Weekly Meanderings

Weekly Meanderings September 22, 2012

Kelli Marshall‘s candid, insightful reflections on the life of a doctoral student and then life with the PhD. “After I completed my tenure as a VAP at the University of Toledo, both the husband and I were unemployed. We were living on Ohio unemployment ($400/week), what we had in savings from the sell of our home in Texas (our virtual depletion of this is making our current home-buying problematic), and some funds from our gracious parents. We had 5 college degrees between us, over 30 publications and presentations to our names, and a combined 28 years’ experience in higher education, and we still couldn’t land jobs in our respective fields. The good news: the cost of living in Toledo is low, very low. After a year of unemployment, my husband was finally offered and accepted a job in Chicago, which is where we are now. And thanks to the recommendation of a colleague, I’m currently an adjunct at DePaul University and Columbia College Chicago, teaching film and TV courses.”

Shane Scott reflects on a biblical approach to economics: “BUT – and here is where I would love some friendly discussion –  is it possible that those who  have shifted to the GOP because of biblical concerns about social issues unwittingly assumed that the GOP’s policies on economic matters must also be more biblical? Does a commitment to the authority of Scripture demand a commitment to conservative economic policy? I don’t think so. Here is a quick summary of what I think the Bible says about economics:…”

Tom Lawson on the “sneakers” in worship: “So, this is 2012.  Praise and celebration worship is everywhere.  It has helped many churches experience unprecedented growth for two or three decades.  It’s what we know.  It’s what we like to play.  It’s what we’re good at.  So, of course, it’s what we keep doing week after week.  For most people, it is the only style of worship they have ever known.  And so, like everything dazzling and new, while most are still contented, some are feeling trapped in a growing rut. So, here’s a little secret people in Christian higher education know.  The sneakers have returned.  They do not advertise it.  Many do not post updates on it.  They think their parents would disapprove.  Their Youth Pastors might be alarmed.  It is not that they don’t want to worship.  On the contrary, they just long for something they can’t find in our Sunday worship or campus chapels.  They are not sneaking off to Pentecostal services.  They are sneaking off to Mass.”

Making decisions, too many decisions: “The president first touted the necessity of daily exercise — a habit that I endorse wholeheartedly. But what he said next was even more interesting: “You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits. I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.” I share President Obama’s practice of “routinizing the routine.” I eat essentially the same thing for breakfast each morning: a bowl of cold cereal and a banana. For lunch, I eat a chicken salad sandwich with a diet soda. Each morning, I dress in one of a small number of suits, each of which goes with particular shirts and ties. Why do President Obama and I subject ourselves to such boring routines? Because both of us (especially President Obama!) make many decisions each day — decisions that are far more important to us than what we wear or what we eat for breakfast. Making too many decisions about mundane details is a waste of a limited resource: your mental energy.

Simon Gathercole’s fine sketch of the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife”: Jesus has female disciples in the canonical gospels, who support his ministry (Luke 8), and who are part of his entourage generally. There is no reference to marriage of any kind, which is striking in a biography. (Suetonius’ Lives of the Caesars, for example, mentions wives and fiancées of all 12 of his subjects.) Other apocryphal gospels develop some of these relationships. So, for example, Salome who is a very minor character in the gospels (mentioned only twice, only in Mark’s gospel), but she becomes significant in the Gospel of the Egyptians, and especially in the Gospel of Thomas, where she shares a couch with Jesus: it was a dining couch rather than a bed, but sharing a dining couch was still a louche thing to do, and effectively meant being married or lovers. The Gospel of Philip might refer to Jesus kissing Mary, but the manuscript has some holes in at the key point! In a later text called theGreater Questions of Mary, Jesus even – in front of Mary Magdalene – has sex with a woman whom he has produced out of his side. Harvard Professor Karen King, who is the person who has been entrusted with the text, has rightly warned us that this does not say anything about the historical Jesus. She is correct that “its possible date of composition in the second half of the second century, argues against its value as evidence for the life of the historical Jesus”. But she is also right that this is a fascinating discovery which offers us a window into debates about sex and marriage in the early church, and the way Jesus could be adapted to play a part in a particular debate. If it is genuine.”

Mark Fairchild, a prof at Huntington University, has a significant archaeological discovery … and it probably involved the apostle Paul!

Meanderings in the News

Who killed the liberal arts? Joseph Epstein speaks: “For many years, the liberal arts were my second religion. I worshipped their content, I believed in their significance, I fought for them against the philistines of our age as Samson fought against the Philistines of his—though in my case, I kept my hair and brought down no pillars. As currently practiced, however, it is becoming more and more difficult to defend the liberal arts. Their content has been drastically changed, their significance is in doubt, and defending them in the condition in which they linger on scarcely seems worth the struggle.”

