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Catholic studies center explores part-time doctorates


April 03 2009

People who are interested in research related to Catholicism but have to work and maintain family finances may soon have a chance to do doctoral studies through a part-time program at a Hong Kong university.


From left: Father Peter Choy Wai-man, Professor Lai Chi-tim and Father Louis Ha Keloon

The Centre for Catholic Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong is exploring the possibility of starting a part-time doctoral program, says its director, Father Louis Ha Keloon.

Some graduates have told the center they wanted to pursue doctorates but financial and family concerns prevented full-time studies, Father Ha explained in an interview. So it recently arranged an open discussion between about 20 people interested in a part-time program and the chairperson of the university´s Department of Cultural and Religious Studies, under which it operates.

The department head, Professor Lai Chi-tim, told the potential candidates their commitment to the Catholic Church was one of the most important requirements for successful studies.

A part-time doctoral program would take approximately five years, compared to three for full-time program.

Lai explained that the department´s current Christian Studies and Biblical Studies programs have a Protestant basis.

While the shortage of local scholars in Catholic studies may limit Catholic-related research in the long run, he described the situation as akin to the "chicken-or-egg" paradox. "If we don´t take the initiative to train up scholars," he said, "there won´t be any successors."

Regarding Church studies, he counts about 100 Protestant scholars with doctorates in Hong Kong, but less than 20 Catholics. "It should not be that few," said Lai, a Taoist scholar.

"We hope to work closely with the local Catholic diocese and its Holy Spirit Seminary College to develop the part-time program," he added.

The Centre for Catholic Studies was set up in 2005 with diocesan support to coordinate both full-time and part-time Master of Arts programs in Catholic studies.

The possibility of a part-time doctoral program gave some hope to John Wong Bo-lung, a middle-aged architect who will finish the master´s program in Catholic studies this year. He described the alternative prospect of giving up his job for full-time studies as unrealistic.

Wong is interested in Church architecture in mainland China and wants to "look into this historical heritage from religious and cultural angles."

Nelly Lam Siu-yin, another potential candidate, said she hopes to study feminine spirituality, an area in which she sees a need among Catholic women busy with work and family.

Many women feel sad when children no longer listen to them and respect them after they spent years of painstaking efforts to bring them up, Lam said, adding that she hoped to explore a "suitable kind of spirituality" for middle-aged laywomen.

Father Ha said the center would advise potential applicants on writing research proposals, contacting visiting scholars from overseas and seeking scholarships from benefactors.

Father Peter Choy Wai-man, the center´s associate director, told the discussion participants that the Chinese Church has traditionally focused on theology formation in the seminaries, with subjects tailored mainly for clergy and Religious.

The center can help balance this by opening a way for laypeople to pursue scientific studies in Catholic-related subjects, while also broadening the range of studies beyond a tight focus on theology, said the priest, who also heads the theology division of Holy Spirit Seminary College.

The part-time doctoral program would cost a student about HK$160,000 (US$20,640) a year.