Pozzo wrote:Hey OP, I’ll try to be a bit more constructive here, and not try to just pile on what has been said. My comment re: reading Edwards was because I felt that this 250 did very little to engage/reflect the source of your inspiration. Apart from a cheeky title and the imagery of you dangling by a web, there is nothing here that substantively connects to Edwards. If you want to “wow” the adcom by writing something inspired by Edwards, then you need to a better job at making that connection. The second aspect to my comment there relates to what Nony said a couple posts back. Edwards is incredibly rigorous in the way he writes and argues, both in his sermons like Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, and even more so in his written works like Freedom of the Will and Religious Affections. I spent some time studying Edwards as a grad student, and this 250 is about as far from Edwards as you can imaging—both in style and substance. This reads less like a serious reflection on his ideas or something seriously inspired by him, and more like the self-important musings of an agnostic undergrad religious studies major who read “Sinners” in their History of American Religion class and decided to write a naval-gazing spin-off. I know that sounds harsh. I’m not that saying you've never given Edwards serious thought, but this is the person I see in this essay, and if that’s not who you are, then you need to do a better job communicating that to the reader. It also bears mentioning that Yale is the epicenter of modern study on Edwards, so I would be particularly wary of this topic in light of that.
All that said, I don’t think there is anything wrong with a more unconventional 250 or writing about religion per se. I did not get into Yale, and I think my largely impersonal, conventional 250 had something to do with that. (I condensed a portion of a research paper I had done a while back.) While Yale is a reach for everyone, my numbers gave be about a 50/50 shot. If I could redo it, I would have done a better job connecting it to the rest of my application and painting a compelling picture of myself as an applicant. (Again, Nony made this point above as well.)
The reason people tend to go conventional is that successfully executing a more unconventional topic is really, really, really difficult. On top of that, the religious struggles of an agnostic is a bit cliché, so this topic may not be quite as unconventional as you imagine. You may be able to execute it, but not with this attempt. I look forward to reading future drafts and providing whatever constructive feedback I can.
You might be right that I need to at the very least adjust the statement that it was inspired by Edwards. I just liked his imagery of God and mankind, have found it a useful mental image over the years.
I think I said this a few times, but it may not have been clear. It could be somewhat of a problem with the essay. The essay is an adaptation of a undergraduate application essay I wrote. You are right that I was canibalizing his imagery rather than making a substantive connection to Edwards thoughts. I thought that was clear.
If your numbers gave you a 50/50 shot, I understand not being to bold with your 250 and wishing you had connected it to your application better. I think Nony's description is the conventional safe approach to the 250 and should be played with by people applying to reaches either in style or in substance.
I'm not sure if I'll write more drafts of this one for a while, but am working on two other potential 250 topics right now.
The first is one related to Pascal's Wager. It has also been rattling around my head since undergrad, but it is still there which sort of makes it part of me. The logic of it goes something along the lines of
Knowledge of whether or not God exists or not is the most important thing to me.
Therefore, if I could wager, I would bet that God did not exist.
Then if upon dying there were no after life, I would be right(the most important thing to me).
If I died and awoke in Hell I would have the chance to change my mind and gain knowledge that God existed again being right in the end at the cost of eternal damnation.
I'm working on it, but my attempted structure for the essay right now is to express my initial derision at the idea of Pascal's Wager and that you could decide what to believe based on what was most game theoretically advantageous, followed by my later understanding of how enticing the idea could be when I encountered the reversed wager.
My problems with writing it are that the reversed wager is not itself a rigourous idea and therefore that I feel compelled to show it in this narrative sense where I grow to understand the appeal of Pascal's Wager which is then hard to fit into 250 words.
The second idea that I am working on while I am stalled on the wager topic is shortening an essay that I wrote for one of my economics classes on an outgrowth of the idea of the statistical/economic value of life. The idea is fairly simple once you understand it, but since I can't know how well my readers will be trained in economics it is a little bit difficult. I need to present it in a way that demonstrates why it is an idea that is important, has practical value, is non-obvious, and yet not get so bogged down in complicated minutae that it is difficult to understand. It would flow well with a version of the personal statement I have already written for U of M though. Then I also want to find a way to take some sort of risk with it so it stands out, since I think Nony is wrong about strategy when applying to a reach.
Anyways, I am grateful for your suggestions and hopeful for your continued feedback especially when I finish reasonable drafts of those two essay topics.