Mark Johnson is an associate professor of Theology at Marquette University (Milwaukee, WI). His specialization is in St. Thomas Aquinas.

Graduate seminar papers

After a long discussion with a graduate student today I began to wonder about how we faculty think about papers. Students develop their ideas and topics over the course of a semester, and then in the last month crash-write the thing, finding whatever secondary sources they can find, and then almost inevitably just stop writing, say it’s done, and turn it in. “The curtain just falls,” the student said. In short, the exigencies of a semester system don’t necessarily help us produce our best work, which sometimes demands letting the topic breathe in our thinking, and on paper. And maybe we’re waiting for an ILL book from Germany. Since we learn skills in chunks, maybe we should emphasize in our classes the chunks most closely-linked with the skill set employed in our sub-disciplines; so I’m leaning more towards my experiences in graduate school, when we’d write an ‘exposition of the text,’ keeping as close to the primary text(s) as one could. At the moment I honestly don’t care a whit if a student lards up the paper up with impressive secondary sources. The real craft to develop in a historical theology class is one’s ability to let the text’s author speak anew, through one’s skill.

At least that’s what I think today.

Farewell to a new friend

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