Eldar Sarajlic (Political Theory track, 2014)

Eldar Sarajlic is a social and political philosopher. He has a PhD from CEU. His research interest is in theories of personal identity, liberalism, parenthood ethics, autonomy and authenticity, and critical thinking and reasoning. His work appeared in Journal of Applied Philosophy, Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy, Canadian Journal of Philosophy, American Journal of Bioethics, Res Publica, and others.

DSPS alumnus Miklós Zala (Political Theory track, 2017) caught up with Eldar at the beginning of 2021 to talk about his experience at CEU and his career after graduating.

Thank you very much for being available for this interview. Let me start by asking how did you end up in the Doctoral School of Political Science, Public Policy and International Relations. Also, why did you choose the Political Theory track?

Thank you for having me. I am from Bosnia and Herzegovina, and I finished all my previous education there, concluding with an MA degree. I wanted to come to CEU for my MA already; I wanted to study nationalism studies. But at that time, I could not apply due to certain circumstances in my life. I finished my BA degree in 2001, and then I did my MA in Sarajevo, always planning to go somewhere else for PhD. When the time came, I applied at a few places, and CEU was one of them. One reason for choosing CEU was that I had known that CEU was a solid school. Another reason was that I was aiming at either American universities in the United States or American universities elsewhere. Or, for that matter, any university that might give me a degree that would be useful in the United States because my wife and I had gotten US green cards on a lottery while we were in Bosnia.

So you had a plan with your partner to move to the US?

Yes, we had that plan. I applied for a few programs in the United States and CEU, and CEU was the only application that went through, or, more importantly, the only one that came with a generous stipend. I was fortunate to have gotten a PhD position at CEU because I was, subconsciously, perhaps also looking for a paradigm change in my thinking. I was educated in Bosnia, where a "continental" style of philosophical thinking is more popular than the "analytical" style. I have been interested in political philosophy since my early undergrad days. My undergraduate degree was in journalism. At that time, I thought journalism represented what dealing with politics meant. My MA was in political science, focusing on political philosophy. So in my MA thesis, I argued that the concept of ethnic identity has something to do with the so-called postmodern condition. The breakup of the big enlightenment narratives and the return of romanticism, etc., was a part of the postmodern condition that contributed to the rise of ethnicity. It was a philosophical thesis by default, but I couched it in a very continental way. I remember I cited Hegel a lot in my MA thesis. So, when I was applying for PhD programs, I had no idea that different political philosophy schools existed. All of this was one thing for me. I had already read a little bit about John Rawls and some of the democratic theorists like Seyla Benhabib.

So I was there somewhere; I had some ideas about what I wanted to do, but it wasn't apparent how this fitted broader trends in philosophy. Basically, I was confusing "continental" and "analytic" thinking and made a hybrid PhD proposal that did not fit either bucket. My application proposal had a lot to do with social theory; I remember trying to combine Chantal Mouffe and John Rawls. To my great pleasure, I was admitted at CEU, where I guess they recognized something valuable under this initial cloud of disciplinary confusion. Also, I was glad to be accepted to the doctoral program because it fitted well with my family, my wife, and our plans to go abroad.

How difficult was it for you to be in Budapest during the first year, given your wife was in Sarajevo and you both had this plan to go overseas.

Thank you for asking that question; it was challenging, in two distinct ways. First, it was a logistical challenge. It is hard to maintain a commuter lifestyle when you're a grad student. I traveled a lot between Budapest and Sarajevo, and I also went to many conferences. At the time, I was also working on a project on citizenship based at the University of Edinburgh. And for two years in a row, they had us present our work at a Columbia University conference, organized by the Association for the Study of Nationalities (ASN). The project was about the historical and conceptual development of citizenship in Southeastern Europe. So they paid for my participation at this conference, which helped with the logistics a little bit, as you can imagine.