Good idea, bad idea? What do you think? Charging customers a wastage fee for food not eaten in restaurants.

Molly Worthen: A tale of two Catholicisms in this election. “AS the 2012 presidential race enters the homestretch, both parties vow that this election is not just a choice between different policies. It is a cosmic decision between “two different visions, two different value sets,” as Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. told delegates at the Democratic National Convention. Behind the competing catchphrases lurks another contest, one that illuminates this war of worldviews. It is a tale of two Catholicisms.”

Literary figures and the reality behind them.

Rules for writing.

Males and make-up: “Cho’s meticulous efforts to paint the perfect face are not unusual in South Korea. This socially conservative, male-dominated country, with a mandatory two-year military conscription for men, has become the male makeup capital of the world. South Korean men spent $495.5 million on skincare last year, accounting for nearly 21 percent of global sales, according to global market research firm Euromonitor International. That makes it the largest market for men’s skincare in the world, even though there are only about 19 million men in South Korea. Amorepacific, South Korea’s biggest cosmetics company, estimates the total sales of men’s cosmetics in South Korea this year will be more than $885 million.”

Sad story about Niger: “In Hawkantaki, it is the rhythm of the land that shapes the cycle of life, including the time of marriage. The size of the harvest determines not only if a father can feed his family, but also if he can afford to keep his daughter under his roof. Even at the best of times, one out of every three girls in Niger marries before her 15th birthday, a rate of child marriage among the highest in the world, according to a UNICEF survey. Now this custom is being layered on top of a crisis. At times of severe drought, parents pushed to the wall by poverty and hunger are marrying their daughters at even younger ages. A girl married off is one less mouth to feed, and the dowry money she brings in goes to feed others. “Families are using child marriage, as an alternative, as a survival strategy to the food insecurity,” says Djanabou Mahonde, UNICEF’s chief child protection officer in Niger.”

The 20 most significant developments in food and cooking. “The Royal Society, the UK’s national academy of science, had a question: What are the most meaningful innovations in humanity’s culinary history? What mattered more to the development of civilization’s cultivation of food: the oven? The fridge? The plough? The spork? To answer that question, the Society convened a group of its Fellows — including, yup, a Nobel Prize Winner — and asked them to whittle down a list of 100 culinarily innovative tools down to 20. That list was then voted on by the Fellows and by a group of “experts in the food and drink industry,” its tools ranked according to four criteria: accessibility, productivity, aesthetics, and health.”

Young adults ditching cars: “NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — America’s young people just aren’t buying cars like they used to. The share of new cars purchased by those aged 18-34 dropped 30% in the last five years, according to the car shopping web site Edmunds.com. Some say the economy is mostly to blame — that the young aren’t buying because they’ve been particularlyhard hit by the recession. But others say the trend could be part of larger social shifts.”

Meanderings in Sports

Theo tells the truth: “CHICAGO — As a rough 2012 season nears its end, Chicago Cubs president Theo Epstein was bold enough to suggest Friday that 2013 might not be much better when it comes to playoff expectations for the team. That might not make the ticket department stand up and cheer but it goes along with Epstein’s objective of being as forward as possible about the Cubs’ rebuilding project. “I think obviously we really care about our fans and we want them to have a great experience, but we’re trying to be transparent about it,” Epstein said. “We have a plan and we have a vision and it won’t happen overnight, but given the way of things I think this is the best way to go.”

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  • RJS

    Thought-provoking stuff as usual.

    Kelli Marshall’s post is interesting. She is far from alone in her experience. But part of this comes from an unrealistic view at the outset. (She is far from alone here either.)

    Academia is not so much a racket as it is a competitive market. And it is a very competitive market. Anyone who thinks degree=job is in for a rude awakening (I don’t think Kelli thought degree=job but many do).

    The interesting thing about her reflections is that the “dismal” market for English Ph.D.’s has been a topic of conversation for several decades (dating to the 80’s at least). The MLA regularly performs and publishes surveys. For the 2000-2001 cohort (about 1000 people) about 42% are in tenure track positions and another 20% in non-tenure track full time teaching positions. You can see the report Placement Outcomes.

    These numbers make sense – there are 2800 colleges and Universities in the US. If they average 8 tenure track faculty (big schools have many more (10% of schools) but small schools average somewhat less) and a career averages 35 to 40 years we would expect something like 600 openings a year for 1000 graduates.

    Chemistry averages fewer faculty per school and fewer openings per year with more Ph.D. graduates per year, but more students expect careers in industry as well.

    Biblical Studies – well Scot can give better information here, but many fewer schools employ in these areas, most require a creedal commitment of some sort, and the field is much more competitive.

  • RJS

    So advice for anyone thinking about an academic career.

