On BBC's Sherlock the titular character retreats into his "mind palace" -- a repository of memory and crucial bits of information -- in order to solve some of the more challenging mysteries he is facing and cannot seem to overcome through his prowess in the powers of deduction. In Sherlock's "mind palace" there are halls and doors in, and behind, which lay the keys to unlocking the most difficult of enigmas. It's pretty flippin' cool...not to mention handy.
I tell you this because in late October and November 2016 I will be taking what are known as "comprehensive examinations," "qualifying examinations," or "comps." I will need to construct my own version of a "mind palace" to pass them.
In the University of Florida Religion graduate program qualifying examinations form a bridge between course work and dissertation research. They are meant to assess the student’s familiarity with the essential works, authors, issues, methods, and theories that have defined their respective fields of study. Further, students must demonstrate their capacity to think “on their feet,” being able to synthesize critically -- and in a limited time span -- the extant literature and take an informed position vis-à-vis it. Each exam is five hours long and under normal circumstances the exams are administered one-per-week over a period of four weeks.
To say the least, these are kind of a big deal. In the months leading up to the "comps" graduate students are expected to immerse themselves in their readings and be prepared to cite, critique, and call upon these readings as they sit their exams.
And so I decided that if Sherlock has a "mind palace" then I should have a "comp cave." Or, perhaps, my very own "comp cathedral."
Essentially, the aim is to first retreat into my "comp cave" to properly prepare for the exams in the Fall. Thus, as I get into the "thick" of my book/article list I am going to step away from life as usual and instead pursue an intensive season of reading and reflection. This means I will not be blogging, publishing, or speaking from now until after my exams.
Indeed, other than a few commitments to speaking (see my Public Speaking page for more info) and an editorial project for an upcoming encyclopedia on religion in Latin America that I've already committed to, I will not be doing any other public work as a scholar until January 2017.
Instead, I will read books like Islam is a Foreign Country and The Making of Salafism as I prepare for my exam in the area of "Global Islam;" I will acquaint myself with theories of transnationalism, borderlands, and hybridity in the American hemisphere through works like Juan Soldado: Rapist, Murderer, Martyr, Saint and The Americas: A Hemispheric History; I will come to appreciate the breadth and depth, ruptures and continuities of North American religious history through texts such as Religion and American Culture: A Reader and Heartwood: The First Generation of Theravada Buddhism in America; and finally I will familiarize myself with the historical complexity and stunning contemporary diversity of religion in Latin America by reading works The Devil and the Land of the Holy Cross: Witchcraft, Slavery, and Popular Religion in Colonial Brazil, In Darkness and Secrecy: The Anthropology of Assault Sorcery in Amazonia, and Terror in the Land of the Holy Spirit: Guatemala under General Efrain Rios Montt 1982-1983 and more.
And so, I enter into my "comp cave" to get these readings done. The hope is that by October I will have transformed my cave into a vaulted and mentally visualized cathedral where I can readily locate a set of theories, memories, and critical reflections on these readings and themes. This will be my "comp cathedral," from whence I will rely on the historically grounded "method of loci" -- also known as memory theater, the art of memory, the memory palace, or, in the world of Sherlock, the mind palace -- to pass my comprehensive exams and enter into the next phase of my doctoral work on religion.
When I get to the other side, I'll be sure to let you know how it all went. It is also my intention to take what I've learned and to go on reporting and commenting on religion and culture news and happenings via my blogging, op-eds, and analysis pieces for public, popular, and academic publications. In the end, this work will be better because of my time in the "comp cave." And honestly, I'm looking forward to it.
With that folks, I'm off into my cave. I will see you in January 2017.