When Do I Get to Be a Scholar?

Ellie Dilworth is a sophomore double majoring in Business Management and Religious Studies.

Just the other day, I was visiting the Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC. As I was walking around, I was brainstorming my upcoming blog post on the institution and thinking of my opening remarks. I was chiefly trying to decide whether to identify myself as a “religious studies scholar” or “scholar of the Bible.” In the midst of this conundrum, I had a very religious studies-y epiphany.  

What gives me the authority to even call myself a scholar? 

I am merely a sophomore in college—quite a long ways away from being nearly as educated on the Israelite culture as REL’s Dr. Jacobs, or as insightful on the symbols in the Book of Revelation as Dr. Trost, or as perceptive to definitions of religion as Dr. McCutcheon. These people (and all the other very accomplished faculty in our department) have rightfully earned the description of a “scholar.” But me? I barely even have a solidified explanation of what religious studies is, much less the legitimacy to be able to call myself a scholar. So, when do I get to be a scholar? 

I thought back to my days in 1st grade, to one of the only things I really remember from that time. My teacher was asking the class what made scientists scientists. Though I don’t remember the exact criteria that we posited, I am sure some of them were along the lines of “they mix stuff together” or “scientists work in labs.” What my teacher then told us completely rocked my first-grade world view.  

“As long as you have a ruler, you are a scientist.” 

Had I been my first-grade teacher (with the privilege of knowing that one of my students would write a blog post about this quote), I would have probably made it a bit more nuanced, but the point still stands. You don’t need a lab coat or some fancy degree to be a scientist, you just have to have a keen sense of curiosity and tools to not only satisfy it, but challenge and provoke it.

I think the same sort of thing applies to scholarship. Sure, a prestigious degree and a few published works absolutely warrant the distinction of scholar in an academic sense. But that doesn’t mean that the term “scholar” is reserved for only those elite few. If you are willing to be a true student, you are indeed a true scholar. Everyone is a scholar if they harbor a curiosity for the discipline that they study and the tools to really dive into it—whether it be a ruler or a department of other scholars willing to guide you on your journey. Being a scholar means to draw your own conclusions based on your own observations and contribute to the field. Scholarship is not passive, but a means of satisfying the curiosity of a greater community.

I will probably wait to publicly dub myself a “scholar” until I finish my higher education, but in the meantime, I have realized that what I want to become is already a part of my identity and only needs more time and focus—and a lot more reading. What a sense of assurance in knowing that, in a sense, I already measure up!