Thursday, November 15, 2012

Bad News for Academic Job Seekers in Religious Studies

According to this article and this study from the Society of Biblical Literature and the American Academy of Religion, tenure-track jobs in religious studies are slowly disappearing.  Here is a taste of Scott Jaschik's article in Inside Higher Ed:

The report by the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature examines job trends from 2001-2010 and finds modest but steady growth up until 2008, with the number of job listings dropping by 46 percent in 2009. The figures are based on the number of positions listed with the two associations. The report acknowledged that not all jobs are listed with the groups, but many disciplinary associations do similar studies based on the listings they receive and the ups and downs of the market are generally well-reflected in these data.

In 2010, the number of jobs bounced back by 24 percent, but the field ended the decade with fewer jobs being listed than was the case at the start of the period.

Of particular concern to the associations was a shift in the type of jobs advertised. Historically, the vast majority of jobs listed with the two associations have been tenure-track positions, as was the case with 82 percent of jobs listed in 2008. But in 2009, that figured dropped to 51 percent, and it rose to only 61 percent in 2010 -- so not only are there fewer jobs, but positions promising the possibility of job security are in even shorter supply. The report says that a key issue going forward will be to see whether this shift away from a tenure-track norm is "temporary" or a "reconfiguration" of the academic job market.

I am often asked whether an undergraduate interested in American religious history should pursue a graduate degree in American history or religion.  First, I would advise any undergraduate to pursue graduate school in any humanities-based field with caution.  The market is very bad and there is a good chance that it will never get better. 

Second, I would advise students to do a degree in history and write their dissertation in American religious history.  You have a better chance of getting one of the few jobs available.

Third, if an undergraduate cannot fathom studying the non-religious dimensions of American history in graduate school, they should probably pursue a Ph.D in religion, but should be fully aware of the things noted in this article.

Can you imagine yourself doing something else with your life other than being an academic?  If you answer no, you should go to graduate school and live with the consequences.


Joshua Wooden said...

Maybe I should switch from Biblical Studies to History.

I wonder if I would be set back all that much, having a BA in Biblical/Theological Studies, and studying history in my spare time.

Michael J. Altman said...

This is the second year I've seriously paid attention to the job market and the first year that I am seriously looking for a job. I think there has been a slight bounce back in terms of tenure-track jobs in the past two years. Nearly all of the jobs I applied to this year were TT. They were spread between general/comparative/world religions positions and American religion positions. So, yes, things are bad, but they are getting a little better.

I'm curious why you think a history Ph.D. with a dissertation on religion would have a better shot at a job in American religion than a religion Ph.D. Do you mean in a history dept. or in a religion dept? It seems that the history Ph.D. won't have the theoretical background or breadth in religious traditions to teach the lower level courses and core major courses in a religion dept. But I could be wrong.

daniel said...

This is actually the question I'm facing right now. I'm considering doing a one year Masters program in Religious Studies at an UK university, and then coming back to the States to do something in US religious history.

John Fea said...

Michael: Obviously a Ph.D in history will teach in a history departmasnt and a Ph.D in religion will teach in a religious studies department. You can do American religious history in both, but your teaching load is going to be diferent depending on the department. If you want to study American religious history I think that you have a better chance landing an academic job in history than religion.

Michael J. Altman said...

Gotcha. That makes sense. Though I do think a history PhD has a descent chance of jumping into a religion dept.--more than the other way around.

John Fea said...

Yes, Michael. I agree about this, although both are rare. Most history departments will not want religion Ph.Ds and vice-versa.