Just how bad is the academic job market in religious studies? (Chart)

In preparation for a presentation I’m giving this week on “Theology as a Vocation in a Bad Job Market,” I compiled some figures on the state of competition for academic jobs in my field of religious studies. The American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature recently released a report on the job market over the last ten years, but the report does not offer a clear picture of the competition for academic jobs.

Using data published in every spring issue of Religious Studies News, I calculated the ratio of job candidates to positions registered with the AAR’s Employment Center for 2000 to 2011. The Employment Center, with its bullpen of job-seekers awaiting the summons to be interviewed in a tiny, curtained-off cubicle, just is the job market in religion in a way nothing else is, even though not every employer uses it.

What I found is that, yes, the competition for jobs in religion is rapidly getting worse. In the early 2000s (already a bad job market), the ratio of candidates to positions was about 3:1, though it was 5:1 in the subfields of theology and philosophy of religion. By 2008, the rest of the AAR had caught up with theology.

Only after 2008 did things get really bad. In 2009, 126 theologians competed for one job. The people competing for these jobs are talented, and they deserve much better than they’re likely to get. The AAR absolutely needs to put more energy behind figuring out how to resolve this particular corner of the academic jobs crisis.

But I wonder, too, how many of those theologians see their work as a vocation. How do they square an understanding of God’s providence with a job market that necessarily involves so much arbitrary chance? I suspect that they can’t.

AAR job data chart