BYU Hiring Ancient Scrip Prof Rd 2

About a year ago we put up a post discussing the search for a professor of Ancient Scripture in BYU’s School of Religious Education. This year they are again looking for a professor of Ancient Scripture. This search, however, is somewhat different than the previous one. I’d like to point out some of the differences between the two and raise an issue about the LDS notion of ‘education’.

One of the first things you’ll notice is the brevity of this search listing (when compared with the previous one). The length of this listing actually conforms to standard academic job postings (see any of the other faculty listings at BYU, for instance). I’m not sure what to make of this change, but the length of the last posting was a central issue in our previous discussion.

Notice that this position has a 6-6-3 teaching load; meaning that prof teaches 6 classes in the fall semester, 6 classes in the winter semester, and 3 classes in one of the two spring/summer terms. The previous listing was for a 5-4-2 teaching load. My sense is that this listing is for one of the ‘teaching positions’ that they hold for professors that do not have publishing expectations (I believe there’s one or two in both the Ancient Scripture and Church History departments in RE). 

Related to the previous point, this search targets all PhDs; whereas the last, while open for all to apply, targeted those with training in “ancient scripture”. I take this to mean that this position is primarily for those in CES (trained in family science, or other fields not necessarily related to religion). 

Now, I don’t want this to turn into a bashing of the BYU RE department. The issue I do want to raise, however, is related to my previous post regarding an out-come centered style of pedagogy employed by CES (and the Church in general). In that thread I explained that the learning of factual knowledge, from the perspective of CES, is valued according to the consequences it brings about. It is a means to an end, and not an end-in-itself; where “end” refers to stronger activity in the Church. To put it plainly, what is important is membership and activity in the Church, even more so than having a sophisticated understanding of our history (but at the same time we don’t want people to be ignorant of that history).

I’d like to reframe that issue, and perhaps put it into more plain language. To state it simply, to what degree should continued activity in the Church be the measure of success for the School of Religious Education? How is this different from the goals of other departments? Isn’t a sign of success for the School of Communication, for instance, turning out “active” journalists? Are people with EdDs or PhDs in the sciences, therefore, as qualified to bring about this goal as those with PhDs in religious studies?

11 Replies to “BYU Hiring Ancient Scrip Prof Rd 2”

  1. I have been thinking a lot about this. I was initially going to write a very negative comment about the BYU Religious Education department but decided against it.

    I think my attitude towards BYU RE is now more one of pity. I think that the folks there do the best they can given the massive constraints on them. I don’t really think there is a measure of success for the BYU RE department. I am sure there is some Coveyesque mission statement that someone there has written. I am also fairly confident that it is ignored like all Coveyeque mission statements. I think that the people there do what they must to survive.

    I pity them because they are caged rats. Suppose you just spent 5-10 years teaching at the BYU RE department and you would like to move on to fresher, greener pastures. You can’t. You will have no publications because of the massive teaching load and absolutely no encouragement to publish. Your language skills (if you had them) are going to be rusty beyond belief because you have not taught them nor supervised anyone using those languages. You will not have been able to attend much in the way of symposia or conferences because of the massive work load and general disdain for non-Mormon religious views. This means you will have no ability to network for other jobs. In short, once you are there you are going to stay there, unless you decide to change careers.

    That’s a horrible place to be in, and I feel sorry for them.

  2. I think David Clark’s comment pretty much sums up what I have been wanting to express. It seems that BYU RE is more a less a black hole for young scholars and a pasture for older scholars and CES folks. I don’t know of any professor who has been poached from BYU RE by any other school, let alone a prestigious institution. And poaching is often what aids promising academic careers develop into successful careers (defining success as becoming a tested and respected voice in a given field).

    BYU RE is simply asking too much of their professors. I don’t mean just the intense teaching load and numbers of students. I mean they are asking young scholars, many of whom have just gone through what amounts to a decade of training (1 or 2 ma’s, 5-8 years of PhD work), to abandon or marginalize their previous work and research interests. Of course, nobody is forcing anybody to take these jobs and in the intensely competetive academic market with the current economy any job sounds like a good job. But people who go into academics often do so because they are passionate about their field or expertise and they can’t bear the thought of toiling away the rest of their working lives doing what does not give them pleasure (and what is academics if not indulgent pleasure?). BYU RE, in a way, demands this concession. Perhaps, this is some sort of institutionally imposed sacrifice of pleasure. Because, you know, sacrificing pleasure makes people good. Or something.

    Heckuva thing, that teaching position in BYU RE.

  3. I think that David and oudenos misunderstand what the RE departments at BYU are all about. They are not academic departments in the sense that a department of economics or a sociology department at a university is an academic department. It is, to a great degree, the biggest LDS Institute of Religion on the planet while also providing the religious instruction component of the BYU General Education program. Research is just not a core part of why Religious Education exists at BYU.

    With respect to the workload for the position, it works out to 12 classroom hours per week during the teaching year. This isn’t too much different from the Spanish faculty listing which is a 3-2-1 position which could entail as much as 15 hours per week in the fall and ten hours per week in the winter and spring/summer. It is not out of line for teaching faculty positions where the focus is on the classroom and not the research agenda.

