For the Humanities PhD: Some Sort Of Advice

For the Humanities PhD: Some Sort Of Advice December 5, 2018

I get questions.*

For a person who teaches by asking questions, these are always tricky for me. Should I answer them?


The American academy is not so welcoming to Christians just now, especially if you are rooted in the global and historical faith. If African or Asian Christianity matters to you, as it should, then you are not going to do well in secular American academics.

That’s nothing compared to what our sisters and brothers face in nations like Syria!

Still, one gets but a short time this side of Jordan and nobody should throw away his shot if he can help it. So what is a very bright parent who wants a good education for his or her children, and who has a doctorate in the humanities to do?

I got a question from a splendid, thoughtful younger academic and teacher:

What should a Christian do with a humanities PhD, given the current situation in the Academy but also the Christian call to fulfill the Great Commission?


A Most Important Initial Response:

Nobody knows, but God.


Think about it.

As Aristotle knew and I have learned: some things are always wrong, but most things depend. Depend on what? Circumstances and personal characteristics. Nobody who is not God can be sure about what anyone should do in life in most of the details.


Most choices depend on very personal needs, cirumstances, and opportunities.

This means that no answer I give to such a question, since it is not about a thing where there is a clear moral answer,  can be anything other than general advice.

You might think: “Of course. Now tell me what to do.”




God has used me, unfit, broken, sin torn, to do unusual things. You could not repeat my life if you tried. Some choices I made, God forgive me, I would not repeat myself. I did what I thought God said, when I was a following God and not my desire, and my life happened, but nobody could generalize from my life too much.

The few principles are so general, I fear to give them, because I fear sounding so trivial.  

At this point many will have rushed on to the “practical” bits, but if you are reading, still let me impress this truth: the end results do not determine if  you were a success in this life. If a man does God’s will, then he may only be rewarded in the life to come. The martyr is a winner, if Christ was successful! If you choose a moral choice over a different moral choice, then things may or may not work out in this life. If they do not work out, but your choice was made with integrity, best you knew how, then it was a good choice.

God will judge. Some things are always wrong, but these are not things we mostly wish to do. The many choices we make daily are prudential, they depend on circumstances.

You cannot steal from widows for fun: ever. Most of us never wish to do such always-wrong things! Our choices are prudential in most cases, not moral. The prudent choice is the one that seems best for us and for those around us given the way things seem to be for us just at the moment we have to choose!

Still there are generalities that are generally (!) prudent.

What I Have Chosen and Generally Think is Prudent:

If you are an American with an academic impulse, then success will not (generally) come easily. The “industry” of education has become an industry and what should have been “not-for-profit” has become an administrative money grubbing parasitical nightmare. The “industry” is dying, education continues, but as always, it is hard to make a living at it.

What should be done?

I think the Christian should find solutions, not join the problem.

First, reject debt as a basis for financing education.

Second, teach. We are desperate for teachers, but hire administrators. Do not work for a place where teachers are not the priority.

Third, billions are given to “innovations,” but too little given to teachers. Find a place that pays teachers.

Finallly, if you think, as I do, that classical Christian education is the best methodology, then do not compromise. Give your life to forming or being formed in such an institution. None are perfect, yet to be perfected requires brilliant souls.

Join us

We need you, though only if you would flourish in our world.

Double down on community. Do not go to a place cut off from God’s big world.  We do not need new institutions where we can revive the older ones.

What would I do?

I would do anything I could to start something like The Saint Constantine School or work for such a place, but then what else would I say?


*I happily answer questions that people email to me. One summer I did over fifty from one person. This method works best for me rather than a comment thread. Send thoughts!

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!