Stories can be powerful ― even life-changing. For biblical scholar Fr. Stephen Placente, SDB, his passion for narratives is the motivating force that drives research. His love for stories moves him to pursue a better understanding of all narratives in general and the biblical narrative in particular. Discovering one’s passion, he said, is key to doing well in research. The more invested a person is in his work, the more persistent he will be to complete the task, no matter what happens.
Addressing an audience of more than 60 students and professors in DBCS last September 15, Fr. Placente is the second speaker featured in the Ex Corde Lecture Series launched this year to advocate theological research.
In his presentation entitled, “Passion for Narratives: Survival Guide in Research,” he drew from his extensive experience in research. Fr. Placente is finishing his dissertation to earn a doctoral degree in Sacred Theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. He recommended three practical points that can guide students in their own research.
First, find your niche or, better yet, your lane.
Fr. Placente identified narratives as his particular lane. “Originally, I wanted to do a study on textual criticism because I am enamored with languages. But then, I thought, why not do something on stories? I have loved making up stories even as a boy.”
The decision also serves him well as a priest and a professor of Sacred Scripture. Three-fourths of the Bible is made up of stories. “So, if I understand that, I will be guided in my research in pursuing the Bible.”
Second, passion for ideas ― what makes your heart sing?
He said it is important for the researcher to identify what matters to him, what he is passionate about, to guarantee his commitment to the research project. The choice of what to focus on is critical especially if extensive research is involved. And it will help if from the very start the researcher already has an intense interest in what he has chosen to study further.
Since friendship has always played a valuable role in his life, Fr. Placente decided to focus on this theme. “I have a knack for making friends, even with people of other nationalities.” He is doing a close reading of the narratives in 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel that narrate the friendship between David and Jonathan. The extraordinary bond of brotherhood between these two friends appears to stand out when compared to the stories of many brothers in the Bible (such Cain and Abel, Joseph and the other sons of Jacob) who end up being at odds with one another.
The choice of a good topic is certainly one of the basics of research, which also include determining the structure of the research work, and building up the bibliography. He recommended Google Scholar and www.academia.edu as useful sources in academic research.
Third, the choice of a propitious methodology.
Fr. Placente told his listeners that if the methodology is not chosen wisely, “all your work is trash.”
In his case, since he is concentrating on narratives, he chose Narrative Criticism – “reading within the parameters of telling a story.” To facilitate his work, his adviser told him to read one novel after another, and even to watch movies frequently, applying the rules of Narrative Criticism as he went about it.
In the age of multimedia, it is especially interesting to see how the narrative is treated by the various types of media now available (and to come). In his study of narratives, which will continue beyond his doctoral work, Fr. Placente shared that there is certainly no shortage of material – from the Bible, to novels, to films, to manga, to Facebook, to Twitter, and so on.
He further recommended that as students develop the ideas they are passionate about, they should also exercise caution, making sure that they do not do any short cuts or reach unsubstantiated conclusions. And it is important to listen closely to one’s research project adviser, trusting in the experience and wisdom he has accumulated through the years.
The next speaker in the Ex Corde Lecture Series is Fr. Anthony Nguyen, SDB, ITF Vice-Dean, who will talk about his licentiate thesis paper, “Ecology: Image of Unity and Diversity of the Blessed Trinity,” on November 24, 2016.