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Academic Jobs in Biblical Studies

March 8, 2018

Those currently completing a PhD in Biblical Studies, and those contemplating doing so may want to look at the recent report on job-listings from the Society of Biblical Literature here.

The SBL sponsors perhaps the major job-listing facility (especially for North America, but also beyond), and so their figures on matters are likely representative for the field as a whole.

Key findings highlighted by John Kutsko, Executive Director of SBL:

  • Positions advertised in AY17 increased 4.0% compared to AY16. This increase in postings was primarily the result of increased listings for non-faculty positions.
  • The total number of faculty positions decreased by 8.6% year over year from AY16 to AY17. Within this percentage, several mixed findings can be highlighted:
    • Postings from research institutions are at an all-time low since SBL and AAR began collecting employment data in 2003.
    • The number of entry-level faculty positions increased by 11.4% year over year from AY16 to AY17.
    • The number of tenure-track faculty positions reached a six-year low.
    • The number of postings from baccalaureate institutions is at seven-year high.
  • For faculty positions, the most selected category for the annual course load shifted from three to four in 2016 to five to six in 2017.

The report highlights ongoing concerns about the job market in biblical and religious studies. The SBL Council, in collaboration with the membership and stakeholders in our fields, continues to focus on ways to address these concerns. For example, SBL sponsored the new resource, ImaginePhD. We encourage faculty and graduate students to utilize this career exploration and planning tool for the humanities and social sciences. In addition, SBL will begin to conduct further analysis of the job market in the context of annual new PhDs, and also cross reference this analysis with peer learned societies in the humanities and social sciences.

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  1. leemartinmcdonald permalink

    Good comments Larry. I don’t know how related your stats are to the declining number of churches that are interested in sending their students to seminaries in the USA and Canada. As you know, some denominations are no longer requiring the M.Div. for ordination and several well known institutions have had to close their doors or merge with other seminaries or sell their properties and move to a lower cost location (Andover Newton, Episcopal Divinity School, Claremont School of Theology, and Fuller Theological Seminary). It is not clear also where the churches are going and so it is difficult to predict a curriculum that will prepare ministers for the churches of the future. Many of us know of multiple applications for a starting position following our PhD studies and it does not seem to be getting better. I appreciate your counsel here. At the SBL meetings in Boston a PhD student who just began his studies ask me about possibilities for teaching post in biblical studies. I had to be honest with him that it would be a challenge, but if he wanted to know more about biblical inquiry, then pursue it and consider the possibility of pursuing a passion for learning in a church or para-church profession. Again, thanks for what you shared. —Lee

  2. Josh permalink

    Hey Dr. Hurtado,

    I’m almost done my second year of a three year M.A in Biblical Studies. Whenever I discuss the potential of a PhD with the end goal of an Academic career, everyone seems to warn me about the terrible job market and a number have just said I should do something else. What do you tell potential students? Is a doctorate worth the risk?


    • Josh: The academic job market has been very tight for decades. When I was applying for entry-level posts back in the 70s I was typically one of 100+ applicants for each post. I’ve always told those who ask your question that the numbers are daunting, that one should, therefore, embark on a PhD primarily out of interest in the subject, only if your teachers strongly encourage you to do so (and get candid assessments of your strengths and weaknesses for the particular demands of PhD work in the field, e.g., several languages), and strictly without recrimination if the degree doesn’t lead to an academic post.
      It is particularly necessary to assess things carefully if one is married. The partner has to be sure that there will be no accusations, no recriminations. Like St. Paul said, each partner belongs to the other!

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