The second reason why my first year was difficult is that I had to study a lot. I had to learn many things and fill many intellectual gaps that came with me from Bosnia. I struggled a lot, and being a perfectionist made things even harder. I wanted to do everything right. So I was working day in, day out, reading and writing more than I had ever done in my life before that. Combined with the above-mentioned logistical challenges, it was very hard.

I can imagine. Regarding the difficulty in catching up with analytical philosophy: I think that's, in general, true to all of us who are not coming from an Anglo-American background. In general, not coming from that background might be somewhat of a shortcoming if you want to be a scientist. But if you want to do political philosophy, that's a considerable disadvantage.

Oh yes! I had to change: one of the biggest reasons this was so difficult is that I had to change my entire intellectual outlook. I had to change my vocabulary and my conceptual apparatus completely. But CEU was the right place for this transition. Fortunately, people at CEU recognized this. They understood where I was coming from, and they helped my transformation. I feel immensely grateful for all the support I received at CEU.

So, you got admitted to the program. What was your impression about your first year of the program?

That was one fantastic journey. Being very perfectionist and very ambitious and having these logistical issues, and having future plans ahead, I took all the coursework I could in the first year. That was a lot, but that first year helped me transform into a different person!

As far as I can remember, back then in 2010, it was something around 36 credits; 24 were mandatory for the first year. But if you wanted to do all of them during the first year, that required a very loaded first year.

That's what I did. I finished all the mandatory courses in the first year. I also think it was 36 credits, but I don't remember exactly. That was very eye-opening for me. I've never sat in a classroom taught in English, although I spoke it sufficiently well.

Was that also part of your firm plan to go to the US that you started to study English at a relatively young age?

No, I learned English at a very young age by watching MTV and American movies in Bosnia. They were not dubbed, so I learned the language very quickly up to the point that I was hired by the OSCE as a translator at the local election when I was a high school kid. Later, I worked for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), for six years, in the public relations department. Coming back to coursework: I enjoyed the challenge a lot. I enjoyed reading a lot of things, and I liked the format. When I first came to János Kis's class, he did not lecture, like I had been used to in Bosnia. His course was more conversational, and students participated a lot. We had a reading seminar on Kant, for example. I felt somewhat insecure due to the new challenge, but it was also a hell of a ride for me.

I think every CEU political theorist remembers their first class with János. What happened then? You went back to Sarajevo or stayed in Budapest?

I commuted between Sarajevo and Budapest. I did not go entirely to Sarajevo because I had to be in Budapest for my supervisory meetings. Plus, we had doctoral seminars very often. So, I was on the train between Budapest and Sarajevo on this very long, 12-hour ride, changing trains for like six times or so. I did my readings on the train going back and forth. But I loved being in Budapest; I blossomed in many ways, socially as well. I met some amazing people that have remained my friends ever since.

So, so basically, you finished your coursework, and then you defended your prospectus. Was your prospectus the same as your original research plan, or had that changed during the years?

Yes, it changed; my prospectus wasn't my original plan. The plan I was accepted with had these problems that came with my misunderstanding of what political philosophers exactly do. My initial plan was about tying the notion of deliberative democracy with the idea of justice. During the first year, working on the prospectus, I gave up on the idea of deliberate democracy. I had come to an impasse, and I couldn't see a path forward. But I started working with János. He was my supervisor at the time, and he helped me find a path forward. Then my idea formed, and the idea was to work on the concept of liberal neutrality. In the thesis, I argued that the ideas of liberal neutrality and (liberal) perfectionism are like two sides of the same coin; they cannot be separated entirely.

As far as I remember, your dissertation was also partly about autonomy.

Indeed. That was the concept supposed to tie these two notions.

What happened to you in between the prospectus defense and the doctoral defense?

That time was hectic. We had already moved to the US. I had to rush with my dissertation because my wife got pregnant. So we were expecting our kid. So I wanted to graduate before my kid was born because I knew that I would be completely snowed under; I would not have any time after she was born. I graduated two months before she was born.

