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Which areas (theology etc) do you think will be smart/employable choices?


Yetanotherdegree

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I'm just curious. We all have our interests and areas of expertise, but some subjects and specializations are perhaps more employable than others.

Where do you think the future areas of growth in theology are? Where will divinity schools and seminaries be looking to hire in the future? And are some areas or specializations overdone or outdated now?

I have heard that it can be a struggle to find qualified people for some of the positions in the area of pastoral theology, and that women in NT are "very employable." On the other hand, there seem to be a lot of people doing PhDs in American Christianity or similar, and I don't see that many jobs out there for those graduates.

Any thoughts? I'm curious about this, and I'd love to see some ongoing conversations on here. I enjoyed all the activity in the application season, and I keep checking in to see if there are any more opportunities to discuss things. Anyone interested in a conversation about theological education and future possibilities?

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There are obviously a lot of ways to answer this depending on what one is interested in. American Christianity comes with very different prospects than either NT or theology, though there's some overlap. In my department, 40% or so of students study American religions (and most of those American Catholicism.) None have any interest in jobs at religiously affiliated schools. I, on the other hand, would be willing to take a job just about anywhere that would have me--as long as I could sign the statement of faith in good conscience! Point is, it's hard to compare subfields within RS.

 

But I can speak to theology more specifically. When I applied to PhD programs, I was originally interested in doing something in constructive/contemporary theology and theological method, and in my experience, a lot of people who become interested in continental philosophy and/or radical theology tend to lean toward doing something "cutting edge" in their dissertations. I was one of those. As I emailed back and forth with my advisor over the summer before my first year, she convinced me that doing historical work would be far more marketable. Write a historical dissertation and save the constructive work for my second or third book. We've compromised a little bit. I decided to work on Schleiermacher and will hopefully do a project that incorporates Paul Tillich. I also have a background in critical theory, so I'm fashioning that into a political theology subfield with her help.

 

I think much depends upon one's institution, advisor, and the resources available in order to write a first-rate dissertation. I wouldn't overlook the importance of that. After a year at Northwestern, I can see that it would've been pretty difficult to pull off a constructive or very contemporary dissertation had I been really stubborn. But NU has a very strong faculty in 18th/19th century German philosophy and literature as well as critical theory. Anything that I need outside of that (e.g. seminars on Schleiermacher, Tillich, or other theology) I've can take at UChicago. Or as a directed reading. So leaning the direction I did was a natural fit for me. I say all this because even though it would be really nice to have our pick of top ten programs to attend in order to end up in the program that fits us exactly, the reality is that many people (like me!) only get into a couple places which may make a change in the game plan necessary.

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Thanks for answering, jdharrison. I think you're right, there's a need for balance between marketability, interests, and resources (including institutions willing to accept you.) It has been suggested (by an academic who knows me well) that I develop teaching competency in an area that seems very far away from my academic interest (although I can see the overlap/connection). I want to work on historical theology, specifically the practices of holiness and sacred space in late antiquity; I've been advised to make sure that I develop a pastoral theology dimension (spiritual practices, the development of holiness, etc.) While part of me just wants to run off into the world of the desert fathers, I can see the wisdom of incorporating a more contemporary element. I'm relatively limited in terms of the institutions I can apply to here. I can't move, and I have family and church obligations that prevent me from going anywhere else. But my options are, all things considered, more than adequate. I can focus on my particular interests while developing additional skills and knowledge that may (or may not) lead to future opportunities.

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@Yetanotherdegree Interesting that you mention developing competency in an area far from your interest. When I read that, I immediately thought, "Yep, I've been told that I'll probably be asked to teach World Religions or Intro to Religion in my first job in which I'll obviously have to include Eastern religions of which I currently have almost no knowledge." But then you mentioned pastoral theology, which is a completely different way to think about it. Again, it's just interesting how different one's experience can be. Of course, no one in my department expects that theologians develop an official competency in an Eastern religion, but no one would ever suggest pastoral theology to me either, though I wouldn't be opposed to developing that (I was on the pastoral staff of a church (as the youth pastor) while I attended an Evangelical seminary very committed to training pastors.) Pastoral theology is maybe a very marginal concern of the theologians at NU, and although I could take courses in pastoral theology at Garrett Evangelical Seminary, it would probably be seen as an odd choice here. It sounds though like you have some good options where you are.

 

I do think there is wisdom in developing sub-disciplines and taking comps in areas that can diversify your skill set without seeming completely random and unrelated to your primary area of interest.

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I'm curious if anyone has any thoughts on the combination of women studies and Christianity/women in the NT since I might develop my Master's writing sample on this subject. It seems to be a "hot" area of study but I wonder if it will stay that way.

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I'm curious if anyone has any thoughts on the combination of women studies and Christianity/women in the NT since I might develop my Master's writing sample on this subject. It seems to be a "hot" area of study but I wonder if it will stay that way.

 

I assume by "women's studies" you also mean "gender studies?" I ask because those aren't necessarily the same to everyone, and the latter seems to fall more under the category of "theory" while the former seems to be something more general in the humanities. Theory does seem to be hot right now at a lot of institutions (and gender or queer theories in particular.) I come from an English lit. background where theory has been the name of the game more or less for the last 50 years. In that discipline, it's something that seems to come and go in waves, but it never fully disappears. Some literature scholars despise it while others do far more theory than they do work on actual literature. While the two are not entirely analogous, I think it's safe to say that we could expect a similar trend within religion/theology/biblical studies. People have been interested in questions of difference and "othering" for a long time, and I don't see that disappearing anytime soon. The good news for religion and related fields is that unlike literature departments, the departments who lean towards theory also recognize other methodologies as valuable.

