Just over a week ago I submitted my doctoral thesis. One of the most enjoyable parts of the final few weeks of this process was writing the acknowledgements. Before sitting down to do this, I had thought to myself: “I’m not going to be one of those people who writes pages and pages of acknowledgements. It’s self-indulgent and a bit too much like showing off. Surely a paragraph or two will be enough.”

Predictably, as I thought about all those I needed to thank in some way – for help, encouragement, a key reference or mentoring role – my list kept growing! I ended up keeping it to just over one page, but it could have easily been longer. It was a joyful task to think back over the last three and half years, and longer, and consider the ways in which my work is profoundly indebted to others: supervisors, friends and family, mentors of various kinds. Doctoral research in the humanities often looks, from the outside, like the production of a gloriously isolated single scholar. But in no way have I made it this far alone.

Life and art (or research) combine for me here: one of the key themes of my research has been the insight, communicated by the religious and prayerful practices of medieval recluses, that in a Christian view of the world and the human person, we are all radically interconnected and interdependent through the crucified Christ – our hinge point, the hub of the wheel, the lens through which we see reality as it truly is. (I was struck recently by Amy Laura Hall’s description of the recluse Julian of Norwich’s meditative approach to theology: she ‘pulls all questions through the needle’s eye of the cross’.[1])

Thanking friends for proof-reading or my supervisor for her careful attention is not quite as theologically complex as this. But for me it has reflected something of the same dimension of reality: I am never independent from the bonds of service, generosity, and love which make up any work and any life. We shouldn’t expect anything else from a world made by a God who is three in one, self-giving and loving in his very heart.

Finishing a big project is a good place to recognise these bonds and to give thanks for them. But the more we build and act on our awareness of interdependence with one another, and ultimately dependence on God, the more beautiful and life-giving our work will become.

[1] Amy Laura Hall, Laughing at the Devil: Seeing the World with Julian of Norwich (2018), p. 44.

Alicia Smith
Latest posts by Alicia Smith (see all)

Alicia Smith

Alicia has been blogging for Faith in Scholarship since 2016. She completed a doctorate on the prayer practices of medieval solitary recluses in 2020 and is now an early-career research fellow at the Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.