“The best academics are really just autobiographers in disguise,” my M.A. Program Director, Dr. Dwight Hopkins, said to me during my first (and only) office visit. We talked about our mutual appreciation for jazz music, among other things, and I took comfort in his words.
I was a naive first-year who believed a two-year M.A. program from UChicago of all places, the bastion of secularism, was a solid foundation for becoming an Islamic Scholar.
I kid you not. I really did have grandiose visions of being an Islamic Scholar one day. I, Rafia, who understands no more than two words of Arabic! (Yani is one of them ;)
I laugh at my naïveté now. But it hasn’t been easy to accept that my goals have clearly changed since that Autumn day three years ago.
When I finally discovered what lay ahead of me, I knew I didn’t have what it takes – and frankly, wasn’t willing to do the work required to get there. Spend at least three years in some Arab country just so that I can be eligible to apply to a PhD program? Was this even what I wanted?
I couldn’t accept the truth, of course, not without a fight – in my case, tons of anxiety and doubt. If I am giving up on studying Islam for a living, does that mean I am giving up on God as well? I thought.
I’ve finally accepted that we weren’t all meant to be scholars or academics, although at times I still pine for the life I could have had, was so close to having. Even now, I fall into Quixotism every now and then – I am I, Don Quixote, and academia is my windmill – using such words as ‘apropos’ because I heard a professor say it in class once and thought it was… apropos.
I used to be afraid to tell people I have a Master’s in Religious Studies. I didn’t want them to assume I was some expert and have them find out I’m just some fraud. I still don’t know how I survived my program.
But I am finally okay with where I am now. Maybe for the first time in my life, I am actually doing what I like. And I don’t feel bad about it.
Strangely, it was through blogging particularly that I’ve come to see that my writing can be useful. I don’t regret my time in grad school at all (best thing I ever did – and my proudest achievement). I am still interested in Religion and will never stop being interested in it. I’d say that a good 60-70% of my writing makes some reference to religion, even if it’s just my observations or experience. So yeah, I am making use of it.
I thought about what Professor Hopkins said earlier today as I was preparing that poor little chicken for dinner (it was either the chicken or a cow). “It’s not just academics. It’s all of us. We’re all just writing our own autobiographies, but in different ways.”
And if mine makes reference to cake and cows, then so be it!