This is more of a personal testimonial written for the benefit of a few friends who know that I have been against “foreign” education for a while. However, now that I am going for a study trip as a doctoral exchange student to Canada (for 9 months), I feel the need to explain how I got to the position of not only accepting a “foreign” component for my doctoral research, but actually looking forward it.

In 2003, the then-principal of SAIACS invited me to join SAIACS for the doctoral programme as faculty in training. In SAIACS the policy was usually that a talented “MA” student was invited for doctoral education, with the hope that after completing their MA they could finish their doctoral work within 4 years. The catch was that they had to go abroad, to the UK, to do it… since Indian MA’s could not go on to do doctoral work in Seminaries/Bible Colleges without an MTh. I joined SAIACS on the condition that I would not go abroad for this programme, and expressed my desire to do my preparation in India itself. The then-principal at that time said that he would still urge a foreign exposure for a few months, and I said, “we can talk about that later.”

Not all my reasons for not going abroad were noble, but the better part of my rationale included the frustration with Indians who went off abroad and never came back, and even with Indian Christians who went abroad and returned with concepts/research that was totally irrelevant to the Indian context (I knew both types).  Notice that both were inspired by negative realities, even if the positive “Indian Christians must be educated in India to be most effective for India” was in the back of my mind.

Since I was doing my programme in India, I had to do the MTh programme (I joined the Theology department), which took 2 years. Then I had to take a break (like an internship) for one year, and then I had to do my Pre-Doctoral programme for another year to then start my dissertation work (four years, only to get started!) (Naturally my family and friends were surprised that I hadn’t even started my doctoral studies, when they thought I was going to SAIACS to get a PhD.)

Through my MTh programme I was struck by how little I knew, and how much I needed to grow. I was constantly faced by faculty who reminded me that if we don’t try to push the bar, we will be stagnant and limited. One famous line to me was, “you can only grow as tall as the trees around you.” Thankfully, while I was immensely challenged by doing my MTh in SAIACS, I also realised that SAIACS (India) had very tall trees (ie. there was enough to stimulate deep and significant thinking). I must say for the record that the SAIACS MTh (in Theology) is quite rigorous and of a very high standard. Yet, to reach a personal high-standard one needs to personally push the bar and try harder. I found myself having to resist (and sometimes being forced to resist) the temptation of choosing easier topics to instead choose difficult research assignments so that I would get greater exposure.  In effect I found the SAIACS and UTC libraries more than sufficient to meet the high-standards required for an excellent academic pursuit in the MTh level.

However, once I finished my MTh programme and started research towards my doctoral studies, I was struck by how much harder the doctoral programme was from the MTh, and more so how much stronger our doctoral programmes need to be to inspire our students. I say this simply because in SAIACS I was the only Theology doctoral student, while I realised that even though getting a PhD is a lonely affair, a good foreign university would have at least 5-10 students in my specific department (depending on where I go). There would also be systems in place, such as regular seminars and publications, geared to sharpen one-another (again, within the department). Most of all, I realised that there would be many many more books, with global exposure, on things related to my subject area. I realised that while there was a lot of rich potential in Indian Christian colleges, even SAIACS, I felt a deep need for greater support and specialised peer, teacher and resource help.

If I was to evaluate, I think India (especially if we choose a relevant topic) can offer at least 70% of research material and methodology help. But what about the other 30%. I began to see that at least some exposure abroad was not only helpful, but currently essential for students wanting to do a high-quality (international standards) dissertation.

It eventually came to pass that my disseration supervisor and the SAIACS administration decided to to send me abroad, to Canada, for one-academic year, to not only gain research help, but also gain exposure of the foriegn universities. The goal was to not only improve the quality of my disseration but become more effective to help improve doctoral systems here in India. That just confirmed my feelings (desires) and my vision (of wanting Indian Christian studies to improve).

So why Canada?

The answer to “why Canada?” is simple. My disseration supervisor is Canadian and has contacts with McGill university in Montreal, where I will be studying (though I’ll be going through The Presbyterian College). Also, since my topic is on the “Theology of Religion”, I would find a lot of material on the “religion” side of things in McGills strong “Religions” department. I may not get that much help from McGill for my theological component, considering McGill is a secular university, but I’m hoping to make a few quick trips to some Toronto and Ottawa seminaries for that (if funding comes through, that is).

There may even be a possibility of going to to UK for short-term research project as well, but that’s another story… and another time (perhaps).

Conclusion…

I am still doing my PhD from SAIACS. I will get no academic credits in McGill and all my research work is to be submitted to SAIACS. This is exactly what I wanted, to do my PhD in India. However, I also gain valuable exposure in a premiere university and at least another perspective to things.

I still believe that Indian Christians are best equipped if they study in India.

However, I have gained a deeper appreciation of doctoral studies by recognising firstly that it is a global affair, and secondly, that the systems in India (not just SAIACS), are still in their infancy and are not yet read to provide 100% help to doctoral students in Theology.

As Indian students therefore we gain with some foreign exposure, as long as we DO COME BACK, and as long as we can stay focussed on exactly what we’re doing, and why.

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