After almost four weeks of instituting The Schedule, however imperfectly (or, in the case of this last week, almost not at all - thanks, stomach bug), I am pleased to report that progress has been slow but consistent. I wrote almost 20 pages and read 2.5 books.
I had hoped to be in a new research phase by now, for the Egyptian half of the project, but writing up last summer’s research is taking much longer than I expected. (Granted, I tend to have unreasonable expectations about how quickly I can do just about everything.) Back then, I read dozens of sermons by John Chrysostom, jotted down pages of potentially relevant sections and references (thematically organized) and despaired that I didn’t have a thing to say about it all.
Well, after all these years of paper-writing, it still amazes me how much writing is a process of discovery. Once I forced myself to start putting something in writing, anything, it turned out that I had plenty of thoughts. Most of them are rough and inchoate, but once something is on the page, it troubles my brain until I figure it out and express it clearly.
Last semester I wrote about Chrysostom’s conception of the domestic church and how it centers on a re-formulation of the domestic banquet. This semester, I am writing about:
A) his ideas about literal vs. “spiritual” fasting, which leads into issues of the relationship between soul and body,
B) the place of gluttony in his view of sin, and thus the place of fasting or moderation in his approach to the whole spiritual life, and
C) the role of social factors (like competition or peer pressure, or differences of socio-economic status within the congregation, etc.) in the communal experience of fasting for his audience.
I could probably write the entire dissertation on Chrysostom, since he has so much to say about everything, but I’m not going to. I think the original plan of using two extended case studies - essentially half the dissertation on Chrysostom and Antioch, and the other half on Shenoute and Egypt (yay documentary papyri!) - is the right way to go. Egypt will have to wait a little longer, that’s all.