When Neil Elliot, an avid snowboarder in the drop-dead-gorgeous Kootenay Rockies of British Columbia, first came across the boarder’s term, soul riding, he was intrigued. Elliot is also an ordained minister at St. Andrew’s Anglican Church in the town of Trail. He told the local Trail Daily Times that six years ago, he decided to fashion his doctoral degree around the overt spiritual connotations of soul riding. Already holding a master’s degree in theology and Islamic studies, Elliot decided to undertake his doctorate in the sociology of religion at Kingston University in London, England. For his PhD thesis, he interviewed 35 boarders from the U.K. and Canada.
“It’s the first PhD in snowboarding at all, so it’s pretty unique. It gave me an excuse to get out and participate in a sport I love, and it provided me with a framework to examine human spirituality.”
“I deliberately wanted to get away from doing theology, which is dealing with God, and look at what’s happening on the ground and the kind of stuff you can actually measure.”
Perhaps you too are a boarder who can pull off a front airdog and are also curious about how one can “actually measure” stuff like soul riding, described by Rev. Elliot as “the transcendent experience reported by many snowboarders”.
First, the British-born Rev. Elliot had to develop a research model that identifies three dimensions of spirituality — context, experience and identity — each composed of 10 varying elements:
- freedom and escape
- rhythm and flow
- meaning and purpose
These 10 elements were chosen to incorporate features of snowboarding that might be construed as spiritual by those interviewed, he told The Times.
Rev. Elliot describes the following as “typical quotes” from his subjects:
- “It’s zen cos (sic) everything comes together.”
- “It’s the only time I really feel focused.”
- “I’m not a spiritual person, and riding makes me feel spiritual.”
- “It’s a spiritual thing, but it’s not about God”
- “It makes me feel at one with myself.”
Surprisingly, many of Rev. Elliot’s religious interview subjects did not consider snowboarding a spiritual experience.
I’m neither religious nor academic, but I’m scratching my head over this story. It happens to confirm my suspicion that, when it comes to choosing a research topic for your PhD, all of the good ones have already been taken, a sad reality that forces PhD candidates to come up with increasingly weird and esoteric topics.
Consider, of course, that Kingston University (the institution which granted Rev. Elliot his PhD in snowboarding) is in the U.K. This once-proud nation has a disturbingly murky reputation as a mecca for weird and esoteric academia. For example, you might want to major there in:
- Fashion-and-lifestyle products — Southampton Solent University
- Water sports science and development — University of Portsmouth
- Contemporary circus and physical performance — Bath Spa University
- Equestrian psychology — Glyndwr University
- Surf science and technology — University of Plymouth
- Pop-music performance — University of East London
Read the story of Rev. Neil Elliot reported in the Trail Daily Times. Or, for more on how to get a PhD from Canada’s University of Manitoba without bothering to fulfill any exam requirements, read Extreme Exam Anxiety: Disability or Excuse?
Q: What do you think of a snowboarding PhD?