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Crossing Back Over To Teaching Religion, After PhD?


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So I have a serious dilemma, which I could use some help on.

I've heard back from all of my programs, and I've been accepted, with almost identical funding offers, to two programs. The first is a religion PhD, and the second is an APA accredited Clinical Psychology program. I should say that the religion program is very philosophical/psychological in focus, and the clinical psychology program is very philosophical/spiritual in focus; hence my fit in them both.

Like many people, I currently hold a bachelors in religion/philosophy, as well as a masters in theology (MTS). Both are from reputable schools. I'm also completing a CPE residency now, so I'll have enough CPE units to be a licensed chaplain in just about every state.

My ultimate hope would be to teach in a divinity school, graduate school, or liberal arts college (pretty much anything but a large state school), teaching in the intersections of philosophy, religion, and psychology. Also, it would be nice to do a small bit of pastoral or clinical type work on the side to enrich my largely personalistic and relational research.

Considering my ultimate teaching goals, and the serious competition of good academic jobs in religion now, I'm strongly considering doing the clinical psychology program, with hopes of eventually using that training to come back and teach in a religion setting. More specifically, my question is whether I would be seriously considered in a religion setting at that point. I would have a PhD in Clinical Psychology, but an MTS and a BA in religion. I know your last degree is most important usually, but I'm wondering if having a PhD (at all) in a related field would be enough to merit a position in religion. Needless to say, my research in clinical psychology would have to be somewhat religious in focus.

Has anyone heard of anybody doing this? Or something similar in neighboring fields? If I do the religion PhD and miss the goal of teaching, I'm kind of SOL, like so many others. But if I miss the mark with the psychology PhD, I'd still be able to land a decent paying job as a psychotherapist just about anywhere.

I understand that this is a very good sort of problem to have, but nonetheless it's posing a serious conundrum for me now.

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None of us can really answer this, nor can you. Such an answer requires too much speculation and looking toward the future with a hopeful eye.


Would it be possible to teach religion courses in an interdisciplinary manner? Sure. There are programs with courses in Psychology of Religion - some schools even have such courses in the Psychology Department AND the Religious Studies Department. That said, they're usually taught by people trained (PhD) in that field, i.e. whomever is teaching in the Psychology department has a PhD in Psychology and the one in the Religious Studies Department has a PhD in Religious Studies. The reason being is that while they're often dealing with the same subject matter, to varying degrees, they'll both approach the subject matter from different perspectives and ultimately want their students to take different things away from the course.


I'm going to attempt to speak for mainline seminaries and divinity schools here so I'm bound to err: While a PhD in Clinical Psychology may very well permit you to teach topical courses in pastoral counseling, some fields of practical theology, and very closely related fields. I don't see a school letting you teach a "proper" Religious Studies course.


If your goal is to teach religious studies, even with a strong psychology focus - your better off getting a PhD in Religious Studies and channeling your coursework and dissertation with a strong Psychology focus.


Vanderbilt is an amazing school to do this at - they've drawn faculty from the Divinity School, the Psychology Department, and clinical faculty who specialize in pastoral counseling. It's everything you could want and obtaining Board Certified Chaplain status so you could obtain invaluable clinical experience is still possible at Vandy.

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FWIW (probably not much), when I worked at Pacific University many years ago, I know the Psych department would encourage our PsyD students to persue additional education after the doctorate. Often that was an MSN so that the student could obtain Nurse Practitioner licensure so they could prescribe. However, I seem to remember PsyD's as taking quite a while, so that may not be desirable at all.

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I'd second Balatro. It is certainly possible to have a PhD in a different but related field and end up teaching some religion courses, but that is not what you're going to fall into right out of your degree. There are two profs at NU (that I know of) who hold joint appointments in the RS department and English and philosophy respectively, but they finished their PhDs in the 60s, have been at NU forever, and have clearly paid their dues. People coming into the job market for the first time are most likely going to have to look for jobs in the field in which they received their PhD. You might find jobs at the smaller liberal arts colleges you say you're interested in that would be willing to stretch in a more interdisciplinary direction than major research institutions, but again, those will probably be even fewer in number than the already slim number of jobs available in your home field. 


Another way to approach this might be through your quals. I don't know what it's like at other schools, but at NU, students have the option to take a qual in a different department which is supposed to qualify you to teach courses in that subject, e.g. I'm in religious studies but plan to take a philosophy qual, probably in German Idealism. Does that mean that a philosophy department is going to hire me? Definitely not. But, if I'm lucky enough to end up at a school where the RS department has a good working relationship with the philosophy department, maybe I can teach some cross listed courses eventually.


If you're really interested in teaching religion and psychology, I would do the RS PhD with a subfield in psychology.

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I'd advise going with the Ph.D. in psychology with an emphasis on religion. Psychology will open up more job opportunities both within and outside of the academy. I know of number of people at my school working in the social sciences with an emphasis on religion (sociology, anthropology, politics, etc.). Also, I get the feeling that religious studies departments like hiring people with training in the social sciences because they receive ample methodological training, as opposed to religion departments which don't usually teach quantitative, qualitative, or other methodologies.

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Wow! Thanks for this feedback, everyone! I'm definitely sensing some disagreement, which affirms for me the fact that this might not be a cut and dry situation. Jdharrison's right that religion departments (especially higher level research ones) will normally want people trained in, well, religion. But I've seen what Lux Lex Pax is talking about too. It's odd how sometimes cachet comes from being an academic foreigner. To bridge these opinions, however, I think it's true that if I did the psych route, I would probably have to "pay my dues" teaching psychology for a while, building a reputation as someone with something interesting to say about religion, before bridging the gap to a religion position.

Regardless, I do feel that this will be an increasingly common circumstance for people as teaching jobs become more competitive, so I'm still interested to see what others' experiences have been.

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