Keeping Independent Scholarship Alive

Seneca, an ancient Hellenic philosopher, always maintained that the retirement phase was an extremely important phase of life, as it allowed one to practice virtue and Philosophy. To me, this phase also symbolizes not just with the practice of virtue, but also with the practice of independent scholarship. In order to be an independent scholar without an academic job, one needs to be free of one’s duties as a householder and be financially supported in ways that one can spend one’s time on scholarly activities and pursuing dreams of research.

The group of independent scholars at Princeton has survived and thrived over last thirty years. When the group started, it consisted mostly of academic spouses, retired luminaries from the academic world. Being surrounded by a world-class university as well as the Institute of Advanced Studies helped create the ambience for intellectual environment. The history and the location of Princeton, surrounding libraries and university made it very attractive for a lot of aspiring independent scholars to be connected with this place. Some of those advantages still hold true.

Thirty years later, due to the changing nature of society, most of the aspiring scholars are required to have a career of some sorts and with a career comes responsibility to focus on work anywhere from forty to eighty hours a week. That leaves very little time for scholarship or a dual career. The current expectation makes it very difficult for independent scholarship to thrive at a younger age. Hence like in Senecan fashion, one can either focus on philosophical or scholarly thinking in the later years after retirement, or we need to figure out different ways of encouraging young independent scholars, who are also otherwise busy either making a career for themselves or raising a family or both.

It will benefit the survival of the organization in the long run to have a younger pool of members, who are enthusiastic about the organization, about their membership in this like-minded community and about continuing to fulfil their research aspirations.

Some ways in which we can capture this population are:

  1. Allowing members to come in and out, when they are in between professional ventures
  2. Allowing graduate students to be members, if they want to be independent scholars for personal reasons
  3. Allowing academic aspirants to be scholars, when they are not currently employed in an academic job

Some of our members have been in these situations at some point in their lives and the organization has been richer as a result of their contributions, when they have been producing works of scholarship. At this point, I would like to welcome ideas from our members about how to make this organization richer in ways that we can assure its long life and productive phase year after year over a long period of time.

(C) Ashwini Mokashi

(This article had first appeared in the newsletter of the Princeton Research Forum in the Winter 2014 edition. )

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