The spiritual experience of a literature review

The spiritual experience of a literature review

… Haha! I can sense or anticipate that researchers might find the title of my reflection funny or weird. I have encountered both students and peers who are turned off by writing the literature review section of research papers. It feels laborious and a very taxing task – reading tens or even hundreds of sources about a topic!

But please indulge me for a bit. If we define “spiritual” in terms of being transcendent, or at least going beyond one’s self, it really feels like a literature review is both an intellectual and spiritual experience. There is that sense of satisfaction in being able to receive or understand an idea of a prior scholar in the field; it feels like a form of “inherited will” that is such a common trope in the Bible (prophets passing their wills forward), hero stories, and shonen manga.

The literal transfiguration experience is hard to explain nor believe in natural terms (but I’m not necessarily contesting its veracity as an event). But if I try to understand it as a metaphor, the imagery of a current Master conversing with the prior prophets or experts before Him – isn’t that transcendent?

When a researcher tries to do a literature review well, doesn’t it parallel the transfiguration experience of conversing with prior experts and trying to advance a field?

I confess that this may be overreaching or an inappropriate analogy. But to me, it makes more sense and gives scholarship a deeper meaning.

Maybe that’s the vocation of a researcher – to be repeatedly be transfigured for each authentic review of literature; where one’s ideas are built on the wisdom of those who came before. And, in turn, our identities assimilates a piece of identity (or ideas) from those who came before. Even for a minute fraction, maybe this is how Jesus felt in the transfiguration experience – taking to the next level the goodness built on the labor of the prophets who came before Him.

Luke 9:28b-36. The Transfiguration


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