What was the composition of your defense committee?

János Kis, Nenad Dimitrijevic, and Ben Colburn from Glasgow. I learned a lot from all of them. Nenad Dimitrijevic was one of the nicest people I've ever met, an amazing educator and mentor. Ben Colburn was a great external examiner. That is another thing I want to emphasize: I benefited a lot from the external committee member's requirement. I was fortunate that Ben accepted to be my external examiner. I had read his works before. I knew him as a philosopher, and I invited him to the dissertation committee. I just wrote him an email asking whether he wanted to be my external examiner. Fortunately, he accepted, and I've benefited from that enormously. He took the job very seriously and helped me improve a lot. His comments were very encouraging but also challenging and critical. I don't know if other universities have similar external examiner requirements, but I think the way CEU organizes this is awesome.

I guess it was also crucial for networking reasons.

Absolutely. I stayed in touch with Ben, and I'm still in contact with him. He just wrote a recommendation for my promotion. I applied for promotion to Associate Professor here at Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) with his reference. But he wrote many other job recommendation letters for me. It was instrumental to be in touch with somebody who is a recognized philosopher at a good university. Not just for accommodation, but any kind of philosophy-related questions and other suggestions. If a CEU student is lucky to find a good external examiner, I encourage them to stay in touch with them. They might occupy several roles as friends, as professional acquaintances, or even as mentors.

Basically, for family reasons, you tried not to stretch your doctoral studies too much and defended your thesis in June 2014. Besides the family aspect, you had a challenging plan to move to a specific country as an early career researcher. How did you deal with that?

Well, this is another thing that CEU helped in. I don't know if they kept that practice, but you could do a sandwich semester back then.

That is still an option.

I came to Columbia for my sandwich semester. I was invited there by Turkuler Isiksel, a fellow political theorist, whom I met at a citizenship conference in Toronto. I chose Columbia for several reasons. First, I wanted to take a course with Joseph Raz. At the time, he was teaching a reading seminar on issues in moral philosophy at Columbia's Law School, so I audited that course. That was a great experience. Second, I also wanted to immerse myself more in the American philosophical culture and the history of American ideas. So, when I came to Columbia, I audited a few other courses, including ones on constitutional law and the American legal tradition.

I am sure it was a fantastic experience. Raz is a living legend.

It was! Unsurprisingly, the course with Joseph Raz was the best course that I took there. It was a reading seminar, and most of the students were law school students. Very few were philosophers, but they were excellent and advanced; their philosophical thinking was impressive. It was another instance of my insecurity flaming up, where I felt insufficient in many ways. But then, you know, that's what I discovered about myself, years later, that I love doing that. I love putting myself in a position where I don't know much, in which I have to be on the learning curve at all times. That gives me additional motivation to absorb as much knowledge as possible.

So you like to be a sponge that absorbs ideas instead of water.

Yes. It is fun and exciting for me to throw myself into something that I'm not that good at and that I want to learn more about. I love challenging myself to become better at something. Moving to the US was a part of that challenge. When we came here, I had no clear ideas about my professional path forward. It was a gamble to do that, but we did not want to stay in Bosnia. That was a big motivation for us because, although we love our family and our place of origin, we were not happy there, and I didn't like where the country was going. I simply did not see myself there.

That's a strong motivation. But you and your wife managed to end up in New York with the baby.

Yes, when we came here, I took the classes at Columbia and worked on writing my dissertation. I was still coming to Budapest because I had to meet with János at least once a semester (or more). To be able to survive in New York, my wife and I worked as waiters in an Italian restaurant in Manhattan on the Lower East Side. For months, I would go have a class at Columbia, run to do a shift at the restaurant, read on the subway, go home, write my dissertation, sleep for a few hours, and then repeat the same the day after.

I am afraid there was not too much time for sleep.

