© 2019 by Joel Thiessen. All rights reserved.

Sabbatical, Not Vacation

July 2, 2014

Yesterday I officially began my first ever sabbatical. The image above is only partially accurate in depicting a sabbatical. It is a time of rest and leisure to be sure. However, a sabbatical for a university professor is not synonymous with a vacation, a point that I repeatedly clarify when in conversation with family, friends, and acquaintances! My wife is thrilled because I will work few if any evenings and weekends in the coming year, and more importantly I will do the lion’s share of the cooking, cleaning, and laundry (to which I ask, ‘And this is different in what way?’). My dog, Shadow, is excited at the prospect of going to the park to play fetch or to go jogging up Nose Hill most days, rather than sitting long days at home alone.

 

Of course I am eager for the year ahead. Despite common rhetoric in and outside the academy I see this sabbatical as a gift, not something that is earned or well-deserved per se. After all, most in society are hardworking individuals – many of whom have less flexibility or perks associated with being a university faculty member – and could just as easily ‘earn’ or ‘deserve’ a sabbatical. Nevertheless, I openly embrace the opportunity that lay ahead and I hope to be a good steward of the time.

 

So what is the purpose of a sabbatical for a university professor and what will my sabbatical entail? Briefly, a sabbatical affords faculty members the space for personal renewal and a time to focus squarely on research, setting aside teaching and administrative responsibilities for either six or twelve months. The hope is that upon returning from a sabbatical the faculty member can mobilize their time of recharging and researching toward continued positive and healthy scholarly contributions to students, colleagues, fellow researchers, and (for some) practitioners and the general public.

 

Here is what I have mapped out for the year ahead – perhaps ambitious, but time will tell.

 

  • Rest – to be completely honest, in June I ‘practiced’ for my sabbatical. I recently went away for six days with my wife and since returning have watched most World Cup games live. I anticipate a more balanced and slower pace of life ahead – hanging out with friends and family, reading for fun, watching and playing sports as often as possible, and travelling. I look forward to staying up as late as I feel in the moment and hiding my alarm clock the next day.

  • Research – I have a series of research projects that include working through revisions from reviewers on a book manuscript based on my interviews with regular churchgoers, Christmas and Easter churchgoers, and those who do not identify with any religion and never attend religious services; writing a few articles (some collaboratively); and starting a new project on ‘flourishing congregations’ with a few colleagues. I will say more about these projects via my website (www.joelthiessen.ca) and blog as the year progresses.

  • Conferences – I am currently scheduled to present different papers at four conferences, three of which ‘happen’ to be in California; it is rough, I know. More about these presentations are posted on my website and I will likely blog about some of these topics during my sabbatical.

  • Reading – In graduate school I did not think of reading as a ‘gift,’ but I long for the days of graduate school when we were required to read a minimum of one book a week. I recently purchased twenty books alongside many others I acquired over the years, hoping to one day read. My aim is to read 50+ books in the coming year on topics ranging from religion and youth to classical social theory to faith and the academy to personal spiritual formation. I cannot wait!

  • Speaking – I have long argued for bridging academic inquiry with practitioners (see one of my earlier blog posts). In recent years requests have significantly increased for me to speak across the country about my research and what this means for religious groups. I am already scheduled to speak with several groups across Canada this year, and I am thankful that I will have additional time to do so should other groups inquire. 

 

I see the year ahead as a gift – for myself, for my family and friends, and for Ambrose – not to be wasted. As I treasure the time to advance my research, I will rest too. I trust that renewal and transformation are the result, personally and professionally.

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JOEL THIESSEN, PhD
sociologist