Facing the prospect of graduation from college a year ago with the usual uncertainties, I quickly realized that a common thread in my worries was a concern for the future of my intellectual life. What had made college so remarkable an experience was, ultimately, the groups and individuals with whom I passed countless days and nights discussing politics, literature, philosophy, and theology. What’s more, all were (at a minimum) deeply sympathetic to the claims of religion, and strove for the integration of faith and reason. In the world of work, I fretted, reading would become nothing but a leisure-time activity, the serious discussion of ideas would be limited to the occasional e-mail, and writing might even whither away completely. Then I heard about, applied for, and ultimately accepted the First Things junior fellowship, and was immensely pleased to admit I had been wrong.
It’s this aspect of the program I’d really like to emphasize to potential applicants. If you’re serious about becoming a lifelong learner, the kind of student who treasures the lecture hall but also wants to bring your education with you to everything you do, considering the fellowship might be a good idea. But if you are a religiously serious young person who is also intellectually serious, consideration is a must.
In this regard, though, comes both a caveat and an invitation: The fellowship “continues the conversation” in a rather different manner than say, applying directly to graduate school does. It’s not a seamless transition because it’s not college all over again, nor even really a continuation of the same methodology you’ve become settled in after four years on campus. You’ll come to see, for perhaps the first time in your life, the limitations of the academy and understand its particular pretensions. More importantly, you’ll come to realize your own blind spots in a way you otherwise wouldn’t. This, in my opinion, is all for the better.
As a junior fellow, the standards you (and others) set for argumentation and will be significantly elevated. The focus of nearly every conversation will be less hazy and more sharpened. Your writing will improve. Your faith life (and we welcome applicants of many faiths and denominations) will mature, as the external disciplines lead you closer to God in ways you might not be able to imagine. What emerges is, to grossly reformulate a 19th century Prussian soldier’s most famous quote, a “continuation of your education by other means.”
Above all else, the junior fellowship is about integration. Living in community, attending nightly prayer and weekend dinners, darting across the city from office to lecture to museum—your whole life will begin to revolve around what you do here, and the divisions between learning, working, and growing in your faith will become porous. It’s not just a solid stepping stone to later accomplishments, or a way to “go forth and set the world on fire” though it undoubtedly is those things. The fellowship occupies a category of its own, in the world but not of it.
If this sounds at all appealing to you, send an application to <email@example.com> by April 15th–which is to say, as soon as possible.