No, but luckily, at the time, I was sufficiently young to be able to do that. And then my wife got pregnant. I realized I had nine months to finish this dissertation. I worked very hard. Luckily, in the meantime, my wife got a proper job, which helped us a lot. I have to emphasize another important thing for young researchers: it's tough to succeed at anything without a support structure, be it their parents, siblings, or partners. I was fortunate enough that my wife was a supportive partner. She got a job in a corporation that enabled us to have a much more relaxed lifestyle, such as having insurance, which is a big thing in the US. That's what I mean by relaxed. So, I quit my "waiter career" and focused day and night on the dissertation, which I managed to finish in time before my daughter was born. I went to Budapest to defend it and then came back to New York.

So, from then on, you could focus a hundred percent on trying to find something academic.

Yes. I started applying immediately everywhere, literally everywhere, not just in the United States. First, I started in the United States because we wanted to stay here. But then, as nothing happened, I started applying elsewhere. I was applying even on the other side of the planet. I was applying to jobs in the Middle East, Asia; you name it. I didn't care, like "just give me anything!". But nothing happened. The only thing that did pan out were some adjunct jobs here in New York. That helped me by being a stepping stone to where I am right now. I started working as an adjunct at the City University of New York (CUNY), where I work now as a full-time professor. I think I was still working on the dissertation when I got the first of these jobs. So I started teaching; my first job was at Brooklyn College, and then LaGuardia Community College. These are all under CUNY, just like BMCC. I also got a job at a for-profit college called DeVry University. I had three different part-time gigs at the time when the baby was born.

Just a follow-up on what you have just said. To be able to do that requires support because adjunct positions in the US are notoriously precarious.

Oh yeah. The pay is meager; it is negligible. Especially if you account for the time, it takes you to commute to your work. For example, when I taught at Brooklyn College, we lived in Queens, and it took me an hour and a half to go to the campus. I didn't have a car at the time, so I had to jump on the subway and go all the way past entire Queens, passing through half of Manhattan and entire Brooklyn, Brooklyn College is at the end of the subway line in Brooklyn. It took me an hour and a half to get there and another hour and a half to get back. So, three hours just to commute. Plus, let's say an hour or two for the classes themselves. In total, it was five hours, six hours sometimes, which is basically a full day. If you break that out to an hourly rate it would be miserable, and wouldn't be worth doing it, but I did not do it only for the money.

It was a stepping stone.

Precisely, I needed to put something in my resume. At Brooklyn and LaGuardia, I taught political philosophy types of courses, such as modern political theory and critical thinking. While I was doing that, the baby was born. I soon had to take care of the baby because my wife started going back to work after three months. So, I babysat our daughter during the day. When my wife would come back from work, I would immediately jump on the subway, go to teach a class, come back home late at night, and then do it all over again the next day. So, that lasted for a while.

It still sounds too busy.

Yeah, it was not any more comfortable; it was just a different kind of a challenge from the grad school days. And sometimes, I even had to take my kid to the university with me. Once I had to take her in the classroom because I could not leave it to anybody. We would hire a babysitter sometimes when I had to teach in the middle of the day, but that was also challenging.

It's more and more of a practice in some Western European universities that they provide some help for faculty with children. So it didn't exist there, or it was not available for you?

It was not available. Maybe it was for graduate students of those universities, but I was just an adjunct; I did not have that. And then I was applying like crazy to jobs. I did not count how many applications I sent, but I'm sure I sent more than a hundred. I was applying to everything that moved, but I only had two interviews, and one was for the job that I have right now at BMCC. I got an interview for a postdoc as well.

Can you tell us something about the postdoc?

