I was pleased to be asked to participate in Mormon Scholars Testify. I have certainly seen my share of academic condescension towards the LDS religion and its scholars, but I have never experienced anti-LDS sentiment that was seriously threatening in any way to me or my career. More than anything else, my religion has made me a bit of an oddball among my associates, and my only desire as an academic has been to produce the best work possible as a personal testament of my belief in God—a proof that God has indeed sustained me throughout my academic and personal life.
As a woman who opted to leave academia for about ten years to finish raising my family, I currently have a lot of catching up to do in my field of ethnomusicology. But I can safely say that my decision to put my children above my career for nearly a decade has blessed me in more ways than I could have imagined.
After completing my Ph.D. and two post-doctoral fellowships, I had to face my career options as a mother of two sons. Having recently taught as an adjunct at Columbia University, a colleague offered to hire me as an adjunct at New York University with the expectation that it would turn into a full-time position. As tempting as the offer was, I felt certain that all the responsibilities would have adversely affected my ability to raise my sons, and I turned down the offer. Consequently, I decided to change career paths and teach music in the home to support my children—a career that would allow me to have a flexible schedule and work out of the home. While it broke my heart to abandon the field I found so personally invigorating, I knew that this was the right decision. I finished my last academic article in 1997 (it was published in 2002) and put my book project on permanent hold.
While raising two boys was the greatest challenge I have ever faced, I was given extraordinary help throughout the process. I believe that making the decision to put my children over my career enabled me to get unusual help in taking care of them. It was certainly not that I didn’t have to experience all the challenges that any parent faces; rather, I feel as though I was given special assistance. And I never looked back on my previous career while I was raising my children. Perhaps that was what made the next phase of my life so unanticipated.
I received word from my former mentor that a position was opening up in the Humanities, Classics and Comparative Literature Department at BYU in 2007. Interestingly, my younger son was graduating from high school that year and planning to enter BYU the very year that this job would begin. Not wanting to get my hopes up, I mechanically went through the application process. Because of the hiatus in my career I knew that my application would raise suspicions, and it did. But the application went through, my interviews were successful, and I was offered the job.
Getting back into the academic groove took a full year, but I have been able to resurrect my research projects and get back into publishing once again. The book manuscript that I had put on hold in 1997 has now been published in the SOAS Musicology series at Ashgate. Three articles have been published since beginning work at BYU, and two more have been accepted—including one in the flagship journal of my field, Ethnomusicology. I am working on a second book manuscript now and have been unusually blessed with ideas for future research projects. I realize that this windfall has been a direct consequence of my faith in God and His infinite mercy towards me.
I have a testimony that God is directly involved in our lives. I know that He will bless us after we have honored our commitments to Him—particularly our commitments to our families.
Francesca R. Sborgi Lawson received an undergraduate degree in harp performance from BYU, an MA degree in ethnomusicology from UCLA, and a Ph.D. in ethnomusicology from the University of Washington. She conducted research on the inter-relationships of language and music in the narrative arts of Tianjin, China, as a Fulbright-Hays and National Academy of Sciences Research Fellow. This research resulted in the recently published volume The Narrative Arts of Tianjin: Between Music and Language (click to go to publisher’s page). She also worked as a President’s Research Fellow at the University of California at Berkeley and taught interdisciplinary courses in the Asian humanities and in gender-music relationships at Columbia University in New York City. She is currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Humanities, Classics and Comparative Literature at Brigham Young University.
Posted December 2010