My PhD Journey: First Year

Published June 14, 2019 by Sam Victor

PhD scholar Sam Victor, awardee of the Woolf Institute Cambridge Scholarship, reflects on his first year on the PhD programme at the University of Cambridge.

My first year at the Department of Social Anthropology and the Woolf Institute was a wonderful experience. It took some time getting used to the rhythm of things here and to the cultural particularities of the university, whether it be the formal halls and other high British customs, the fast and steady pulse of intellectual life (seemingly infinite conferences, talks and lectures) or just the extraordinary setting of the city. Over the course of the year, though, I've learned to navigate this environment that has no shortage of opportunities to enrich my research project and to meet new people.

Punting in Cambridge (Credit: Sam Victor)

One of the most fruitful aspects of being a PhD Scholar at the Woolf Institute is the multidisciplinary environment, particularly of the Research Hub where I often work. I was happy to have a fellow social anthropologist around, but also learned a lot through my interaction with history, political science, law and arts scholars who also work there. At my previous university, the anthropology department was organised in the typical North American fashion in what is called the 4-sub-disciplines: social/cultural anthropology, archaeology, ethnolinguistics and biological anthropology. However, at Cambridge, social anthropology is a department of its own. This has its advantages in terms of creating a space of intense intellectual engagement with shared theoretical currents and research problems. But, at the same time, being separated from regular interaction with people whose interests, questions and methods are sometimes dramatically different (even opposing) can get a bit claustrophobic. Having the chance to share space and have fascinating conversations with people from diverse disciplinary backgrounds has been great, not to mention the opportunities that the Woolf Institute provides for public engagement (the annual Research Day and other events) during which we have a chance to translate and communication our research to wider audiences.

Sam Victor with Dr Esther-Miriam Wagner, Director of Research (Woolf Institute)

During this first year, I was involved in several Woolf Institute projects, including the development of a handbook that compiles the experiences and expertise from the Institute's longstanding training workshops on multifaith approaches to end of life care. As the UK's population becomes increasing diverse, doctors and caregivers in hospitals and hospices across the country are facing a myriad of intercultural and interreligious challenges. The ongoing handbook project seeks to distil from several years of training workshops with chaplains, religious figures and medical professionals a guide for understanding these challenges. This includes an overview of the landscape of religious diversity in the UK medical context, an outline of the primary areas of concern in multifaith end of life care and a collection of case studies that provide a practical look on a variety of common situations. I look forward to continuing to contribute this project.

I also had the chance to co-tutor one of the Institute's online courses called Religion is…, which was created by other PhD Scholars in order to give participants a new look on the subject of religion and how it is defined and understood in society today.

As for the next step, I'll be off in the field doing the principle research for my PhD, spending time in Nashville, Tennessee where I will be exploring local efforts at interreligious community building between Christians and Muslims.

Sam Victor is an awardee of the Woolf Institute Cambridge Scholarship.

Sam's project, which is supervised by Professor Joel Robbins, examines the ethics of relationships among Evangelical Christians who engage in informal interreligious dialogue and friendship building with their Muslim neighbours in Nashville, Tennessee.

The Woolf Institute Cambridge Scholarship is co-funded by the Woolf Institute and the Cambridge Commonwealth, European and International Trust and supports outstanding PhD scholars selected from among applicants in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences whose research must be relevant to the focus of the Woolf Institute - the multi-disciplinary study of relations between Jews, Christians and Muslims. The application process for 2020-21 entry will open in September 2019. For further information,click here.

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