The postdoc was at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, which is a great place. I stayed in touch with people there; one of the persons working for that project is now a professor at CEU. It was a fantastic project focused on parenthood and children. I developed an interest in this subfield already during my dissertation. I had a chance to work on a project on infant circumcision, developed by Kerem Öktem from (at the time) Oxford University's St. Anthony's College. The project was more empirically oriented. It focused on the controversy in Germany when the court in Cologne decided to ban religious infant male circumcision. But, I was invited to write about the normative aspect of the issue of infant circumcision. I wrote about it through the perspective of debates between neutralists and perfectionists, the topic of my dissertation. It turned into a dissertation chapter and led me more in the direction of upbringing and parent-children relationship studies. After graduating, I slowly moved more away from political philosophy and liberalism and closer to the ethics of parenthood. That's where my current philosophical interests lie, which is why I applied for that postdoc job. I was excited about it.

So, the difference was that Pompeu Fabra was a postdoc position, while the CUNY BMCC position was a tenure track?

Exactly. To be honest, I was desperate because I felt as if I was just throwing CVs and cover letters into a hole. You apply, and then you don't hear anything about the application anymore. I was desperate to the degree that I wanted to give up. It's very soul-crushing and hard to be in that state. I started doing courses on coding because I was thinking, "OK, I need a plan B" and I was on the verge of changing my career again. I saw this call for applications at CUNY BMCC, and they needed somebody to teach critical thinking. And I was lucky that I had experience teaching a critical thinking course as an adjunct. I think I fitted in perfectly, and I cannot describe to you how fortunate I was. When they called me to tell me that I got the position after two rounds of interviews, I cried. I cried, my wife cried too. I was lucky to have gotten a job in a fantastic place and at an excellent department with amazing people that have become my friends that I hang out with.

So, BMCC is one of the colleges of the City University of New York.

CUNY is a colossal university. It's a public university. And I think it might be the biggest public university in the world, at least in America for sure. I believe just BMCC, my college itself, has around 25,000 students. And CUNY has 25 colleges.

Wow. The University of Michigan has approximately 45,000 students altogether, and that's a rather big university.

You can imagine how big this is, and it's not surprising, because this is New York. BMCC is a community college, and community colleges train students for their first two years. And then they go onward. The entire mission of a college like mine is to help students succeed academically. My main job is to help my students transfer to some other university and propel them into the middle class, or high middle class. CUNY is the most significant facilitator of students in the middle class in the entire country. It does that much better than Ivy League schools or many other (more well-known and higher-ranked) universities.

I think Ivy League schools do the opposite. They cement existing inequalities.

I agree. I mean, the vast majority of people who arrive at them are already privileged. Most of our students are either kids of immigrants or maybe immigrants themselves. They come from a lower socioeconomic status, and many of them are minorities. They are very motivated to succeed, and that's an amazing thing. It makes it very fulfilling to teach and very rewarding to be a professor at such a college.

Well, it is gratifying to you, and I guess you can feel that this is also very valuable, what you are doing there with your colleagues.

Yes, that's the benefit of it. A community college job doesn't come with prestige, like jobs at prestigious universities, such as Oxford or Harvard.

The prestige factor is lower, of course.

Yes, the prestige factor may be non-existent here. That's the main difference, but that is quite well compensated with the idea of BMCC/CUNY's mission.

I guess fulfilling this mission requires a lot of teaching. How much time do you have for research?

That's a good question. One of the specificities of BMCC as a community college is that it requires both teaching and research from its professors. Most community colleges don't have the latter requirement at all because the course load is quite heavy. We have to teach seven courses a year. However, that has been relaxed recently. It was eight courses a year until two years ago. So, there's a lot of teaching, but BMCC, for some reason, requires the faculty members to do research as well. We even get some support for that. We have something that's called "course release time" so that we can reassign time from teaching to research. We have a fixed number of hours to use for our research, so we don't have to teach. I used that in the first five years since I've been employed here.

I managed to do a lot of research, and I was lucky to have been able to do that. I think it also has to do with me being forged in fire through the above-mentioned challenges of looking for jobs and basic survival in New York. And I became very good at time management because my time was so limited. I learned to do that well during my post-graduation phase. Imagine my schedule: after my daughter was born and my wife had to return to work, I had to stay with the baby, feed her, change her diapers, take her on the subway for daily breastfeeding sessions at my wife's office, come back, put the kid to bed, write a few pages of the paper, read a little bit, send a job application or two, cook dinner, teach adjunct classes, and things like that. So I became perfect at time management. I believe this "training" helped me to manage to publish seven journal articles since 2016. That's a lot for a community college professor.

