll also write about the stuff I'm thinking about: meditation, syncretism, post-Holocaust Jewish theology; Jewish memory and Jewish history; and life as a man who loves his family and is nonetheless doing something terribly self-indulgent.
Read along and comment, if you like. Wish me luck, if you would. And, perhaps, think about what you would do to make a new path open for you.