Way back in January (ancient history for most blogs, but we at ESN are committed to learning from the past from the Dead Theologians Society), the Chronicle of Higher Education published the column “Graduate School in the Humanities: Just Don’t Go” by Thomas H. Benton (the pen name of William Pannapacker, an English professor at Hope College). After reviewing the dismal (and diminishing) prospects for tenure-track jobs in the humanities, Benton recommends pursuing a Ph.D. in the humanities only if you fall into one of the four following categories:
- You are independently wealthy, and you have no need to earn a living for yourself or provide for anyone else.
- You come from that small class of well-connected people in academe who will be able to find a place for you somewhere.
- You can rely on a partner to provide all of the income and benefits needed by your household.
- You are earning a credential for a position that you already hold — such as a high-school teacher — and your employer is paying for it.
Those are the only people who can safely undertake doctoral education in the humanities. Everyone else who does so is taking an enormous personal risk, the full consequences of which they cannot assess because they do not understand how the academic-labor system works and will not listen to people who try to tell them.
I am working on an article for the main ESN website about Christian responses to Benton’s perspective, but first I’d thought I’d put my question to our blog readers:
From a Christian perspective, why should anyone pursue a doctorate in the humanities?
Update: Not one, but three articles resulted from this question:
- Why Get a PhD in the Humanities?, featuring responses from Alan Jacobs, John Sommerville, Michael Murray, Everett Hamner, Marc Baer, and Glenn Peoples
- Carmen Acevedo Butcher on Why Get a PhD in the Humanities?
- Brett Foster on Why Get a PhD in the Humanities?