Editor’s note: This is the second part of Elroy Rendor’s interview with Jayeel Serrano Cornelio, Ph.D.
To read the first part of this interview, click here.
Rendor: What do you think was the subject you enjoyed the most from your Master’s degree?
Dr. Cornelio: Wow. In NUS, they were offering the Sociology of Everyday Life. For that course, we had a very good professor, Vineeta Sinha, an inspiring professor from Singapore who then wrote my recommendation for my Ph.D. She gave us and exposed us to the theories of everyday life, phenomenology, Henry Lefebvre’s social construction of space, and many other theories of everyday life.
It was particularly important for me because I did a term paper specifically on the domestic helpers who would hang out at Lucky Plaza in Singapore. Lucky Plaza is this mall along Orchard Road and is a hangout for Filipinos. It is a Filipino mall in the midst of highly cosmopolitan Orchard Road. So I did my research there. Participant observation actually, and came up with an essay that got A+ from that class. I got A+ from other classes too, but that particular class was exciting. And that paper got published.
Rendor: Wow, amazing.
Dr. Cornelio: So yeah. I think that’s what I want to say to graduate students and potential graduate students who are readers of this piece. Do well in your term papers and write it like how you would write a journal article. And somehow you might get it published. Even your own professor would recommend it. In my case, it was Vineeta Sinha who suggested I get it published and I did.
Do well in your term papers and write it like how you would write a journal article. And somehow you might get it published. Even your own professor would recommend it.
Rendor: Is this your first publication?
Dr. Cornelio: No. My first publication was a book chapter as a result of participating in the British Sociological Association’s Sociology of Religion Study Group Conference in 2006 at the University of Manchester where I met Linda Woodhead.
Dr. Cornelio: I presented my paper on a Filipino Evangelical congregation in Singapore. It was really an engaging presentation. Like I was the only Filipino there, most of them were British, and after that the person I was sitting next to invited me immediately to submit my paper to that book she was editing out of that conference- Religion and Individual Life by Abby Day.
Abby Day, used to be for that time, the supervisee of Linda Woodhead at Lancaster University. So she introduced me to her and the rest is history. So that opened doors for me in a way you could say I was the liaison between NUS and Lancaster. I think I was the first student they sent to Lancaster out for that joint program. So that opportunity that I just presented in a conference and I got published. I think it was published in 2008. Yeah until on I kept on publishing then.
Rendor: So you really value attending conferences?
Dr. Cornelio: I do. I do but I’m very strategic. I used to be attending Olympic-sized conferences, the big ones, and hopefully you see the people you know. Ma-sa-starstruck ka eh. The biggest names in the world of Sociology, of Religion, which is my field. Oh that’s Jim Beckford. Oh that’s … Then my lecturers and all that. So it’s very inspiring to encounter these people in flesh, the people I was reading. But increasingly I became pragmatic about it.
I realised they can be useless because, what. It’s a big size but only a few people attend your presentation. And they are only interested in learning. They’re not interested in saying something. So it’s better to attend conferences that are focused. We call them most of the time, workshops. Sometimes they’re invitational, sometimes they’re specialized.
I used to be attending Olympic-sized conferences… I realised they can be useless… It’s a big size but only a few people attend your presentation. And they are only interested in learning. They’re not interested in saying something. So it’s better to attend conferences that are focused. We call them most of the time, workshops.
So I have attended one conference for example. This was in 2007, I think it was, religion and technology scholars. It was a graduate workshop and my paper was also published there. I talked about Christianity on the internet and it was also published so I don’t know if anybody read that. But it’s a good book by Braile, which is a very good publisher, social science publisher.
Rendor: What’s your strategy for getting published? Is there any specific method you prioritise so you could fit it within your limited schedule and yet it’s publishable?
Dr. Cornelio: Increasingly, my strategy was to attend conferences. And hope to God that somebody will invite me. That has worked at least thrice in my life. Three conferences I attended and I got invited. It was very good. But increasingly I realised that, actually, book chapters are not valued in the international academia. Why? Because they don’t appear, even if they’re cited, they don’t get cited in citation indices.
The most important now for Ateneo and for many American universities is whether you’re publishing in journals. Not just any journal but what we consider ISI journals. Journals, social scientific journals, that are enlisted with SSCI, Social Science Citation Index Database, because the assumption is that this is an American database, the assumption is if this journal is part of this database, it must be a good one.
But increasingly I realised that, actually, book chapters are not valued in the international academia. The most important now…is whether you’re publishing in journals. Not just any journal but what we consider ISI journals.