It's a lot indeed. Especially that you became a kind of celebrity, publishing in the New York Times. Your work even appeared in Fareed Zakaria's program on CNN. Of course, I'm exaggerating, but it is no small feat that many of us academics, even the serious big names, do not reach out to the crowd.

Oh yeah. I set that up as a challenge for myself. I kind of wanted to publish in the New York Times because I've been reading the Stone, the philosophy column in New York Times, for years. I tried sending it a couple of times, and it did not work. And then one day it did, and that was awesome in many ways. But one thing that surprised me is I got paid for publishing that article. I couldn't believe it when the check arrived. I got paid $1,200 for that article. I've never been paid more for anything I've written in my life. I thought they made a mistake; I thought they would call me and tell me that I had to return the money.

A screenshot from the New York Times website

I think this is quite sad that academics are not paid after their journal articles. Speaking of which. How many publications did you have before you finished the PhD?

Well, I had a few already, but they were not in political philosophy. They were in political science or social theory because I worked on this project at the University of Edinburgh that I mentioned already. That was a high level, serious scholarly work led by a great legal theorist and scholar, Jo Shaw, at the University of Edinburgh. So, we published our papers in Citizenship Studies, which is the top journal in the field. We also published our work as a book, in an edited volume. So, I had a few of these already. But then, my first serious philosophy piece of work was the paper on circumcision. The circumcision article won the award of Res Publica for the best post-graduate essay. That was my first serious work. And it came out from my dissertation. I published another piece, the central chapter of my dissertation, in the Canadian Journal of Philosophy.

That's a prime journal.

Yes, that is an excellent journal. And again, I managed to publish it because I was "forged in fire", working with János on that chapter, especially the feedback that I got after the defense, not only from János and Ben Colburn but also from Nenad Dimitrijevic. So all of them gave me good comments, and that helped me publishing it. Those are the only two articles that came out of the dissertation.

Do you believe that, in retrospect, people like us who entered the CEU Political Theory program should all have tried to publish articles before graduating? What would you recommend to current students?

When I was a student, I fully believed that they should. But in hindsight, I am not sure. I think students should be much more focused on just learning as much as possible and practicing the craft, maybe publishing if they have something awe-inspiring in their hands. But I sometimes feel embarrassed when I read things that I wrote earlier. Perhaps that's normal, and it means that I've made progress. It's also hard to answer that question because you have to publish as a student if you want to have better chances to get a job. That's a requirement being imposed on students by this academic culture, which I don't necessarily agree with.

And that's one of the bad aspects of academic culture. Academic culture has a lot of bad features. A lot of things need to be changed. One of those things is perhaps the need to publish early because it forces students to think quickly, make shortcuts, and be published. And I don't think that's the proper way to become a philosopher. We shouldn't be taking shortcuts. We should be taking things slowly. Philosophy is a slow reflection on things, and this leads to better results. But if students feel pressured and think they absolutely have to publish, then my suggestion would be to focus on small and narrow issues. Not on anything too big and bold. When I was a student, I made a mistake thinking I had to solve all the problems of liberalism in one paper immediately.

How useful is your CEU background or training regarding your current position? Is there anything you miss, something that would have been great to learn during your doctoral time?

The impact that CEU made on my life is profound. It's foundational to who I am as a person right now. I would have never been able to be even near the position I am at right now. The main benefit of CEU is that it helped me transform into a better thinking person, to help me completely change my intellectual outlook, my conceptual apparatus, and the way I think. When I reflect on myself before coming to CEU, I see a completely different person. I mean, I'm sure many people feel like that, but in my case, the difference between me before CEU and me after it is enormous. It helped me to adapt to this intellectual, social, and political culture that I'm in right now. I also learned the necessary research skills. I learned how to do proper research philosophy, thanks to CEU.

