Drafting a Statement of Purpose

My application for the doctoral program at the Graduate Theological Union is just about complete. The PhD that I would like to mentor my work there has sent in a recommendation letter for me. This makes me pretty happy as I’m really hoping that we can work together.

One of the last things that I have left to do is the drafting of my academic statement of purpose. I didn’t have to do this (or I don’t remember having to do so) for my Master’s program. The instructions that I have are:

Please provide a concise (300-500 words) academic statement of purpose that includes the following:
  • Your reasons for pursuing graduate theological study at the GTU
  • Your specific academic interests and proposed research topics and methods
  • Explanation of the foundations your academic background provides for to your research interests
  • Your reasons for choosing an area/field of study available at the GTU

Now, 300 to 500 words is not a lot. It is around a page or so, depending on spacing. I need to figure out how much to say about my research interests in mikkyo, Japanese esoteric Buddhism. I don’t have a specific thesis topic defined as of yet, just my interests. There is also the question of how much of my own Buddhist background to include in talking about why I am interested in the area. GTU is an academic institution but it is also formed from the union of nine seminaries, one of which being the Institute of Buddhist Studies where I’ve taken classes and of which my (hopeful) mentor is Dean. I would expect that mentioning my Buddhist background as a practitioner as part of my motivation would be reasonable to do.

Unfortunately, I don’t know that many people with PhDs so I don’t have a lot of advice to draw upon here. This isn’t going to keep me awake at night but as one of the last things left to get done, I want to write my statement up and get it turned in with the application.

There are so few scholars that even focus on Japanese tantric practices that it is pretty wide open. That being said, I don’t know Japanese (yet) and I don’t really want to dedicate my scholastic work to being a translator of just a specific text or somesuch. I am much more interested in the theory and rituals around tantric practice than digging out one particular text to translate.