Friday

University Catch Up // Semester Two

I can't believe that I only have three more deadlines until I finish my master's. When I first thought about studying my MA, it seemed like a hugely overwhelming and intimidating thing but here we are, almost at the end, and I feel like I've just been swept along with a studying tide. I was picked up in September, carried along for a while, and now I've been set down at the end looking back over the past year like How did I get here? The good news is that it was far less scary than I could ever have imagined. The bad news is I don't want it to end! Now that I'm approaching the tail end, let's have a look back over my second semester. 
University semester two catch up
GATEWAY TO INDEPENDENT STUDY

Technically there were three modules this semester but, in reality, it was more like two. The third, Gateway to Independent Study, consisted of short weekly tasks to complete that would help me prepare for my dissertation. These started as simply as 'identify three areas that you might be interested in researching further' and ended up with the still-fairly-simple 'write a 250 word critique of this text'. To complete the module, I've had to write my proposal and I'll be given a mark of pass or fail. My dissertation is based around public response to celebrity death, but I'll write a whole post on that while I'm writing it.

DEATH AND VISUAL CULTURE

I don't think I can adequately express how excited I was to start this module. Not only did I specialise in art during my teacher training, it was also art that really cemented my interest in death- you know that scene in The Others where Nicole Kidman finds the album of postmortem photographs? I was absolutely enraptured as a 13 year old. I'd had no idea this existed before and it fascinated me! Then there was also the fact that my course director- the main lecturer- specialises in visual culture, so I knew we were going to get some really top quality teaching.

Our first few weeks were spent on pre-Medieval Christian representations of death. My lecturer is currently researching some niche Medieval tombs so it was really interesting to read her research and discuss it with her. At this point, we also looked at Death and the Maiden- representations of the female form alongside death. This coincided very nicely with a Valentine's Day lecture on sex and death, which was my absolute favourite lecture throughout the year. We had a really lively discussion on coffin calendar art, in which glamour models pose in lingerie atop coffins. It's all very strange but so interesting! If you're interested, there's a Daily Mail article here all about the coffin calendars.

We then moved on to more modern concepts including art and death in world religions. Something that I loved and wished we could have spent more time on was looking at visual culture in a non-religious context. This included looking at unconsecrated cemeteries, spontaneous shrines at sites of tragedy such as Columbine, and commissioned memorials for large scale deaths, including Ground Zero. I found this so interesting that I'm considering doing my PhD on something along the lines of memorials at sites of death, and it also ties in with my dissertation in terms of the shrines at locations related to celebrities after their deaths. 

Finally, we watched a film related to death (I chose A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence- small review here) before starting work on our assessments. This was really interesting because we had to create a presentation and rationale about absolutely anything related to death and visual culture. I chose to write about funeral selfies, something I'd considered for my dissertation. Too late, I realised I could have done it on the My Chemical Romance video for Helena and I'm still absolutely fuming with myself for not thinking of it sooner!

I've now presented my work but I won't get the grade until after I submit my rationale at the end of May. I'm not sure how well it went. It was very different to the others- mine was much less focused on analysing the images and more on the theory behind why they're created- and I think I rushed through it. I may be very strong at writing essays but I'm definitely not great at presentations! If it were in person I'd have been fine because I'm obviously used to standing up in front of people all day, but this was done via the distance learning software, like a conference call. I'm just hoping my rationale will be good enough to pull my overall grade up. 

DEATH AND THE CHRISTIAN TRADITION

This was, in theory, an optional module but I didn't feel like it was really a choice. The alternative was something called Postgraduate Seminar, which was described as a 4000 word mini dissertation, but I wasn't entirely clear on that. Although I'd found my first theology module really difficult and vowed to never study any more theology, I ended up in this position where I felt I didn't really have any choice. However, I've enjoyed it much more than I expected.

Everything started easily enough with a look at the differences between theology and religious studies. The issue here for me is that, unlike religious studies, theology assumes a position from within the religion, so I have to think like a Christian. Unfortunately, I'm not too hot on the old Bible knowledge (case in point: In my last university post, I accidentally wrote that Jesus rose after three weeks instead of three days, and it took me an embarrassingly long time to notice!). I'd been disappointed in my mark for my first theology module (details below) and it had been highlighted that my work showed a lack of understanding with modern biblical use so I was hugely intimidated when I started.

There then followed three long weeks studying the resurrection of Christ. At the time, I got a little fed up of reading more about resurrection but by the third week, I found my knowledge and understanding had really improved, and I was grasping some quite complex concepts, so in retrospect that was very useful, particularly as this knowledge has underpinned the rest of our study.

After all this work on resurrection, we got into the stuff I was really looking forward to: Sin, heaven, hell and purgatory. You can take the girl out of the emo... We looked at different beliefs from a whole range of theologians as well as the writings of early Christians. The week on heaven was really interesting because we studied a brief overview of historical beliefs in heaven and how these have changed over the centuries. Our final two weeks were supposed to be spent reading about martyrdom but by this point I had my deadline approaching, so I'm saving those readings until a later date. 

For my assignment, I was given a huge list of questions to choose from. Initially, I wanted to write about whether heaven is 'sentimentalism or true Christian theology'. However, although I loved the readings on heaven, it became clear that this was going to be tricky to answer critically and ran the risk of me just writing a chronology of belief in heaven. Instead, I chose to answer the darkest of questions- 'Should the idea of hell be demythologised?' Demythologisation is a concept mainly associated with a theologian called Bultmann, who argued that nothing in Christianity is relevant except the individuals relationship with God and therefore all mythical elements, including the portrayal of hell as a fiery prison of punishment, should be removed from the doctrine. As I researched, I began unravelling the complex string of demythologisation and realised it's way more complicated than I first realised. It's heavily based on Heidegger's existentialism that I learned about in my first module but I slowly found I was understanding more and more. 

My first deadline was just the first 1000 words of this 3000-word essay, which essentially ended up as a critique of Bultmann's demythology argument and a short plan for my remaining essay. Even though I'd enjoyed writing it, and really engaged with the theology over the month of writing it (yes, I spent an entire month writing 1000 words), I knew that theology wasn't my strong point. I took the lecturer's advice on board and included a lot more biblical references, carefully checking with my Christian friends to ensure they were accurate, but I still felt incredibly nervous. Imagine my delight when I found out I had got 70%! My feedback was really positive and my lecturer's written some really helpful comments to improve. Now I just need to write the remaining 2000 words and hope it stays in the distinction bracket!

SEMESTER ONE ASSIGNMENTS

I finally got back the grades for my Theology, Philosophy and Ethics assignments. In the first one- the dossier which I was feeling really cocky about- I mercifully got 70%. I'd have felt very stupid after all my bravado about how easy it was if I'd failed! Unfortunately, as I said above, my essay was not so good. I got 58%, which is a pass, and I think it's only my written quality that stopped me failing. The pass mark for MA starts at 50% so if I hadn't had such positive comments for my writing, I think I would have failed. The good news is that it gave me a lot to work on and, as we've seen with my latest theology grade, I've managed to improve massively. 

Things are coming along very nicely. I can't wait to start on my dissertation! 

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1 comment :

  1. Your masters just sounds SO interesting! Like I kind of want to study it, but then I know really it's just your passion that makes it so interesting for me haha. (I def couldn't motivate myself to do essays on it haha!) It really does sound fascinating though.

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