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Ár nDraíocht Féin
Three Cranes
Chaos Matrix

January 5th, 2005

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12:13 am - Statement of Intent
Below the cut, you'll find my grad school statement of intent. If you're willing, I would love comments. :)

It gets submitted in the next couple of days.

Over the past four years since I graduated from Ohio State with a Bachelor's degree in history, I've been working for Ohio State. This offered me an unexpected benefit: the chance to take classes for free.

Initially, this didn't seem like a major bonus, and I actually ignored this benefit for nearly a year. I thought I was done with school, that there was no reason to head back and soak in the academic atmosphere that I had so recently left. I felt as if I'd left that part of my life behind me.

One day, though, I saw a flier for a class called "Magic, Murder and Mayhem" taught by Professor Anna Grotans, and I realized that I very much wanted to take that class. I'd enjoyed her class on Scandinavian mythology just before I graduated, and I felt drawn to this new class. I felt it would be a chance to take some of the ideas I had learned and apply them in new and creative ways, and that it would give me a chance to work on something interesting and fun. I was right.

I had a riot in the class, applying things I'd learned before, and it ignited a passion I didn't know I had. It led me to take an independent study with Professor Grotans the next quarter where I learned how to read (on a very rudimentary level) Old Norse in an effort to decipher some runic inscriptions. I found a new appreciation for learning and applying the new knowledge to see what I could find. Though I took that class three years ago, I still find the time to dust off my dictionary and translate things to keep it fresh in my mind, and so that I can better understand the people who wrote these myths I love so much.

I began to take more classes after that, working mainly in undergraduate-level religious studies courses. These had always been of interest, but I had gotten my fill of theory as an English major and never really wanted to look at it again. When I looked at the theories of Marx, Jung, Eliade, and Huizinga with this new passion, though, I realized that I had been missing whole levels of interpretation, and these eventually began to affect my own spiritual development as I passed through class after class.

As I progressed through various religious studies classes, I also delved into the Classics department for some interesting-sounding courses. There, I found that the passing interest in classical sources that had been killed off by three quarters of Latin had not given up on me, but had begun to fuel another fire within me. I became interested particularly in the reinterpretation of classical sources by historical religious movements, and that flowed naturally into a minor obsession with New Age Movements and their connection to older myths, magics, and mysteries, particularly paying attention to the reinterpretation (or invention) of these things so that they molded beautifully into a wholly new religious movement: Neo-Paganism.

Through interactions with students and faculty, I have learned that I enjoy helping others learn. In 2003, when I began taking these Classics courses, I also started holding study sessions at a pizza shop north of campus. In these sessions, I was basically re-teaching the lectures for that week in preparation for the quiz at the end of the week. I found that these sessions would often produce interesting questions, and I tried to contact my professors with the same inquiries. Professor Johnston in the Classics department was often the recipient of these emails, helping me to locate information on the off-topic tangents I would look for. These study sessions eventually convinced me that I not only enjoyed teaching, but I was learning more than I ever thought possible from it. A draw toward teaching would later be solidified by a vote taken in one of my classes for the person who the other students "learned the most from", and my name was near the top. I hope that many of my classmates see me in that light, because I know I see them that way.

I decided late in 2003 that I wanted to attend Graduate School in Comparative Studies, with a focus on religious studies and particular attention to Neo-Paganism. Circumstances in my personal life prevented me from finishing the application process for admission in Autumn of 2004, though, as did my undergraduate GPA, which was just under a 3.0. Early on, I had watched my GPA drop consistently as I was more and more disillusioned with the English program at Ohio State, but when I found something I enjoyed (military history), my GPA began to rise steadily, coming just below a 3.0 in the end. Looking at my transcript, you can see that once I found something I really loved (religious studies, Germanic studies, and classics), my GPA excelled. The only class where I received less than an "A" since graduation was an English class. I'm now quite proud of my GPA.

Also, I felt the need to test my ability in some graduate-level classes before I applied, so I signed up for two religious studies classes as a graduate non-degree student. I received A's in both classes, and can honestly say that I learned not only about theory and religion, but also about myself. I took Professor Jones' class on myth and ritual, which showed me how, even without knowing it, I play out part of a mythic drama every day, and this has made me very conscious about how I act and what I do. In Professor Urban's class on New Religious Movements, I learned that there are important aspects of play in everything we do. These two realizations have greatly affected me.

In the case of the first, you'll find a very personal account of the realization in my writing sample. Most often, my academic writing is not this personal, but I felt that the writing sample shows the way that my studies have affected my thought process while still remaining analytical and also trying to find new ways to solve a problem. Most interestingly, it shows that we can apply the theories of religion to ourselves as observers, and use our own minds as guinea pigs to work out complexities we may never have thought of before.

