Sunday, May 20, 2007

Masters Degree Awarded and Thesis Completed

Last weekend I was p;rivileged to attend the commencement ceremony for Salt Lake Theological Seminary and was awarded the Master of Arts degree with a specialization in Intercultural Studies.

The last of the critical feedback on my thesis was received and incorporated as well. The title is “Burning Man Festival as Life-Enhancing, Post-Christendom ‘Middle Way,’” and it came with the following comments by one of my readers:

This is a superbly written and well argued analysis of Burning Man—its history and the lessons its success might have for the Christian church in the United States. The argument is cogent. The use of the modernist analysis of Victor Turner along with the late modernist Peter Berger and the post-modernist Hakim Bey to theoretically frame his analysis, reflected the very cultural shifts we are currently undergoing. In such a time of transition it is probably necessary to use all three in order to fully capture the complexity of an event such as Burning Man.

The author showed great facility in his handling of the scholarly literature necessary for his analysis. The careful reader comes away with great confidence that the author has mastered the normative sources, uses them faithfully, and yet goes beyond them for his own conclusions.

Of course, using an interdisciplinary approach one always runs the danger of not being considered fully expert in any of the disciplines. Although we could add books to reference to almost any area of consideration in this thesis, none seemed essential to the argument. The author does not come across as novice in any of the areas he covers, and convinces by making pointed observations and sober judgments.

The choices of the Jesus Movement and the Rainbow Family of Living Light as comparative foils were especially appropriate. Important movements, one Christian, one not, one enduring, the other enormously influencial through the movements it birthed. It would have been interesting to have the author speculate on what the fate of Burning Man might be, in light of the two trajectories of these comparative examples.

The most difficult section of the thesis is the ecclesiological reflexivity chapter. There is nothing particularly wrong with the chapter, and the suggestions the author makes regarding what the Christian church might learn from Burning Man seem helpful. Indeed, a great deal of expertise is evident in the author’s exposition of the half dozen positive lessons we might learn from Burning Man. But in a sense the author is struggling himself when he describes the Christian church in the United States as a struggling church. Perhaps the real problem is not the specific weaknesses the very success of Burning Man exposes, but that the church does not see itself as struggling. The church does not see that it has accommodated itself to an astonishing degree to a culture that is struggling, and in so doing the church has both infected itself with the same struggles and has inoculated itself from seeing its own disease.

I think this is a brilliant study, one of the best Masters theses I have ever read. I commend both the author and his professors and advisors.

--Terry C. Muck
Professor of World Religion
Asbury Theological Seminary

I look forward to using my academic study, and the lessons that have been learned as a result of my research and writing of the thesis. I hope that new and greater opportunities open up as a result. The question is where does a young scholar with expertise in the religious landscape of America and the West, cross-cultural and missional training, and the hopes for future Ph.D. studies go in the near future?


Anonymous said...

CONGRATULATIONS, John!!!! What an amazing accomplishment- you should be so proud. I hope you're allowing yourself the freedom to bask in the afterglow of your hard work... you deserve it.

Way to go!!!


philjohnson said...

Well done John. I am sure you will feel relieved and that the effort was well worth the personal-financial sacrifices of shifting to Utah.

Lainie Petersen said...

If you are really serious about wanting suggestions for doctoral study, let me know, because I have some suggestions. I don't want to be guilty of taking what might be a rhetorical question too seriously, though!

And congratulations!

Scott Eggert said...

You are certainly to be commended. Your hard work and dedication to studies in areas both academically and geographically where the church has continually resisted change should be lauded. You are a prophet whom deserves great honor, even in your home town.

This will surely usher you into new and dynamic opportunities.

I look forward to the read.....

John W. Morehead said...

Allison, Philip, and Scott, thanks for the kudos. I am sure that the degree will bring new opportunities, and hopefully new credibility as well.

Lainie, thanks for the offer to share some suggestions on topics for doctoral studies. I am open to that, but have interests and ideas as to what to pursue already. I was really asking more about what opportunities might be available for a doctoral student in terms of "where" geographically and institutionally.

Lainie Petersen said...

Actually, that (institutions) was what I was going to suggest. (I have a strong interest in academic programs for church/ministry leaders, and am particularly interested in "non-traditional" education). There are a couple of programs that I think may be up your alley, and they might not restrict you to one geographic location, if that is a concern. Let me know.

I've also downloaded your thesis. Looks excellent, and I am looking forward to reading it more in-depth.

John W. Morehead said...

Lainie, I'd be happy to consider your suggestions.

Lainie Petersen said...

Here are some ideas:

1. University of Wales, Lampeter

They have a first class graduate school of theology, and are very, very open to study on New Religious Movements. Their PhD program is, like many schools in the UK, research based, so you wouldn't be taking additional classes. You also don't have to live on campus, but can correspond with your advisor via email and make occasional visits to Wales.

2. The London School of Theology

This is another UK-based program that allows for distance education with only occasional visits to campus. This school is distinctly evangelical in outlook, which may be a bad or a good thing, depending on your perspective.

3. The California Institute of Integral Studies

Now hear me out on this one: CIIS is a rather new agey school, though it is fully accredited and has been around for a long time. The reason I suggest it is that it has an online program (with short residencies on campus) in Transformative Studies, which is highly interdisciplinary. There is a big emphasis on cultural studies, along with an openness to the spiritual, so this may end up being right up your alley. They may also be a bit more tolerant than an exclusively Christian school of some of your fringe interests.

4. Pacifica Graduate Institute

Pacifica has a PhD in mythological studies program that is completed both online and in short residencies. I suggest it because myth seems to be a real interest of yours.

5. Fuller Seminary DMiss Program

Fuller has recently changed its DMiss program to low-residency program that would not require that you be on campus full time.

6. The Union Institute & University

The Union Institute has a PhD program in interdisciplinary studies that lets you put your own program, and dissertation committee, together. It is low residency, which means that you will be able to do much of your work off campus.

All of these programs are accredited, so you can be sure that the degrees will be accepted elsewhere. I don't know what your plans are, so one of the more "traditional" institutions may be a better choice if you want to get a teaching position at an evangelical seminary. On the other hand, some of the more unique institutions might provide you with an education and a background that is very suited to your future ministry.

Hope this helps!

John W. Morehead said...

Thanks, Lainie. I'll consider these.

Anonymous said...


I'm very proud of you my friend! very well done.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations John. Though I never doubted you'd do well.

Sally said...

congratulations John excellent result.....
looking forward to hearing where you'll be going next...

Erin said...

Hi John, Lyn Hallewell's blog pointed me here. I have heard Mike Frost talk about it, and being a Christian with two siblings who have worshiped the "god of burning man" for years, I am very interested in reading this. Thanks.

Paul Nethercott said...

Hi John,

First, I want to say "congratulations" on your completion of the MA!

Mike Hertenstein told me about you so I just want to say "hi" and let you know I am looking forward to meeting you at Cornerstone in June. I think we have lots to talk about!

Warmly, Paul

John W. Morehead said...

Paul, it's a pleasure to meet you. As I looked at your website and blog it appears we have similar and overlapping interests. I look forward to our time together at Cornerstone.