The following is the second part of a text that I presented to the Teaching the Bible section of the MWSBL in February, 2020. The data will clearly be out of date after the devastating impact of the pandemic on higher education, but they show that the situation for biblical studies was already very bad. For the introduction, see Part 1. For the impact on students, see Part 2.
The Impact on Faculty
Making a Bad Job Market Worse
In assessing the impact on faculty, it is necessary to acknowledge how bad the job market is. There are certainly larger global issues at play, such as the ‘adjunctification’ of higher education, but this is all the more reason not to amplify problems inherent in the job market.
In these sorts of discussions, the terms “supply and demand” tend to come up (generally from administrators or tenure-track faculty), with potential instructors in great supply but not in great demand. However, this is alienating to instructors, especially contingent ones because it assumes the perspective of the administration, with instructors as the metaphorical “widget.” As most BS instructors are not in administration, let us re-orient this economic analysis to our own perspective: among biblical scholars, there is high demand for higher ed positions that let us teach BS full-time while earning a living wage and maybe even growing a retirement account. Unfortunately, there is very little supply of those positions. As any economist might predict, biblical scholars end up paying a lot to teach biblical studies—in the form of delayed earning potential, low pay, absent job security, geographic instability, and so forth. It is untenable, and common solutions generally point to lowering demand by graduating fewer PhDs or by encouraging contingent labor to leave the field. This too quickly overlooks the possibility of improving the supply of biblical studies positions.
To recap, less than half of the schools in Illinois offer courses in BS, and these schools account for just 37% of the total students. Also concerning is that 21 of these schools (more than half) listed just one section of a BS course in the latest semester, not enough to sustain a full-time position.
In a third of these cases, a biblical scholar teaches the one course while also teaching other theology or religion courses. This presents no problem for most biblical scholars.
In another third, a theologian or some other type of religious scholar has taken on the one BS course. I guess that’s fair.
In the last third, the one course is taught by an adjunct, or by scholars in Classics or English Literature. This last category shows there is interest in BS, but the field has not capitalized on the interest by building it up to a fully realized position. It also shows a potential for expansion.
In Illinois, BS has basically tapped out opportunities in small liberal arts schools. Only six of the remaining schools are private. Two are Christian universities (Millikin University, St. Augustine College), so maybe an easier sell. Another two, however, are unlikely to pick up BS courses, if their limited offerings in other areas are any indication (National Louis University, Roosevelt University). That leaves two other private colleges (Knox College, Lake Forest College) and 39 public institutions. If BS is going to expand, it will have to be willing to leave its comfort zone and actively find ways to establish a foothold in well-funded public institutions with high enrollment.
Religious Exclusivism and Discrimination in Biblical Studies… Again
Finally, we have to return to this issue of religious discrimination, since it is arguably sharper for faculty than it is for students. Again, all nine schools that explicitly and systematically discriminate based on religion employ BS faculty—and because the Bible is a core element of their curricula, they actually employ almost half (43%) of the full-time biblical scholars in Illinois. In other words, they do an excellent job promoting BS and employing biblical scholars, but only for a very narrow set of students and instructors. All faculty members at Wheaton College, for example, must sign off on a “Statement of Faith” and adhere to a “Community Covenant” (with features “similar to religious orders”) that condemns homosexuality and even the private use of tobacco. The greater the concentration of BS in this sort of Christian school, the more likely potential BS faculty will encounter similar non-academic criteria for working in a supposedly academic field.
Few schools are so explicit about their discrimination, although there is widespread suspicion of implicit religious discrimination in the field. Anecdotally, I have known contingent scholars reluctant to spend the many hours building an application to a school that crosses church lines. They simply do not trust that church affiliation plays no role, even if it is implicit or behind the scenes. Many of the existing faculty at Christian schools are ordained or otherwise qualified to preach in an affiliated church, have learned at an affiliated seminary, or have religious (rather than purely academic) degrees, such as a MDiv. Although it is difficult to measure precisely without survey data, there does seem to be a strong correlation between the church of the school and the church of the instructors.
Furthermore, church-affiliated schools often place religious demands or preferences on BS faculty in particular, even when they place no such demands on other departments. The 2018-2019 Biblical Studies jobs wiki lists 22 job postings in the US that were not at seminaries or Bible colleges. Just three were at public or unaffiliated private institutions. The remaining 19 (86%) were at Christian or Jewish colleges and universities. The European History jobs wiki for the same year, meanwhile, lists 64 job postings in the US, with just 10 (16%) at Christian colleges or universities.
Furthermore, on average Christian schools advertising for BS positions mentioned the Christian identity of the school more than four times per post (4.3x), while Christian schools advertising for positions in European history mention it less than once (0.4x). In other words, church-affiliated schools advertise their Christian identity at a rate ten times higher for BS scholars than for European History positions. This suggests that Christian schools are more likely to view BS as part of their religious mission as well as—or instead of—their academic mission. This in turn justifies, legally and intentionally, religious discrimination against biblical scholars.
