12. May 2022

“The Grass is Always Greener on the Other Side” Doctoral student Justin Arickal talks about his passion for theology and his research stay at Yale University

Doctoral student Justin Arickal talks about his passion for theology and his research stay at Yale University

Justin Arickal studied Economics and Business Administration, among other subjects, before taking an internationally oriented position at Bayer AG. After several years there, Arickal returned to academia to study Catholic theology at the University of Bonn. His doctoral dissertation explores ambivalent images of God. As part of his research, he spent time as a visiting scholar at Yale University in the USA. He talks to forsch about differences he observed in the systems.

Justin Arickal
Justin Arickal © Volker Lannert / University of Bonn
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You hold a Master in Business Administration and worked for Bayer. What brought on the re-orientation toward a degree in theology?

While studying management in England, and then at my first workplace for Bayer in Canada, I came in contact with young Christians who ended up sensitizing me to the big questions in life. I began spending some of my leisure time occupied with these questions, and slowly a real interest in theology grew. After a few years I summoned my courage and quit my job as a manager to pursue my fascination in theology.

What is special to you about theology?

I’m fascinated with the breadth of different specializations. Each subject grouping offers its own broad spectrum of exciting perspectives on the questions that drive theology. And these subject groupings all work at an interdisciplinary level, meaning you automatically come into contact with other fields (such as archeology, philosophy, psychology, sociology, etc.). I’ll never run out of things to study in theology, because as you gain new perspectives, more and more compelling topics come into view. Studying Business Management was a different experience.

What inspired you to make a research stay at Yale University?

It started when several books from theologian Miroslav Volf, who has spent over 20 years lecturing at Yale, fell into my hands. I was captivated by his interdisciplinary conception of theology, and how it links the field to societal questions. It was clear to me that this is someone I could learn a great deal from, and so I applied for a research residency.

What interesting impressions or experiences did you encounter during your research stay?

The people at Ivy League universities (Yale, Harvard, Princeton etc.) put their pants on one leg at a time, too! Yes, they have above-average amount of funds available and excellent students, but at the end of the day they are also “just” educational institutions that work the same as we do. What was inspiring were the conversations with other students and doctoral students, because if you’re there, you are likely highly passionate about your field. Guest lecturers are also invited on a regular basis from the rolls of politics, business, and society. It helps ensure that academic research always remains more closely tied to cultural questions.

How do the conditions for students and researchers in the USA differ from those in Germany?

In terms of the Ivy League universities, what you notice immediately is how well-equipped they are, and that they have unimaginable levels of resources. Their endowments are not in the millions, but rather in the billions. On the one hand, this ties back to generous alumni sponsors from those universities (at Yale, for example, this includes former US presidents George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton). On the other hand, you have to look at the high tuition fees, which can cost between 30,000 – 70,000 dollars... per year! It’s a very different understanding of how education should work compared with Germany.

Would you recommend studying or undertaking a research stay in the USA?

If you want to have a chance to work and talk with specific researchers, then it can make absolute sense. With that said, you shouldn't underestimate just how complicated the application process is, nor underestimate the costs. As they say in English: “The grass is always greener on the other side.” I don’t necessarily think it's true. After my time in the USA, I see the German higher educational landscape in a much more positive light. Starting with the fact that you can study any subject for roughly 300 euros in semester fees, meaning that university studies are possible for a broad range of social strata, which is a bit of a miracle on its own right.


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