The following essay by Josh McDonough was published in our annual Newsletter in the Spring of 2007, Issue 4.
As I sit in this cold classroom learning the difference between an assignment and a sub-lease, I try to remember how I came to be here. Two years ago, I was in Tuscaloosa studying Asian religions, enjoying the more moderate climes of central Alabama. Now I am in Chicago, where the wind chill is negative twenty degrees, and Buddhism has been replaced by the equally cold and dispassionate law. One year ago, I was visiting Northwestern to learn of their Ph.D. program in Buddhist Studies. What I learned merely reaffirmed what certain professors had communicated to me during my four undergraduate years: a career in academics is an ardous path; traverse it at your own peril.
So, it may seem to you fresh-faced religious studies novices that I am a turncoat. I have chewed off the hand to which my academic experience was shackled. But this is not so. I have carried my academic training with me into the alien lands of the legal profession, and it has served me well. Basically, all of my Religious Studies courses involved reading and discussion. There was a lot of difficult reading, but I found it enjoyable. I dodged classes requiring mathematical acumen for a readon. If I remember the past six months correctly, I have read somewhere close to 1700 pages of law school assignments. Thus, the assignments with which I am currently confronted are more of a challenge in terms of quantity than those I faced during my undergraduate tenure, but I honesty believe that I comprehend the content of these legal assignments with minimal difficulty thanks mostly to the academic training I recieved from the department.
It is true that the Sanskrit, Pali, and Tibetan vocabularies have been exchanged with a strange collection of latin phrases, but the overall framework remains the same. I spend my hours reading opinions, arguments, critiques, and reasoning. Current students may worry, as did I, that upon graduation you will have a degree that, while engaging and enjoyable to earn, will put you at a disadvantage in this fast-paced, gnaw on the skulls of your neighbors world; however, allow me to convince you otherwise. You are not just learning about different religions and social theories. You are not a mere input device for raw data. Quite the contrary, the important skills you are learning are not so simple. You are learning, among other things, how to approach a rich and complex area of human endeavor. You are learning a methodology which translates beyond the field of Religious Studies and can assist you in most areas of professional life.
Oh, and one more thing, as Lieutenant Columbo would say: I arrived in Tuscaloosa in the Fall of 2001. At that time, the department basically consisted of offices, some chairs, and a classroom. During my four years, the department was transformed through the efforts of hardworking individuals. These cyborgs do not rest, even during the summer. Almost every moment of their time is devoted either to their course material or bettering the department in some way. I would like to thank the faculty and Betty (I only mention you specifically because it will probably embarass you) for their enthusiasm and dedication to providing a quality academic environment.
Josh worked in the main office for his senior year (2004-5) and is now completing his first year of law school at DePaul in Chicago.