This led me to thinking about the idea of self-creation, where one group finds itself with a ready-made theory of religion (such as Eliade's theories of sacred, profane, and eternal return; Marx's theory of advantageous exploitation; or Jung's theories about archetypes and the collective unconsciousness) that they can build upon in order to create their own religion from scratch. One particular case study, a Neo-Pagan organization called Ár nDraíocht Féin, this is extremely evident. They have taken the theories of Eliade, Jung, Campbell, and several others and started from the theory, working backwards to access the religion. It's a fascinating process that they're going through, and ignoring it would be a terrible disservice to our understanding of religion.

When I undertook my final essay in Professor Urban's class, I was looking for ways to understand Neo-Pagans groups that involve humour and play in myth, ritual, social interaction, and magic. I've studied these groups extensively from the inside as a participant and from the outside as an observer, and the idea of play as something sacred and humour as something vital has always produced stumbling blocks to the understanding of these groups.

When Professor Urban recommended that I read Huizinga's work, Homo Ludens, I was skeptical. No one else had managed to put together a cohesive statement about the use of play in ritual, and I expected this to be no different. A quick skim of the text, however, made me wonder why I had never read this in the past. Not only could I see Neo-Paganism finally fitting into something resembling an explanation, but I could find excellent explanations of certain sub-groups that I have never been able to explain. Huizinga's theories are not the end, though: my understanding of this facet has led me to looking for more ways to understand these religions, and it seems that the next step is to look into postmodernism, something I have tried in the past but always failed to understand. Part of my desire for future work in religious studies is to finally understand and apply postmodernism to Neo-Pagan religions, if that is even possible.

As I write this essay, I am amazed at just how excited I feel as I type it. It is very much a joy to write, and I already find myself thinking about the issues raised above and re-reading my writing sample to pick it apart. In the end, the culture and discussion of academia is where I think I belong. My experiences with this department, as well as with the Departments of Germanic Languages and Literatures and Greek and Latin, have shown me that there is an exciting group of faculty to work with, as well as a wealth of information and resources available in the form of student interaction. Over the past four years, I've possibly learned as much from the students in the classes I've taken as I have from the instructors. The focus on comparing approaches and ideas is also extremely attractive to me, as it shows that the department is open to new ideas, fresh thoughts, and open discussion. Experience has shown that there is much benefit in exploring the ideas of other departments and courses, and I think that I will learn best in such an environment.

What I want most from this experience is to better my understanding of not only my fellow humans, but also of myself. It's a tall order, but I'm personally a deeply religious person, and as I study these things I find that I learn more about who I am, and this gives me a remarkable amount of confidence and peace. I work hard to make my religion a strength in my studies, not a hurdle or roadblock, and I think that I do well keeping it that way. I very much hope that my abilities will be an asset to the Comparative Studies department, as I know that the faculty, courses, and approach that the department offers will be an asset to me.
Current Mood: accomplished
Current Music: "Autour du Rocher", -JB

(12 comments Leave a comment)


Date:January 5th, 2005 06:35 am (UTC)
I like it. There was only one thing that caught my grammatically anal eye, and it was in the fifth paragraph from the bottom:

This led me to thinking about the idea of self-creation,

I'm not sure why I don't like it. I prefer a more formal grammatical structure than that, I suppose.

But, overall, the whole thing rocks and I have no comments on how to make it better.

Good luck.
[User Picture]
Date:January 5th, 2005 12:16 pm (UTC)
Ditto for both comments above, but I went anal over the first sentence. Schools graduate, not people, so it needs to be passive, as in "since I was graduated from Ohio State." Also Homo Ludens needs something: italics.

All in all, a fine statement, with just enough personal info and research/literature-based back-up for the assertion. Length seems about right and doesn't start droning on and on. Always a plus.
[User Picture]
Date:January 5th, 2005 12:53 pm (UTC)
Lovely! You always remind me of just how much I need (and want) to learn about practically everything. I don't know where I'm headed, but I know I definitely love learning, so I look forward to at least tasting many more classes, including some of the weird ones required of me such as Soil Science.

Anyway, I agree with the people above, but also:

One particular case study, a Neo-Pagan organization called Ár nDraíocht Féin, this is extremely evident. is incorrect grammar. I think you meant to start this sentence with "in."

I immediately was going to write that one should never use "you" in a paper, but since you said you wanted it to be very personal it's okay. However, you only used in a couple of times, so perhaps changing it to "one," "anyone," or rearranging the lines so you don't need "you" would be much more professional. I'm coming from a slightly journalistic angle (I was a copy editor for two years), but regardless of the media it's considered kind of immature to use "you" when it can be avoided.

For instance: In the case of the first, you'll find a very personal account of the realization in my writing sample. Why not make this into something like, "In the case of the first, my writing sample provides excellent proof (?) of these realizations." or something (look at the line before it.) I derno, just a thought.

