What is the most interesting work being done in your field? Why?
According to the 2007 U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, 28 percent of American adults have left the faith in which they were raised. Among its conclusions is the claim that “religious affiliation in the U.S. is both very diverse and extremely fluid.” (http://religions.pewforum.org/reports) “Very diverse and extremely fluid” could also be used to describe other periods of American religious history, and explaining how and why religious landscapes differ and remain the same over time is one of the tasks of historians. This survey underscores a basic challenge for historians of religion. How does one communicate and explain the belief systems of the past to the present? This challenge is undoubtedly not new, nor is it unique to the field of the history of religion, but it continues to confront historians nonetheless.
Some of the most interesting work historians of American religion are doing recognizes the role of fluidity in understanding the belief systems of the past. These historians address the changing belief patterns of individuals and groups and evaluate the significance of those changes. Others examine the causes and consequences of the fluidity of belief systems across porous borders. Studies on religion and the Atlantic world have long taken up this challenge. In his recent book, Darren Dochuk discusses the influence of migrating Bible Belt evangelicals on Sunbelt conservatism (From Bible Belt to Sunbelt: Plain-Folk Religion, Grassroots Politics, and the Rise of Evangelical Conservatism). Other scholars have tackled the impact of immigrant groups on the religious practices of communities and on larger cultural and political forces.
How valuable is teaching in the professional development of a career?
Institutional support (or the lack thereof) can greatly impact the value of teaching on a professional career. Aside from that, teaching can be as valuable as one makes it. It can be frustrating. It can be time-consuming. It can inspire new questions and spark new areas of interest. It can improve and clarify speaking and writing skills. It can be rewarding.What issues affect most the development of a career: family, school resources, popularity of field, reputation of alma matter, etc.?
Career development is a process that is largely unique to each individual, depending on a combination of personal goals and values on one hand and the state of the field and quality of education on the other. Obviously, individuals who earn a degree in a sought-after field from a top-tier school and who are willing/able to move anywhere for a job will have more opportunities. Speaking from my own experiences, changes in my personal and professional goals have also profoundly impacted the direction of my career.What advice would you give to an undergrad interested in working on a Ph.D. in history?
Make sure that you are well aware of the state of the job market and ask yourself if you are prepared to face the worst-case scenario after earning a Ph.D. – not being able to find your “dream job.” If you decide that you are prepared, do some serious research into the discipline, your field of interest, and the reputations of the Ph.D. programs you are considering. Then, develop a back-up plan . . . and a back-up plan for your back-up plan. Don’t stop there. Make some efforts at working toward your “Plan B” so that if you do need to fall back on it you won’t have to start from scratch.What advice would you give to a new Ph.D. unable to find employment in a history department?
Be realistic. At some point you should assess available opportunities outside of academia and take stock of the skills that you have acquired in attaining your Ph.D. Which of those are transferable? Focus on highlighting those skills to find employment elsewhere. Earning an additional degree is always an option, but other well-known opportunities include positions in public history, the government, secondary teaching, library work, and college administration (among others). Be prepared to be patient. You may have to start out in an entry-level job.