We can also compare the religious demands made by the Christian schools advertising on each page. For European history, just one college makes a religiously-oriented demand: Grove City College would like applicants to provide a pastoral reference. Meanwhile, ten of the BS postings (45%) (!) make explicit demands on the beliefs, private behaviors, and/or church membership of applicants. For a brief sampler (emphasis added):
- “As a religious educational institution, Baylor is lawfully permitted to consider an applicant’s religion among its selection criteria.”
- “Calvin College seeks faculty members who affirm the Christian faith as expressed by the Reformed confessions…Calvin College is an educational agency of the Christian Reformed Church and, in compliance with Title VII and other applicable law, reserves the right to give preference in employment based upon religion.”
- “Documentation should clearly explain how your Christian faith represents a strong fit with the mission of Messiah College.”
- “The position requires active membership in a Church of Christ” (Pepperdine University).
- “Candidates must also have a personal, vibrant faith and Christian walk and be strongly committed to the educational mission and evangelical Christian orientation of the University. Candidates will be expected to affirm the Taylor University Life Together Covenant, Statement of Faith, and essential documents.”
- “Successful candidates must be professing Christians who are active members of a local church, enthusiastically support Union University’s Identity, Mission, and Core Values, and articulate a Christian worldview in their work and life.”
These of course are not academic criteria, but creedal ones. Not only do they signal that religious discrimination is a real threat to biblical scholars, even devoutly Christian ones, they also signal to people outside of the field that BS is not truly or exclusively academic. In some cases, biblical scholars can be perceived as church functionaries with pretentions to scholarship. Arguably, the disproportional reliance of BS on church-affiliated schools contributes to this impression. It is also a positive feedback loop: the more BS concentrates in church-affiliated schools, the more difficult it is to branch outside of this narrow context. Outsiders may assume biblical scholars are pseudo-academics who covertly want to preach to their students, as happened in the “Bible as Literature” movement of the 1960s. Shifting the weight of BS toward non-church-affiliated institutions would have the potential effect of refocusing the field on academic concerns over non-academic religious ones. At any rate, there is simply little room to expand in private Christian colleges and universities.
In summary, access to BS at the post-secondary level is very limited, often confined to small, expensive, and religiously oriented schools, or taught in one or two sections at larger schools. By catering to a very select student body echoing the interests and demographics of biblical scholars, these same scholars limit opportunities for students to actually learn biblical studies.
The silver lining is that there is ample room for expansion. Scholars in philosophy also complain about the job market in their field, but there is almost nowhere for them to go: in Illinois, only two universities do not offer a course in philosophy every semester, accounting for just 0.5% of the student population. There are often more sections of philosophy at the schools they do reach than sections of BS. If their job market is tight, they have no real option to increase the supply of full-time academic positions; they can only reduce the demand by graduating fewer PhDs or filtering them out of the field more quickly. By contrast, BS is not reaching half the schools and almost 2/3 of the students. While not without substantial challenges, there is at least the possibility of augmenting the limited offerings enough to support a full-time position, or of expanding into the 45 schools that currently offer no courses in BS. While an argument can certainly be made for shuttering PhD programs or lowering enrollment in them, or for filtering biblical scholars out of academia, it is not clear that we should jump to such extreme positions which only weakens the field, as the only options.
However, given the demographics of the remaining schools, BS needs to work actively and consciously to expand into public education. This is not impossible. Schools like the University of Iowa, Florida State University, University of Georgia, Indiana University Bloomington, University of Michigan, University of Virginia, or the University of North Carolina are examples of quality undergraduate biblical studies education at public institutions. In Illinois, Bible courses are already offered at Illinois State University, University of Illinois (Urbana/Champaign and Chicago), and at several community colleges—an area ripe for expansion.
Such a move into public education, however, comes with certain likely consequences. First, BS may not be housed in traditional theology or religious studies departments, but rather in departments of philosophy, humanities, English, or comparative literature. The core courses that supplement BS courses would be in those areas, so that biblical scholars may need to get used to teaching ethics, modern humanities, or writing rather than Intro to Theology. It might also mean that doctoral programs may have to recruit students with broader academic backgrounds, and to develop greater interdisciplinary teaching and research opportunities for their candidates to make them competitive. This may mean either lending them out to other departments or giving them the leeway to develop BS courses cross-listed with other departments.
Second, the demographics of our students will shift. They may not be the ‘typical’ or ideal Bible student. For example, they may not be devoutly Christian, make similar assumptions about the text as the instructor, or even be remotely familiar with the Bible. They may be openly hostile to religions like Judaism and Christianity. If at a community college or other access institution, students may need significantly more help with reading and writing, or may be reluctant to purchase many expensive secondary texts—or even costly new study bibles. However, they may be students who are curious about the academic study of texts that have real impact on people’s beliefs and behavior.