However, there are two things where my CEU training did not help much.

The first has perhaps nothing to do with CEU, which is the American ignorance of European universities. Many people don't know about CEU in the United States. But I'm guessing that number is becoming smaller and smaller because CEU is becoming more popular. One of the reasons for CEU's recent popularity is the problems you have experienced lately in Hungary and the entire Vienna move. It's sad, but it also put CEU on the map. Still, while many people may now know about CEU as an institution, it's not like, "Oh, you're from CEU, we're gonna hire you." That's not the status of CEU in the United States at this point. It may change, though.

What is the other point?

The other thingand this would be my only criticism of CEUis that professors need to do a better job, supervisors in particular, at putting the graduate students in touch with people outside the University, so they don't feel wholly abandoned when they graduate. It's tough to graduate from a political theory/philosophy program, looking for a job, especially in today's job market. You don't have anybody advocating for you, anybody pushing you or putting you in touch with people. When you're fresh out of grad school, you don't know much, you don't know many people in academia around the world, and you're applying everywhere. You don't know the relevant people unless you've gone to conferences. And unless you've mingled a lot with people at these conferences, you will not know many people, but you need these contacts. And it's challenging to establish these contacts yourself. So, professors should also make sure that they put the graduate students in touch with people outside the University and worldwide.

So, they need to provide them some primary network.

Exactly. One more thing. I remember myself and my other political theory classmates when we wondered why we have to take the class on political methods. Because it had nothing to do with the way we do research, instead of that, I think PT people would need an introductory methods class for how to do research in political philosophy. I've been thinking about that issue a lot because I teach critical thinking and reflect on how much I would have benefited from a graduate-level course about philosophical research methods. I think there should be a course for PT students that will focus on combining the formal and informal methods of philosophical research, teach them how to be philosophers through a hands-on approach.

So, you would prefer a kind of crossover between empirical methods and normative or philosophical methods.

Yes.

As far as the critical reasoning class is concerned, CEU offers that now in the School of Public Policy. It's an MA class.

That's great. I don't think it was available in any form back in our time or in any department.

What are your future plans? I guess your short-term goal is to get your tenure at BMCC/CUNY. But I am also interested in whether you have some longer or midterm plans beyond your University.

I just applied for promotion to Associate Professor. I'm not due for tenure yet. That will be at the end of next year. This is my fifth year working here, and usually, tenure and promotion happen simultaneously. But in my case, I'm applying for promotion earlier, because I satisfy the requirements. 

What about your current research?

This pandemic set me back in many ways, but I believe it had the same impact on many other people. I wasn't as productive research-wise in the past year, but I managed to publish something. My latest publication is a paper that I wrote last summer. It's about children, culture, and body modification. It's a wider development of the ideas that I had in the circumcision paper.

Otherwise, I am not able to do much research lately. Our kid is attending school remotely; both my wife and I work from home. It's extremely hard to do meaningful research in these circumstances. Still, I am slowly working on a paper that recently received a revise-and-resubmit decision. The paper is about personal identity. Hopefully, I'll be able to get it published.

And the long term plans?

Maybe that's the pandemic effect on me, or maybe I'm changing as a person, but I'm becoming less ambitious. I just want to sail smoothly to retirement. I'm tired of logistical challenges, and I don't want to move countries and continents anymore. We're happy in New York for the time being, although the past four years were a challenge for living in the US. Fortunately, the political tide has changed, which may give us some hope for the future, though I am skeptical by nature.

Final question: what do you do or like to do in your free time?

My hobby is photography. I have a website (www.eldarsarajlic.com), and I love street photography. I love walking and taking photos. New York is a perfect place for that. I have also developed more interest in music lately. I started playing bass guitar a couple of years ago.

Thanks, Eldar, for the interview!

Thanks for having me!