    Go to the best school you can get into for your doctorate (or MFA).

    If you can’t get into a top school in your field (see below), rethink your plans. Yes, others can and do get jobs – but the search is much harder and the percentages much lower. The better ranked programs place a much higher percentage of their graduates.

    If you find you are not among the best in your program be prepared to rethink your plans. (You may find it necessary.)


    Be prepared to relocate anywhere.

    Be realistic and have a backup plan.

    Top Schools – in large fields like English and Chemistry “top school” means within the top dozen, and certainly top two to four dozen or so. For small disciplines the number of “top schools” is smaller. It may drop as low as one or two schools.

  • Chip

    I left Worthen’s piece wondering what the second Catholicism was. She apparently means the Catholicism epitomized by Paul Ryan, but there was no discussion of the conservative Catholicism of, say, a Richard John Neuhaus. And I wouldn’t lump in the same progressive pot those Catholics who are economically liberal and socially conservative (the default Catholic position in decades past) with those who are progressive on both ends, as Worthen seems to do a bit.

  • Dan

    The Marshall piece on PhDs and the job market sounds like my own (except for the $400 a week unemployment (!) and that she ended up with a job in the end). I think expectations are screwed up but so is academic advising. After all the years I spent getting my education, including the PhD, I can’t remember getting any substantive feedback on what to expect from the genuine state of the market from any of my instructors or advisors. Learning through trial-and-error is expensive, tiring and frustrating.

    With the ubiquity of the internet we are hearing many more stories of how things really are in academia. 18 years ago, when the internet was still AOL dialup and I was starting my doctoral work, I would have loved to hear the truth of what I needed to do and what to expect. I hope students working on their master’s and considering a doctorate are getting a clearer picture of what the market is able to offer.

    Well, that was then, this is now. The Lord is still involved in guiding and providing. He is not stymied by a lousy economy (even though according to a recent post most here are doing fine).

  • Jennifer

    Love the piece about “sneaking” off to liturgical services. I’ve found it to be so true.

    But, as a church planter, it makes for a different problem…..people visit for their little liturgical fix, and are not really interested in joining the community and making it work. They want the candles, chanting, robes, awesome liturgy – but then they go back to their regular “normal” churches. I would guess most pastors in this place love to have the visitors – but dont want to feel like Liturgical Disneyland either.

  • RJS


    You didn’t mention a field – but I agree with your comment. Good advice is critical, and hard to come by. It simply isn’t fair when programs pad the student cohort and give a misleading picture of prospects.

    In English – to take an example – about 75% of graduates of top programs are in tenure track positions after 3-5 years. Another 10 to 15% are in non tenure track academic positions. There is some variation of course. But the key here is “top programs” – the percentages drop substantially for the whole cohort across the 150 or so schools offering Ph.D.s in English.

    MLA publishes overall statistics from number of jobs advertised to number of Ph.D.’s awarded. There are a bit more than twice as many graduates as there are tenure-track jobs every year. This means, I expect, that half the graduates will be disappointed.

    In most academic disciplines (biblical studies is different though because other factors are in play) … but in most: If you can’t get into or don’t choose to attend a top school in your field, rethink your plans and/or be sure you have a backup plan.

    I’ll add another piece of advice as well:

    Always find and evaluate critically the placement record of the program you plan to pursue.

  • Dan

    RJS @6, Thanks for not slapping me around for not thinking ahead or trying hard enough. Reading some of the responses to blogs and articles at The Chronicle and even Christian blog sometimes makes one not even want to engage.

    You have some good advice. We need to be communicating this to those academically inclined when they are still in their bachelor’s programs, or at least when they are entering a master’s. Though anecdotal, my experience on the receiving end of advising is that, to be generous, there are too many students and not enough concerned and informed advisors to go around. My MA advisor often simply didn’t meet. My doctoral advisor had 15 min. slots to sign up for (and I was competing with master’s students for his attention too). In my more cynical moments it is easy to conclude that the school’s only concern is numbers.

    In larger churches that are near schools one might see opportunity to engage students and potential students on a substantive level. It’s not right to leave it to them to “figure it out” on their own. Like Marshall noted in her piece, she thought she was doing it all correctly: sailing through her dissertation and defense, publishing papers, teaching classes, conference presentations, etc. Though she got a job in the end, one has to wonder what would have been done differently if she knew then what she knows now. Naiveté is one thing but omission of information or outright deception is something else. We can’t really address how secular schools operate but Christian institutions can and ought to do better (and maybe they are now – I graduated in 2004 and have not been on the inside for awhile).

  • Chris Miller

    I would not likely frequent a restaurant where I was charged more at the end of the meal than noted in the menu. The only way this might work would be to legislate that every restaurant do the same. And that is not very likely. (I did not read the article.)