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Sociology of Religion vs. Religion Program - help!


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I have started this thread somewhere else, but I believe here I can get a better feedback.


I’ve been accepted to University A Religion program and to University B Sociology program (both with the same research focus – immigration and religion). Now, I need to decide on which one to attend, but am really not sure where to go.  

Let me write down the pros and cons of each program in my opinion. Keep in mind that I am an international student.


U-A - Sociology


  1. Located in a big city - there is a great immigrant community understudied;
  2. Have already offered funding package for four years;
  3. Great fit (in my SoP I mentioned three potential supervisors);
  4. I have a MA in Sociology


  1. New and not yet ranked program;


U-B - Religion


  1. Incredible POI;
  2. More prestigious university;
  3. I have a Master of Divinity (Seminary degree)


  1. Located in a small city without a significant immigrant community – I will have to travel for field work;
  2. Have not yet offered funding – but will soon, I hope;


Which university do you think I should go? Just one more piece of information.  If I decide to stay in the US after PhD, the Religion program would be better and would probably give me more opportunities. On the other hand, if I decide to return to my country, Sociology would be better and would open more and better doors.

I would really appreciate some insights!

PS: I may add some other pros and cons later as I think more about both offers. 

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I went through the same decision, and applied to five religion programs and five sociology programs.  After I got my first acceptance to a sociology program, I ended up withdrawing most of my religion applications.  Personally, I find my research interests were much more in line and better supported by people in the sociology departments I applied to.  Honestly, though, in general, sociology jobs are more plentiful than religion jobs, not just internationally but in the U.S. as well.  I don't know exactly which sociology program you're talking about (I would guess it's either Rice or Baylor, if one counts Waco as a big city, but it could be somewhere else entirely) and I certainly don't know which religion program you're talking about.  The sociologists of religion I've talked to, both graduate students on the market and professors (admittedly, all from top ten programs), have been optimistic about job prospects in general.  Maybe they'd have to move to a far away town that they wouldn't have chosen on their own, likely at a school less prestigious than where they got their undergraduate degree, but there's a feeling there are jobs out there in sociology departments for sociologists of religion.  My experience with professors and especially graduate students on the market in religion is quite different.  My undergraduate university is generally considered one of the best graduate schools in the country for religion, and talking to the graduate students I knew there, none of them were optimistic about the job market.  Of the two I was closest two, one ended up getting a job at a community college, the other took a while to find a job and eventually found a non-tenure track position at a liberal arts college.  Both really liked me but both insisted I think about the job market realities that come with a Ph.D. from a religion department.  See if you can get a real sense of placement from the religion program (not just where the stars got placed, but where everyone got placed).  See if you can get a real sense of attrition (that was another big problem at the religion program I knew) and also the average time to degree. See if you can get a sense of where your adviser's last five or ten graduate students have ended up.  Obviously, ideally you'd be able to do compare the answers to those things directly with the sociology program in question, but it seems like the program's too young to have that sort of track record.


Last thing I'll say, sociologists of religion can get jobs in religion departments (Courtney Bender at Columbia or Mark Chaves at Duke, to pick two prestigious examples) but it's much harder for people from religion departments--even ones that have a "religion and society" or "anthropology and sociology of religion" track--to get jobs in sociology departments (I can't think of any, off the top of my head). 

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As you probably already know, the theories and frames used in the sociology of religion are very different from those used in a religious studies program. One is much more empirical and the other is much more theological/philosophical (in my experience, anyway). Having said that, I think you should not consider University prestige so much in this decision, nor do I think you should be worried about location. Instead, you should be thinking about what a program can offer to your intellectual development.


If you're interested in doing qualitative field work or quantitative analysis of religion and immigration, then you ought to choose a sociology department. If you would like a perspective on religion and immigration that is less grounded in empirical work and more conceptually based, perhaps a religion program is more for you.


I will say, however, that funding should be the primary concern over all. If a program will fund you, jump on that opportunity. Accruing massive debt for a liberal arts PhD is not a wise idea, especially when considering the neoliberalization of universities throughout the US and other parts of the world. You won't pay off 100,000 in debt very easily when working as an adjunct....

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As someone with an MA in religious studies that will now be attending a PhD sociology program, and that has been in this exact dilemma before, I will say that I think even being in this position strongly indicates that you should be in a sociology program. For my part, I think Jacib makes great points and that the job market for sociology phd's is much stronger than religious studies. This is not necessarily because sociology in general is doing better (although it may be) but because in sociology, one has a better opportunity to develop tangential expertise and emphases that can contribute to how you market yourself. For example, you can be a social movements or immigration scholar or identity person that does religion stuff as part of these broader interests, allowing you to develop your interests in ways that keep you motivated but that also align with how the job market is evolving. My guess is that this would be much harder in religious studies. Also, in most places the opportunities to be trained rigorously in a variety of methodologies, which add to your value as a scholar and teacher, are better in sociology than in religious studies. I'm not saying these things to bash religious studies. I mean, I have an MA and think it's an incredibly important discipline. There are a lot of amazing religious studies scholars that just couldn't do what they do in sociology. If you can, though, my bet is that you will be happier, and have a better shot at a good job, in sociology. 

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