Why Get a Ph.D. in the Humanities? [Updated]

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.

Benton continues:

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.

The column generated a couple of letters to the Chronicle’s editors, a follow-up from Benton himself, and at least one very interesting blog post justifying the decision to get a Ph.D.

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:

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Micheal Hickerson

The former Associate Director for the Emerging Scholars Network, Micheal lives in Cincinnati with his wife and three children and works as a web manager for a national storage and organization company. He writes about work, vocation, and finding meaning in what you do at No Small Actors.

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  • jballor@acton.org'
    Jordan commented on March 25, 2009 Reply

    It’s your calling. Whether or not the world has a place for you is a different story…

  • Cleud9@gmail.com'
    Janine commented on May 19, 2009 Reply

    Because who needs more than the bare minimum of food, shelter and things? If this is what makes you want to get up in the morning, you’ll have no need for money for entertainment. I’m a fourth year PhD student looking forward to making 30K /year if I’m lucky enough to get a job, and I am more thankful every day for this great opportunity.

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