A Reading Week by the Sea

Joëlle Lucas, 3rd Year PhD Candidate in Theology, tells us about her experiences thanks to St John’s College Student Opportunities Fund.

At an ancient house on the north-eastern coast I found real fellowship with not just other research students who also studied Christian ethics, but with like-minded people eager to journey together – even if just for a week. We filled our time with deep conversations flowing in and out of our activities: personal study time, research presentations from invited guests, local excursions, and meals. We engaged in something which felt almost ancient; something akin to pilgrims journeying together as their paths converged, even if only for a short while.

Since Covid-19 my feelings of isolation were worse than usual and so I was thankful for the chance for a week with others who were eager to engage in the sharing of our research. This week also reminded me that education is not something we do in an isolated compartment of our human lives, but ideally education and learning should be something which flows in and out of our personal, political, and spiritual lives. I study friendship as the main topic of my PhD research and this reading week highlighted the importance of community and friendships which arise from the shared pursuit of truth and human flourishing.

In that sense of sharing, it did not matter if we were discussing an academic paper, playing a board game, or singing together (yes it was an added bonus to have a piano and many talented musicians in the group) it was all part of journeying together which then deepened our delight and dedication to our individual studies. So, we discussed the ethics of the day, and how theology engages contemporary issues, we listened to each other’s research and asked helpful questions and our research will be better for it. But we also shared about our lives and how our research and lives and beliefs interact, and I believe we will be better people for it.

I returned to Durham having read a bit less than I should have on a “reading week”, but with a renewed sense of purpose and joy to help me carry on down the long road towards thesis submission. I am so thankful for John’s support from the student opportunities fund that helped make this week possible. As one of the fellow students reminded me, these are the places to spend money because these events make the hard work of the PhD worthwhile. She was so right! C.S. Lewis said something once about how friendship might not be necessary for life (it does not continue the species) but it does make life worth living!

I hope others might be inspired to conduct their own reading weeks, or as the world opens back up, to invest in the sharing of both life and research because our research matters, and we as individuals matter too. I am so thankful to be part of a college that values research and community; that sees people of having both minds and souls and for the commitment to nourishing both.

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