Resisting the Vice of Curiosity: Reflections on a PhD Quest for Knowledge

Over on the Baylor Graduate School blog, I reflect on my experience as a grad student, and the perennial temptation of the vice of curiositas:

Early in my graduate student career I had the misfortune of reading Paul Griffiths’ essay, “The Vice of Curiosity.” The essay outlines a distinction in the Christian tradition between the vice of curiosity and the virtue of studiousness. Curiositas, in the classical sense, means something different from our use of the word today. The curious person, Griffiths explains, aims at possessing knowledge to use for his own benefit; the studious one recognizes that “anything that can be known by any one of us is already known to God and has been given to us as unmerited gift.”

After reading this essay, I realized how frequently I was tempted to do my work not for it’s own sake, but for what it could get me: the grade, the publication, the job. I realized how my work was driven by the desire to “be known as one who knows.” As the job market loomed, the temptation toward curiosity only grew. To grasp for control, to seek mastery, was a way of managing the anxiety and uncertainty of being a young academic.

Faced with this temptation, what can be done? I go on to reflect on four practices, “small acts of resistance,” learned from mentors and colleagues which pushed back on curiositas. Read more about these practices of studiousness here.

Why do we study?

Brazos Fellows kicks off one week from today! As Paige and I make final preparations for next weekend’s orientation, I’ve been reflecting on the purpose of theological study. Why do we study? For what ends? More particularly, why are we inviting six fellows to invest significant time and energy in study?

I’ve learned much on these questions from theologian Paul Griffiths, whose essay, “The Vice of Curiosity,” will be the first text we discuss in our Course of Study next week. In this essay, Griffiths explains the theological distinction between the vice of curiosity and the virtue of studiousness. Curiosity—which, traditionally, has a very different meaning from our use today—involves learning in order to gain greater control, while studiousness means learning out of delight.

Continue reading “Why do we study?”