With a different set of students with different interests in the Bible, biblical scholars would also have to tailor their curricula to this new audience. Some Bible instructors are very comfortable embracing the religious mission of church-affiliated schools; they find the religious impact they have on students highly gratifying. At a public institution, they would not be able to teach from a forcefully evangelistic Christian perspective. The goal would have to be teaching, not indoctrination. That does not mean they would have to forsake their religious identity.
However, the missions of public institutions differ in some ways from church-affiliated ones. Establishing a presence at public institutions requires framing BS curricula in terms of those missions, and demonstrating how the course will benefit their students outside of specifically religious or theological concerns. Taking such a position does not mean that we cannot ask serious religious, moral, and philosophical questions in the context of a biblical studies course, only that our goals may not include glorifying a particular religion’s particular understanding of a particular god in the classroom.
Hopefully the benefits of moving into public education would outweigh the costs. If we could expand into more public institutions, it would mean more jobs for biblical scholars, but also broader outreach to students, and a greater diversity of students and the perspectives they bring. This will only happen if we consciously recognize the problem and proactively work to alleviate it. Setting up panel discussions or task forces to collect data and create resources for young scholars to use as they enter doctoral programs or the job market would be just one way to help emerging biblical scholars become more competitive on the education job market. This in turn may open up more opportunities to introduce biblical studies into the curricula at more schools. Actively facilitating discussions between already established departments focused on securing funding and growing their programs would be another.
If we have a defeatist attitude, presuming for example that funding is impossible to wrangle or that public institutions simply won’t take us, nothing will happen. The field will continue to shrink, and the Society of Biblical Literature will simply fail in its goal of promoting biblical education. Yet if we actively work together, and work alongside scholars already at schools who have managed to secure funding for BS courses, we could better understand the real obstacles they face and how to overcome them. The Society of Biblical Literature is a professional society after all, and so the perfect venue to apply the collective intelligence of our members to this professional and pedagogical challenge.
 This happens often in opinion pieces, e.g., Peter Conn (Professor of English and Education, University of Pennsylvania), “We Need to Acknowledge the Realities of Employment in the Humanities,” Chronicle of Higher Education (April 4, 2010), online: http://www.chronicle.com/article/We-Need-to-Acknowledge-the/64885, or especially in the comments on opinion pieces, e.g., the comments by Steve Covello (as he mentions, full-time Instructional Designer at Granite State College) attached to Jill Carroll, “Leaving the Adjunct Track,” Chronicle Vitae (March 17, 2017), online: chroniclevitae.com/news/1737-leaving-the-adjunct-track. Conn recommends graduating fewer PhDs, while Covello recommends scholars leaving higher education (see also former adjunct Elizabeth Segran, “The Dangers of Victimizing Ph.D.’s [sic],” Chronicle of Higher Education [April 1, 2014], online: http://www.chronicle.com/article/The-Dangers-of-Victimizing/145643). Jeffrey J. Williams confusingly attempts to meet the argument on its own terms in defense of adjuncts while still taking the perspective of administration (“The Great Stratification,” Chronicle of Higher Education 60/14 , online: http://www.chronicle.com/article/The-Great-Stratification/143285). Here, I apply the supply/demand model but from the educator’s perspective who desires a full-time, permanent academic position in low supply.
 “Statement of Faith and Educational Purpose” (online: http://www.wheaton.edu/about-wheaton/statement-of-faith-and-educational-purpose/) and “Community Covenant” (online: http://www.wheaton.edu/about-wheaton/community-covenant/).
 “Biblical Studies 2018-2019,” n.p., online: academicjobs.wikia.com/wiki/Biblical_Studies_2018-2019 (last viewed February 2020).
 “European History 2018-2019,” n.p., online: academicjobs.wikia.com/wiki/European_History_2018-19 (last viewed February 2020).
 In recent union negotiations, Loyola University Chicago was granted an exception for the department of theology (which includes BS faculty and graduate instructors), taking the position that theology falls under the school’s religious mission—despite the fact that Loyola also hosts an Institute for Pastoral Studies (IPS) and until recently a seminary satisfying the religious mission of the school (see Julie Whitehair, “Theology Department Excluded from Faculty Union Ruling,” Loyola Phoenix [April 5, 2017], online: loyolaphoenix.com/2017/04/theology-department-excluded-faculty-union-ruling/). Both IPS students and Jesuit Scholastics are required to take courses in theology, which may help justify the administration’s position on the department’s religious mission. However, Scholastics are also required to take philosophy courses, yet Loyola did not argue that the philosophy department serves its religious mission.
 See David E. Aune, “Literary Criticism,” pages 116–39 in David E. Aune (ed.), The Blackwell Companion to the New Testament (Malden: Wiley–Blackwell, 2010), 119.