Laura Dunn is a third-year doctoral student at the GTU, where she studies the Śākta (goddess worshipping) traditions of India.
GTU: The Right Choice
“The GTU has created a unique space for students like myself to find a fusion of the development of the intellect and the spirit, each supporting the growth of the other.”
While finishing my master’s in religious studies from the University of Hawaii, I faced the difficult task of finding the right PhD program to suit my needs and interests. My advisor and department chair of the GTU Center for Dharma Studies (CDS), Rita D. Sherma, had much to do with my decision to attend the GTU, due to her impeccable reputation as a Hindu scholar and her invaluable contributions as a member of my thesis committee.
Even so, the decision to become part of the inaugural cohort of CDS in 2016 was a leap of faith, since the first year of my doctoral program was also the first year Dharma Studies would be represented in its own academic center at the GTU. Would there be enough faculty to support my studies? Would the classes be rigorous enough? Would the GTU host a climate of collegiality that supported timely and successful completion of a PhD? After over two years in the program, I can answer each of these questions with a resounding “Yes.”
Each stage of the program, from the beginning stages of the application process to the present moment, more than two years later, has affirmed the rightness of my decision. The GTU’s Director of Admissions, Andrea Sheaffer, spent a good deal of time counseling me over the phone, in person, and by email, making the somewhat arduous task of applying to the doctoral program less so. Kathleen Kook, the Dean of Students, worked with me to make sure I could successfully make the initial transition from Hawaiʻi to Berkeley and engage in my course work effectively. The availability, supportiveness, and aptitude of the faculty at the GTU and its member schools proved to me that professors can be both accomplished and compassionate.
I have found collegiality and comraderie among my fellow students and with the faculty and staff at the GTU. The city of Berkeley, lauded as one of the most liberal and progressive cities in the United States, has drawn to it a confluence of available experiences, ideas, and individuals that would be difficult to find elsewhere. While at the GTU and through my affiliation with CDS, not only have I been exposed to the academic and scholarly world of ideas and people necessary for the development of my mind, but I have also been exposed to a plethora of diverse spiritual and religious experiences and communities. The two poles of religious scholarship and experience have merged in way that is similar to what Hans Georg Gadamer called a “fusion of horizons.”
The GTU has created a unique space for students like myself to find a fusion of the development of the intellect and the spirit, each supporting the growth of the other. Though my time at the GTU is not yet finished, I already feel the process of transformation well under way. As such, I feel better prepared to actively participate in the academic, professional, and social worlds that exist well beyond the walls of the academy.