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I would echo many of these things, though to some extent you have to ask yourself what kind of job you'll be looking for when you finish.  The way that many departments train their graduates inevitably limit the possibilities for employment afterwards.  For example in my own case, I highly doubt that I would be considered too strongly for a denominational college/divinity school looking for a "bible" professor.  I don't have an MDiv, would not be able to sign onto a serious statement of faith or whatnot in good conscience, and don't have any church affilitation other than a lodge of which I am a part.  However, having done two degrees in Hebrew Bible, one in NT, and now one in Ancient Christianity which has included substantial coursework that falls outside that strict area (eastern religions, theory of religion, medieval religious culture, anthropology of religion), I think I am going to come out eminently qualified to teach in a religious studies department. 

 

So, I think in the end you can't be an expert or be qualified in everything.  You only have so much time to do courses and you are only given so many opportunities to TA.  If you know everything about the book of Jeremiah and preaching on such, but nothing about Sikh practices you are probably going to be a better candidate for divinity schools or denominational colleges.  From a number of friends who were on the market this year, things are very competitive, so it pays to have wide experience, but that experience can only be so wide and hiring committees understand that.  On the flip side, you should think more about what your desired outcome is prior to starting up so that you can maximize your time in graduate school in that direction.  We can say "I would take a job anywhere that would take me!," but we also have to recognize that lots of places wouldn't take us.  And anyhow, I think I would do something else before teaching at a place like my undergrad - I just don't think I could deal with it.

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A number of faculty members I know are gloomy about the prospects of constructive/normative work outside of the seminary/div school context. I don't think religious studies departments know what to do with people who do constructive work, so if that's your thing, you might be shutting yourself out of most religion departments. For instance, there's rumbling that Yale's religious studies department wants to get out of doing normative work. If you look at where the faculty are primarily situated, most of the normative faculty are primarily affiliated with the div school and the historical/descriptive work is done primarily in the religious studies department -- this is obviously a generalization. U Chicago is also having a difficult time figuring out whether it wants to support constructive work; it's had openings in theology and ethics for many years now, but for some reason, it can't seem to fill those vacancies. Stanford had a position that a prominent Christian ethicist applied for but was turned down because he was too theological. This is obviously a small sample of cases, drawn from elite schools that most of us will never have the opportunity to teach at, but there does seem to be a general trend in recent years away from constructive work.

I'd like to hear what others think about this issue and whether my observations are accurate.

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Lux, I think you're absolutely right. The theologians (all two of them) at Northwestern are interested in constructive work, but they believe strongly that what theology contributes to the religious studies department (of which theology is a part, much like Yale's set up) the larger institution is important intellectual history. Most of the other humanities departments here concur. Chicago has some younger faculty doing constructive work (Kevin Hector comes to mind), but I think you're right.

 

what is the difference between "constructive" work, constructive theology, and systematic theology? thanks in advance

 

Definitely a good question. I think "systematic theology" covers a much broader range. That is, it could be that a systematic theologian does constructive work (i.e. normative theological work that makes claims about how people should think about theological concepts today), and many who are out of programs and teaching do, but I think there are many studying systematic theology in Ph.D programs who are doing work on particular theologians and making claims in their dissertations about how we should read and understand someone else's theology. But even then, what is being done is almost strictly theological work. Of course at a certain point, one crosses the line into "historical theology" as a field, but where that line is seems to be more or less subjective. What Lux is alluding to and what my department does is something that stretches out a bit more into the the philosophical/historical/political context and implications of a particular theologian's work and how those theological claims participate in a broader tradition of thought. No one studying theology in my department is making normative constructive claims about contemporary theology. Hope that helps!

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I agree with jdharrison. The difference between historical and constructive theology is the difference between saying "Calvin believed in a penal substitutionary theory of the atonement" and "I believe in a penal substitutionary theory of the atonement" or some variant on that. In other words, someone engages in constructive theology when he expresses his own views on theological matters. I take constructive and normative theology to be synonymous. Systematic theology, on the other hand, I take to be concerned with topics like revelation, the Trinity, Christology, theological anthropology, etc. -- that is, with the traditional theological loci and how they interrelate. Someone working in theology can do constructive theology, or systematic theology, or both, but they don't necessarily overlap. I can be a constructive political theologian who doesn't work on doctrinal issues, or I can study the systematic theology of Karl Barth or Thomas Aquinas without ever setting forth my own views on the matter, or I can do constructive systematic theology by, say, expressing my own views on the doctrine of the Trinity. These categories aren't set in stone, but they do tend to be the way people think about theological scholarship. For the sake of those new to theology, I would probably contrast constructive with historical theology, on one hand, and systematic, moral, political, and practical/pastoral theology, on the other.

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We had a discussion along this line with some professors in the department not too long ago. The professors' consensus was that there will be an increased interest in gender theory and its related fields but even more so we'll see a noticeable increase in the demand for Asian religions for at least the next decade or two.

 

I've noticed more interest in Islam over the last decade, not surprising obviously, but I don't know how long it'll last.

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