What is academia? For me, the answer changes every few years. I started my teaching career from a very stringent standing, that theory without practice makes a very hapless teacher. A teacher, an academic, needs to know how the theory unfolds beyond classroom.
From that understanding, in my first 6 years of teaching, I was more inclined towards the practice than theory. I admit, I suffered from a self confidence that I was a good reader and a good student, hence learning theoretically wasn;t considered to be a challenge. It was the real world out there- the real people, the real problems, the real working out that fascinated me. I invested myself deeply in engaging. It wasn’t smooth, but harder than I imagined, for no matter how much I believed in a balance, the society out there firmly held on to the notion that teachers belong to classroom, so whatever I was doing with NGOs, organizations or communities was not something to be taken seriously. Evert time I felt that dismissal, I increased my dose of investment. And with that, unknowingly, I was moving away from theory.
The lockdown has been a blessing in that sense. I have been immersing myself in more theories, and gradually realizing that, yes, while a blend of theory and practice is definitely necessary, academia might need just a dollop more of theory than practice. For out in the field, when I see new problems and look for solutions, it is my understanding of theory that will make the difference. The more varities of theory I knowl the more critically and diversely I can dissect and study a problem, the better I am placed for a practical solution, or the understanding if a particular problem is without solution for the time being.
At this moment, I am learning the cultural studies approach of religion and other social sciences, and it is through engaging with new theories every week that I am enriching myself as an academic. I can already look at my own lectures from a new theoretical approach.
This is to academia, where theories make all the difference.