PhD student dax sunny mathew on research, persistence, and making a difference
PhD student Dax Mathew recalls in vivid detail the moment that changed his perspective on learning. He was in an Adivasi community in Palghar, a town in the Konkan division of India’s Maharashtra state, home to Indigenous peoples often overlooked and neglected by the government. This rural, economically challenged area was significantly different from the relatively well-to-do urban environment in which Mathew was raised.
On the trip, “I saw this little girl who was sitting in a very dilapidated house,” Mathew remembers. “She was sitting on the ground and under the candlelight, she was studying. This really changed me, because here I was coming from [a family] who could afford education and I never studied that well…but here was this little girl, who didn’t have any choices in life, and with all of these limitations, she was studying.” The experience proved to be formative for Mathew, who decided to embark on a years-long volunteer stint in the region, supporting agricultural production and helping where he could.
Then, Mathew contracted dengue fever, a serious mosquito-borne virus common in sub-tropical climates. Mathew’s parents were clear: the trips to Palghar needed to stop while he recovered. It was during that time that Mathew’s brother, who was very active in his church, invited him to attend a service. To Mathew’s shock, he saw the same people with whom he had volunteered for three years. The presence of people he so admired encouraged Mathew to ask: “Why are they coming to church?” Then, as he says, “my journey started.”
First, Mathew enrolled in Dharma Jyoti Vidya Peeth, a center for theological and development studies in Fazipur Khader, India, started by the Mar Thoma Church in 2000. After earning his Bachelor’s in Divinity and then his master’s degree at United Theological College in Bangalore, Mathew met a former LSTC professor, George Zachariah, who recommended LSTC. For Mathew, who had developed a keen interest in World Christianity and Ecumenism, this seemed promising. “I didn’t apply to any other university,” Mathew recalls. He knew this seminary, with its reputation for supporting radical research and encouraging students to embark on new analytical journeys, was the perfect fit.
The journey wasn’t without its challenges: Mathew had to contend with living around the world from those closest to him, he faced down significant health challenges, and he was working towards an advanced degree in a secondary language. Still, with the support of LSTC faculty, staff, and fellow students, Mathew persisted. Today, as a fifth year in his doctoral program, Mathew looks forward to a future where he can encourage other students to follow their own intellectual passions. The little girl from his past, studying in the candlelight, has become emblematic of all of the students he looks forward to supporting as an educator and mentor in his own right. “If I get an opportunity to teach in South America, Africa, Asia, I’m ready to go,” he says. “In short, I’m available to teach anywhere.”