And then scholars around the world use that database to search for articles. So it’s not just JSTOR. JSTOR is a depository, an archive. But it’s not a database of citations and all that. SSCI is. Sometimes you get a good article which is with JSTOR but is also with SSCI. So what I’m saying is that increasingly I have become more purposive with my publication plans. I’ve been submitting lately to journals. So my recent journal article for example was the one on religious freedom which appeared in a special issue of Religious Freedom in Asia in the journal Review of Faith in International Affairs based in the US. That was rather fortuitous to be honest.
That particular publication was fortuitous because last year, I got invited, I received an email from the editor of the journal to contribute to the special issue. How did they find my name, I don’t know. And I did not even dare ask it. And I saw the final output, the biggest names, some of the biggest names, Robert Hefler, Irwin Denisia, Matthew Matthews of Singapore, and I myself for the Philippines.
So what does it say? Sometimes you can submit to a journal and hope to god that it will get accepted, it will get published, get good reviews. So I have 2 journal articles in the pipeline, being reviewed right now. But they’re very slow, they take time. Sometimes you can get it right by special journal issues, or by editors who want to publish your piece by a book via invitation or by purposive submission to wherever, journals for example.
So there’s no mystery to it, to be honest, there’s no mystery to it. You will be rejected. It’s fine. Normally professors don’t say that that they don’t get rejected.
Rendor: I think this is very important for the readers…
Dr. Cornelio: Yeah. I mean if you’re a young scholar or a graduate student right now and you’re afraid, just submit. Submit and see how. And even if you get rejected I’m very sure that you will be getting nuggets of wisdom from the reviews. I mean some reviews are nasty.
I have seen not just on my work but on other people’s work nasty comments. Like scholars who may be insecure about their own position in life. So when they encounter these emerging scholars of course it’s anonymous, the system is, but still there are people who may be threatened by these new scholarship and they will reject this piece. And they are very powerful, peer reviewers are very powerful. Whatever they say, most of the time, the editors have to follow. Their hands are tied, so to speak. But then again, it’s okay.
I mean you will encounter people who will just celebrate your work. That’s how it works. My recent publication, the Religious Freedom article for example, I received only what, 2 or 3 questions, clarificatory questions. So in one day I revised it and it was published. So it is possible but it doesn’t mean I have not been rejected. I have received nasty remarks and that’s not stopping me. At my age, my publication list is growing, and I plan to continue doing so.
So there’s no mystery to it, to be honest…You will be rejected it’s fine… Submit and see how. And even if you get rejected I’m very sure that you will be getting nuggets of wisdom from the reviews… I have received nasty remarks and that’s not stopping me.
SOCIOLOGY AS A MORAL VENTURE
Rendor: What do you think is that lesson in Sociology that you like best? Because it’s the most practical for you right now. I mean Sociology, as you told us once in our thesis class, has to be understood by people so in a way reflexively it also allows you to reflect on your own life. So what was that lesson in Sociology that made you value experiences, allowed you to see further things?
Dr. Cornelio: That’s a very good question Elroy. I think Sociology is that one of those disciplines that you cannot pretend you do not know anything about the world anymore once you studied it. This is The Daily Opium and Sociology is your freedom from the Opium. Opium doesn’t have to be religion by the way.
I think Sociology is that one of those disciplines that you cannot pretend you do not know anything about the world anymore once you studied it… Opium can be whatever you’re socialized into… They keep you from seeing the world… So, in my life, Sociology has always placed me in the shoes of every person that I encounter.
Sociologically speaking, opium can be whatever you’re socialized into, whatever paradigm your parents raised you in, becomes your opium. And how, they put blinders around you unconsciously which shape the way you look at reality whether in terms of your biases against gay people, against the poor, against people of other races, whatever. And you may or may not admit that you have those biases. But the fact is that you’re socialized into these structures in a way they serve as opium. They keep you from really seeing the world.
See the Matrix. The Matrix makes you think that life is actually beautiful, but in reality there might be things, or things may not be the way they seem. So, in my life, Sociology has always placed me in the shoes of the every person that I encounter. Maybe not every person, I’m exaggerating.
Increasingly I have become reflexive about you know when I say something or when I do things, and I think to myself, am I being too selfish, for example, about my choices in life when in fact there are many other people who are encountering worse constraints, worse structural constraints, they have less choices in other words in their lives, whereas here I am, somebody who has travelled to many places and yet I want to do more and accomplish more.
