Dr. Carmichael Peters, Assistant Professor, Director, Honors Program
Why do you personally choose to publish?
The primary thing is that there is something that is of concern to me and whatever is of concern to me there has been a history of conversation with it… And I think that conversation is important and I want to keep it going. One thing I have to say up front: I am under no illusion about what I publish. I am not producing classics. In a hundred years, I would be shocked if anyone read anything I wrote. I am writing period pieces. I am picking up the conversation now to keep it going. And if I do it well, then I am producing pretty decent period pieces.
Could you please briefly describe your experiences with publishing?
My experiences have been rather straightforward. When I published my first book, which is no longer in print, you can’t even find it anywhere, it was something I did back in the seventies. It was on Reinhold Niebuhr, a North American Theologian: Reinhold Niebuhr and the Struggle for Justice. The more recent, the book that is still in publication–I was actually approached by a publisher and asked whether or not I had a piece and if they could publish it, because they heard me give a talk at some conference. And so I published this piece, A Gadamerian Reading of Karl Rahner. As to the articles I have published, most of them have grown out of the classes I have taught or lectures I have given. They are all in the area of philosophy/philosophy of religion. Book reviews? I have done two. I tend to turn them down if I’m not interested in reading the book.
Right after my second book, I wanted to do something immediately upon the issue of religion. I wanted to reclaim it along lines suggested by early thinkers, basically as a critique of established religion. I didn’t immediately begin working on it, and as a result, I often have found I am not as in sync with the subtlety of the subject matter that I had after my book. Each time I have gone back to the writing, it has taken me a while to get back into a refined sense of the subject matter. Last summer I devoted the entire thing to writing and it worked, but I only did the first section of a four-section book. I dread returning to it this summer, because I’m not sure I’ll be able, or I don’t know how long it will take me, to get back into the kind of thinking that I was doing in the summer. I can’t write during the year. I can’t write in snatches; I need long periods of time and therefore summers. So my regret: I should’ve written the book on religio immediately and now it’s taking forever to happen.
Anyone who is writing ought to keep a piece of paper and a pen with them. Thoughts occur that will never again reoccur. Insights, ways of articulating, in a Heideggerian sense, of putting things together, in a way that I can’t do if I don’t take notes.
How is publishing in the fields of philosophy and religious studies different from publishing in other fields?
I wouldn’t know, because I don’t know what goes on or how people go about in the other fields. Except I have a nephew who teaches at Johns Hopkins and his area is medical engineering and I had to give a talk two years ago here on science and religion—“is there such a thing as ultimate reality?” I was the only philosopher on the panel, the rest were physicists. So I sent it to him and I said “Tell me, you’re a scientist, give me your feedback, because I want to know what I’m walking into.” He said to me, “Did you just make this up?” I imagine he goes to a lab and does his stuff and in the area of philosophy and religious studies it’s about thinking. I understand, from my interaction with my nephew, that much: that it’s a slightly different thing. He does all this work and on the basis of whatever observations that he has and then he thinks. He doesn’t just consider a question in and of itself and then go to a library and find others who have thought on the matter.
Here is what I think is really essential for writing in philosophy or religious studies, and I am borrowing this from Martin Heidegger. I really believe that he is right, that to philosophize is not to repeat what significant thinkers have said in the past; that to philosophize is to reawaken the question that they asked and making that question your own, answering it anew in your time and your place.
What are some general mistakes to avoid when trying to get published?
First, you have to find a question that is genuinely alive for you. I’m not sure that many others would agree with this, but I think that anyone who writes in philosophy–in Continental philosophy, not analytic–would agree. I think you have to see a question through, you have to think it through, regardless of whether or not anyone will publish it. If it is a worthwhile thing you are thinking through, you will find you will have to shop around to find a publisher. But you can’t write something as a philosopher with the intention that you will see it through only if it gets published. It’s like someone writing poetry and they will write it only if it gets published. I think you have a poor poet. Philosophy is the same. So you have to find something that enlivens you, you have to see it through, but it means you may face the fact that no one will publish what you write. That comes with the territory.
Why should undergraduates publish?
I think writing is the most disciplined form of thinking anyone can do. It is sustained, focused attention on a matter of concern; nothing else does it like writing. So therefore, just the discipline of learning how to think well, coherently, I think it counts with writing.
Publishing. The world of the academy is becoming more and more competitive. Unfortunately, people often feel they are like commodities; that they have to go “sell” themselves. A nice feather to have in your cap, to mix metaphors, when you are “selling” yourself–for Graduate school, having published something really is very, very important. Unfortunately, most people who go through university are really training for middle-management positions. Rarely do people get to excel in their field of concentration. If you want to excel in that field, you better publish.