I completed my dissertation defense, and passed with revisions, which I've just completed and delivered. Now it's only a wait for signatures and paperwork (with maybe tweaks to the revisions if the subcommittee desires). I'll blog on all that once I've deposited my dissertation (the last step in the process, probably in June). At that point I'll essentially be a Ph.D. (since nothing else has to happen after that), though the actual diploma will be dated several months later, and then it will be official. But in practical terms I'm already done.
Now I need a job. Even at best there won't be any academic positions available until Fall (and more realistically I might not find a position until 2009), but we've been stuck in debt for several years now and I'd like to clear it sooner rather than later. Our monthly expenses would drop immensely if we did, and this would substantially improve our situation. My wife would be very happy. And so would I. So I have an audacious proposal. It probably won't happen, especially in this present economy. But as Jack Burton said when he took a futile shot at the psychic eye monster in Lo Pan's underground lair, "Well, you never know until you try!"
Here's my proposal. In the past, generous private benefactors, on their own initiative, have paid me substantially to research and write various online works (such as Why I Am Not a Christian and Was Christianity Too Improbable to Be False). Could there be anyone else out there willing to fund my work? I'd like to find several benefactors, like those who've approached me before, with similar resources and interests, who would love to pool together to pay me to undertake a serious project over the next four months. That project can be anything, whatever this group most wants to see me complete this year. I'm open to suggestions (from those who really do have a mind to fund a project). But I'll use the following as a prominent example.
Many have asked me, often repeatedly, when I'll write a serious monograph on the question of the historicity of Jesus. The present answer is: not for many years. I have too many other projects I'm personally more interested in, and even those I will have little time for now as I begin my job search. (Since some have asked, yes, I am open to job offers outside academia but not specifically looking for them, so all leads or offers are always welcome, and okay, sure, if a billionaire wants to set up an endowment to employ me permanently as a researcher and writer on philosophy & religion, that would be super gosh darned nice). But if I could erase the remaining bulk of our debt burden (at least $20,000) I could justify devoting the next four months almost exclusively to completing a specific job.
In that time I would finish all the research I still have planned (but haven't already done), read every relevant book on both sides of the question (I already have a list), thoroughly research every item I find important, and write a book of professional quality for publication by an academic press. I had already planned such a book out last year, and just shelved it for the future. But I could dust it off and get it done if financed.
The book I propose would take the approach of arguing first and foremost for a logical historical method that all reasonable people could agree on, which would allow any objective investigator to ascertain whether Jesus probably did or didn't exist, simply by plugging in the facts known to them. Then my book would survey what I find to be the most important facts, and apply the presented method to them to demonstrate what my view now is and why, and how it could be changed (since new facts, or legitimate corrections to the facts I use, could change my conclusion, and this may happen even in the course of my final research for the book, but in any case the result will be my honest and well-informed expert opinion).
Such a book would considerably advance the debate in two important respects: First, as I am now (certainly by the time of completion) a qualified Ph.D. (in ancient history, the relevant field), and I will work to meet the standards required to get a serious academic publisher for the book (I'll approach my alma maters first, University of California Press and then Columbia University Press, but in any case something comparable), it will be the most academically rigorous discussion of the issue yet in print. Second, my approach will be to actually facilitate progress in the debate (toward either conclusion) by articulating a clear and defensible method for resolving it (and presenting a case for what further research is needed to do that). Both qualities will help bring this debate to the attention of academic experts so a more informed consensus can eventually develop among those most qualified to judge the issue.
I doubt I have any fans so gobsmacking rich they'd be able to fund this plan all by themselves, but a team of several could, contributing a few thousand each. I've met such folks before. Though in the past I've simply been paid directly as a private contractor, and I'll still work that way, if you have a local or national atheist or other nonprofit willing to agree to act as a granting agency for this particular project (and whose mission would justify it), you could give them an earmarked donation to pay me (while they keep, say, 5%, or 15% for any additional donors they then find on their own), and that would make the contribution a charitable deduction for you. Though you would have to work that out with them on your own. Or take any other approach you desire, direct or indirect (as long as it's legal!). If I can raise the $20,000 I need, I'll complete the project.
If this work is funded now, the book will be completed within four months, and will likely appear in print in 2009 (otherwise probably not for another five or ten years, if indeed ever). Donors will get the privilege of viewing the final draft before publication so they can make requests for revisions (and any that are valid will be heeded). I have an unpublished paper that in effect serves as a preliminary outline for this book, which I will provide only for the private review of serious donors. And I can prepare the same for any other project proposed.
Again, the above is only an example (one I think the expressed demand has been greatest for). Any other comparable project is possible (in ancient history or naturalist philosophy). Alternatives even include a team of donors who want me to accomplish three or four smaller projects, as each donor desires, which collectively add up to the same amount. Why, to be debt free, I'll even dance on a hat and eat a bug. Not that anyone would pay for that.
I know Christian authors get well financed this way. Even J.P. Holding, I once heard, gets tens of thousands of dollars in donations every year. Can atheists support an author they like, at least as well? It would be a shame if not. But if you think I'm worth it, or you want to talk about it, please contact me directly by email (see my blogger profile for a link to my address if you don't already have it). Let me know how much you would be willing to pledge, and to what sort of project(s), just to see them happen. No Atlas shrugging here. Let my skills and labor work for you. Or bring this blog entry to the attention of everyone you think would be interested (right-click the title above, to copy the URL and pass it on).
I look forward to hearing from anyone crazy enough to take me up on my plan!