Sometimes I have to think for myself, sometimes I compel myself to pause for a while and think for myself, so, what am I really doing. So this has become really personal, Elroy, because I am critical of capitalism, of neoliberalism, but without realising, I’m being sucked into it. So if I don’t pause for a while… Because capitalism celebrates meritocracy. Meritocracy celebrates achievers, and when you celebrate achievers, you are by default, condemning the losers. But you do not realise that.
I am critical of capitalism, of neo-liberalism, but without realising, I’m being sucked into it… Capitalism celebrates meritocracy. Meritocracy celebrates achievers, and when you celebrate achievers, you are by default, condemning the losers… And those losers are not necessarily loser just because they are not good. But because they are in constraints… Then the selfishness has to be contested.
And those losers are not necessarily losers just because they are not good. But because they are in constraints. I’m not romanticising poverty, I’m not romanticising those who are marginalised, the LGBT for example, or the young people which is my area who are often neglected by policy makers. I’m not romanticising the idyllic nature of their existence but what I’m saying is that when I encounter this person, it makes me think all of the constraints involved in or they are embedded in, and makes me ask myself what can I do. Then the selfishness has to contested. Does it make sense?
Rendor: Yeah. I think it makes a lot of sense.
Dr. Cornelio: So in that sense, Sociology is not just an intellectual venture, it is a moral venture. Sociologists who maintain their positivism, their objective analyses… I’m fine with positivism, I’m fine with objectivity but if it doesn’t have any impact on your moralities in life, I don’t think you’re doing good Sociology. Why? Because the discipline was founded by people who were bothered at the very least of what was going on in the time of industrialisation, for example, to it. So abandon all pretense that we have about objective analysis and be distanced from our objects. That’s not true.
Sociology is not just an intellectual venture, it is a moral venture… The discipline was founded by people who were bothered at the very least of what was going on in the time.
So abandon all pretense that we have about objective analysis and be distanced from our objects. That’s not true. Sociology is not just an intellectual venture, it is a moral venture… The discipline was founded by people who were bothered at the very least of what was going on in the time.
Rendor: I think I remember you said that, you wrote for one of our readings for thesis. Remember that when you’re tired remember that what you write is voicing out the voiceless. You cannot not…
Dr. Cornelio: …Just neglect them.
Rendor: Even if it’s not action research or policy research I think that’s still true.
Dr. Cornelio: You’re absolutely correct. We are in a position that nobody else has access to. I mean the classic debate in the social sciences is whether journalists can do our jobs better and faster. I interview one person and I broadcast it to the media and it shapes discourse. I agree.
But we are in a position to assess things systematically using the right methods. Maybe not right but appropriate theories, and explain reality in a better way. Not just because you are compelled to report on something that you have to beat a deadline and you have to meet the demands of your newspapers, say you’re a journalist.
I want you Elroy or other young scholars know that what we are doing has moral implications on the world. I may be accused of blurring the lines but I am an engaged sociologist.
What we are doing has moral implications on the world… Always ask yourself, what is the relevance of the sociology that you are entering?… Sociology is the…act of walking alongside people, understanding them from their point of view, and making systematic assessments of reality.
I’m speaking to you readers who are intent on doing grad school, always ask yourself, what is the relevance of the sociology that you are entering whether it’s theory, or religion which is my case or education, or development or youth or whatever sociology you could think about. These topics have implications. And that makes sociology a moral discipline. It is a moral discipline.
More moral perhaps than the other disciplines that we have in the social science or maybe equally moral as anthropology, the discovery of man which if you know the history of anthropology is laden with imperial ambitions, imperials motives to subjugate the other. The discovery of the other is the subjugation of the other.
Of course now we’re reflexive and I’d say that sociology is not simply the discovery of the other but the… how do I say it without being orientalist… sociology is the, I mean it’s cliché but the act of walking alongside people, understanding them from their point of view, and making systematic assessments of reality. I think the keyword is always systematic. I have been accused of being elitist because I always use the word rigour and systematic because research methods defines the quality of our analysis, right? I don’t want to sound elitist but yeah it makes sociology different.
I have been accused of being elitist because I always use the word rigor and systematic because research methods defines the quality of our analysis, right?… There’s no secret to being a good sociologist… Know your theory. Know your methods. No mystery to it.
Rendor: You mentioned that many times in our thesis writing. The difference against philosophers, the difference against journalists. It really goes back to methods.
Dr. Cornelio: It does. That’s why, I mean there’s no secret to being a good sociologist. You know your theory, you know your methods. Then you’re ready to proceed with life. Know your theory. Know your methods. No mystery to it.