And one last thing, you immediately mention that you took Magic, Murder, and Mayhem, and then say you applied it, making it sound sort of like... well, like you ran around murdering and causing mayhem right away. Maybe double-check that graph for shady connotations. ^-^;;

Gotta go to class now, but congrats! I'm sure you will get into grad school with that immediately and will also have a big celebration party afterwards as well. ;)
Date:January 6th, 2005 08:13 pm (UTC)
I second the notion: never write in the second person-- it makes for very weak writing. I will read this again from a graduate student point of view (since I made it in) and see if I have any other criticisms. Right now my eyes hurt from the computer screen.
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Date:January 5th, 2005 02:44 pm (UTC)
Two grammatical suggestions then some comments . . .

I was looking for ways to understand Neo-Pagans groups (there shouldn't be an s after Neo-Pagan)

my understanding of this facet has led me to looking for more (I think it should be look not looking)

I also wanted to echo the "congrats" and "great statement" sentiments from above. The only thematic suggestion I would make is to explain more particularly why Comparaitive Studies as opposed to Religious Studies for your department. Or is there no Religious Studies dept? I would just think that you want to make the department feel special, like I want Comparative studies because it will allow me to tie in my interests in this and this, or in that department I can look at religion from other levels and points of view (which you did discuss and allude to in the beginning when you talked about classes you took after graduating). But I think somewhere in the conclusion it would be good to state again a little more clearly. As you apply to grad school you are trying to sell your self (your grades, your experiences, and your passion for the subjects) and it is always good to let them know why you want them as well as why they want you.

But on the whole, this was very well written (concise, humorous, intelligent, etc). But that is always the case with you . . . I have all the confidence in the world in you. And I think you would make an awesome Grad TA!
[User Picture]
Date:January 5th, 2005 07:12 pm (UTC)

For what it's worth.

I can't speak for the particular program to which you're applying, but I've been the assistant to the professor who coordinated a graduate admissions program at Boston University. Provided your GRE scores are respectable (if they're required), and based upon what you said about your grades, I see no reason why your application wouldn't go into the "A" pile for evaluations.

A = Favorable chances for admission; committee makes a careful reading. Strong likelihood of merit-based financial awards and/or TA position.

B = Chances for admission are good, but committee will probably make suggestions about how to rank this person in case there's a cutoff for enrollment in the program(usually not recommended for merit-based financial aid or TA positions).

C = Generally not acceptable, but the application is complete and committee may want to suggest ways of improving chances in some later academic year. Possible recommendation of admission on probation, if there's room in the program.

::knocking on wood::
[User Picture]
Date:January 5th, 2005 08:17 pm (UTC)
One thing jumps out at me--- I had a riot in the class is too coloquial, unless you mean it literally.

Overall, very well done. :)

[User Picture]
Date:January 5th, 2005 09:42 pm (UTC)
i love your evident enthusiasm-- it's palpable how excited you are about it all in this, and aren't just treating this statement as a hoop to jump through (which is more how i wrote my grad school statements.)

the other comments have covered most of the critiques i'd offer about it. i have to say, though, that the use of "you" bothers me as well; i know you want it to be personal, but your tone is already personal, and the use of second person is a little... wheedling. (okay, yes, your aim is to butter them into accepting you, but it ought to be more tacet than explicit.) for me, this grated more in the paragraph about your GPA than in the one about your writing samples, particularly this:

Looking at my transcript, you can see that once I found something I really loved (religious studies, Germanic studies, and classics), my GPA excelled.

i think you could just scarp the beginning and start it at "Once I found something I really loved..." without losing any of the meaning or effect.

but overall, i think it's great: you show your strengths and interests well, and it'll grab their attention from the get-go. good luck! (though i doubt you need it.) :)
[User Picture]
Date:January 5th, 2005 09:44 pm (UTC)
and, um, "scarp" = "scrap". which you probably could tell. 'doh! ;)
[User Picture]
Date:January 6th, 2005 01:46 pm (UTC)
Uhm, I just added you to my friend's list, hope you don't mind. I think chronarchy probably recommended you to me some time back but I didn't check it out. Then I saw your nifty Angel icon and realized we have too much in common for me not to add you!
[User Picture]
Date:January 6th, 2005 05:28 pm (UTC)
The comment I had that I kept forgetting to post is to watch the word count. I don't know what schools you're applying to, but I know that most of the ones I applied to had a word requirement.

Sometimes they wanted no more than 3,000, sometimes no more than 250.

Just something to check before you submit.
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Date:January 6th, 2005 05:32 pm (UTC)
Good point. They say "about 5 pages". This clocks in a tad under 5 1/2.

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