Postgraduate, Part I

After my first degree, I studied at the then Centre for the study of Jewish-Christian Relations (CJCR), now a part of the Woolf Institute, Cambridge. Before graduation, I had taken a paper on Responses to the Holocaust; it is an odd thing to say, but I wrote well on the subject. A combination of that, my acquisition of Biblical Hebrew, and an earlier study visit to Israel-Palestine (with the Council of Christians and Jews) took me onto postgraduate study.

“we were more The Choir than Great British Bake-Off.”

It was a formative year. My fellow scholars became firm friends, and we lived out Jewish-Christian relations in our shared apartment. We formed a singing group, going down a storm at the local folk club. (The initiative took its premise from our apparent inability to compete with the cooking prowess of the previous year-group; we were more The Choir than Great British Bake-Off.) Thinking back, it was also the first year I picked up a guitar.

And the course itself? It was a very odd transition for me. I went from 100% examination to 100% course-work, learning the hard way that no one had prepared me to write up research at length. I excelled at essays. The dissertation was a battle-ground, admittedly largely of my own making, as I sought little assistance from my supervisor. Retrospectively, I learnt much from the experience.  I had committed that common folly of feeling I must have a respectable theoretical backdrop. Coupled with an odd university rule that bound me to a preestablished title, I wound up attempting to weave in Bakhtin—but without really reading Bakhtin (as my examiners duly noted). I’d set myself a title I could neither change nor deliver: “The transition from monologue to dialogue…” A thing that did not quite exist.

In retrospect, I wish I’d had the courage to simply present that conclusion. But I simply spent longer and longer collecting sources, until wracked by the realisation I didn’t know how to make this situation better, I made the deadline.

I learned my lesson. (And completed the MA, too.)


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