Carl Adair

Cohort 2012–2013.  My time at Princeton was a productive blend of rigor and play. I'm so grateful for the disciplines of attention that coursework and the dissertation formed in me; I'm also grateful for the myriad opportunities the broader university offered to shake up my thinking through colloquia, interdisciplinary work, and collegial banter. When I began my PhD at Princeton in 2012, I had every intention of turning all these opportunities toward a traditional academic career. I wanted to study and write, and most of all to become a teacher and mentor like those who had shaped me in undergrad—and like those I quickly came to admire among the Princeton faculty. But I realized over time that academia was not for me. I found teaching and organizing with the Princeton Prison Initiative to be more challenging and rewarding than my own scholarship; I fell in love, and that catalyzed a broader reappraisal of my priorities and desires; I moved to Brooklyn after my generals exam and stumbled into the kind of spiritual community that I had been searching for, off and on, for the previous 15 years—where a long-buried sense of call to ministry was also reawakened. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the dissertation I ended up writing reflected the multiple layers of questions I was struggling to even articulate. I'm forever thankful for the patience and support of my advisers: Diana Fuss, Joshua Kotin, and Sarah Rivett. They gave the project the space it required to settle into a form that felt honest, and they supported me as the dissertation became a bridge toward the vocation that was right for me.

While completing the dissertation, I participated in a year-long discernment process in the Episcopal Church, and I defended halfway through my first year at Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary in New York. Writing this in February 2021, I am now in my last semester of that program, which focuses on preparing graduates to bring an open and reflective commitment to faith into the work of justice. For the past 18 months, I have also been on staff at Zion Episcopal Church in Douglaston, Queens. This has afforded me all kinds of unexpected opportunities to apply the interpretive and pedagogical skills that were formed in me at Princeton. Of course I preach sermons and lead Bible studies, but I also wrote and produced a podcast while the pandemic prevented the congregation from meeting in person; I facilitate a weekly group reflection about how our faith demands that we devote ourselves to dismantling systemic racism. That group has also spun off into a research project that seeks to tell a more complete story about Zion and its historical entanglements with enslavement and the subtle bonds of white supremacy.

I was recently ordained a deacon in the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island, and I hope to be ordained a priest in the fall of 2021. As I move forward along this path, I feel a mix of humility and confidence when I look back at my doctoral work: I met some challenges, I took some risks, and my work didn't end up where I thought it would at the start. But that in itself is a good preparation for whatever lies ahead. And I know that I will continue to be sustained by the many friendships I made during my doctoral work, especially by my writing group, which still meets regularly to discuss ongoing projects and germinate new ideas.