    I really don’t think that Ancient Scripture will have too much difficulty finding a willing Ph.D. or Ed.D. to take this job. There are enough CES employees who have earned doctorates, not because they love research but because it is a ticket stamp on the career ladder. A little fact that is just as true in CES as in K-12 and community colleges. Also, there are always young academics who at the end of their dissertations, decide that they just don’t like research all that much, but they are very happy teaching. There is at least one story in The Chronicle of Higher Education on that subject every month. There is another source of applicants for positions like this.

    Yes, if one accepts a

  4. I’m going to try not to be a skeptic of RE here, and say that some important changes have gone on, and the direction seems to be continued change (although my purpose in the post was perhaps not to critique so much the department, but the pedagogy).

    I’ll point out 3 important changes in the past few years (although some of them have started long before).

    1) Many of the recent hires have been trained in fields more directly related to religion. Here is a list of the last 8 hires (from what I can gather). I think two of them were CES personnel.

    Reid Neilson: PhD UNC Chapel Hill, Religious Studies, (Church Hist & Doct).
    Spencer Fluhman: PhD, U Wisconsin – Madison, History (Church Hist & Doct).
    Steven Harper: PhD, Lehigh U, American History (Church Hist & Doct).
    Daniel Belnap: PhD, UChicago, Northwest Semitics, (Ancient Scripture).
    Alonzo Gaskill: PhD , Trinity Seminar
    Scott Esplin: PhD, BYU, Educational Leadership and Foundations (Church Hist & Doct).
    Jared Ludlow: PhD, UC Berkeley, Near Eastern Studies (Ancient Scripture).
    Kerry Muhlestein, PhD, UCLA, Near Eastern Studies (Ancient Scripture).

    2) Some of these young scholars are doing a better job staying involved in their fields beyond LDS interest.

    Reid Neilson, for instance, edited a volume of Rodney Stark’s (“The Rise of Modern Mormonism”), edited a volume with Teryl Givens on Joseph Smith (published by OUP), and has a contract with Illinois University Press for a monograph.

    3) Some of the faculty have been attending professional meetings and presenting their research. When the Society for Biblical Literature and the American Academy of Religion were combined there were probably about 6-12 profs from RE that attended, with a few presenting.

    Now, that said, there are drawbacks to teaching in RE as you all have pointed out, although the question of transition does seem to be perhaps more open-ended.

    I think that David and oudenos misunderstand what the RE departments at BYU are all about. They are not academic departments in the sense that a department of economics or a sociology department at a university is an academic department.

    This is actually why I compared them with a more “applied” discipline like journalism (or the School of Communication) which has an element of practice as a fundamental component of their pedagogy and success achievement.

  5. Re #2:
    Isn’t this true of many (if not most) BYU departments? I don’t see a lot of people moving on from BYU. I can’t really say whether that is by choice or not, but it seems that, at least in the eastern US, BYU still suffers from a midling to bad academic reputation.

  6. Re #7

    In the hard sciences and engineering this is not the case. People can move on from BYU with relative ease, provided they publish. And in the hard sciences BYU tends to stay out of people’s way more with respect to publishing. I think this is pretty standard at any school, the hard sciences/engineering tend to be divorced from what is going on in the humanities.

    However, many professors in the hard sciences end up at BYU by choice because they want to live near family and so don’t ever leave.

  7. As for the humanities I think BYU has a decent reputation, meaning that there’s nothing inherent about BYU that would hold someone from moving onto a school with a larger reputation (RE would perhaps be an exception). I know when Michael Farmer was leaving BYU’s history dept he was a finalist for a position at Oxford–he’s now at the University of Texas-Dallas. I believe Dan Graham in the philosophy dept also has a reputation that extends beyond Mormon academia.

    IMO the situation would be something similar to Laurel Ulrich’s move from the University of New Hampshire to Harvard (although the close proximity to Harvard probably helped).

  8. They are not academic departments in the sense that a department of economics or a sociology department at a university is an academic department.

    And this is fine as long as we are clear that this is the situation. If, however, we somehow present the OT/NT classes as the equivalent of such classes at a formally accredited Catholic or Protestant university, then perhaps there is something to give more thought to.

  9. And this is fine as long as we are clear that this is the situation. If, however, we somehow present the OT/NT classes as the equivalent of such classes at a formally accredited Catholic or Protestant university, then perhaps there is something to give more thought to.

    I agree that this is a problem. I’m not sure how it will work out with them now hiring more “academically” trained folks. I suppose it might continue to blur the line between a devotional and intellectual approach; and I suppose it’s the new faculty that will have to deal with the tension of navigating that. My sense is that change will come slowly and only at the hands of the brilliant (in terms of managing the heavy teaching load, the pedagogical restrictiveness, and the demands of keeping up to date and publishing in one’s own field), the politically savvy (in terms of being able to deliver a more academically oriented message in a more palatable way), and/or those willing to sacrifice their graduate training for the sake of bringing a different approach to and LDS institution.

    And as Chris mentioned above, here’s the link for the BYUI job:

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