For Members Only

I recall, in the Fall of 2015, a job ad appearing on our main professional online site for a pastor for a church. Then, not long after, I saw an ad there for someone to co-write a “15-20 page paper … on the theology and praxis of the engineering profession for it’s Christian members.” Both times I wrote our association’s leadership questioning why our site was judged a relevant place for such a listing. And now, not long ago, news made the rounds of social media of an ad for a research projects coordinator for the Museum of the Bible.

[Want some background on this planned museum (due to be opened this year, just off the mall in Washington DC)? Try here, or here. Perhaps you recall the Green family, which owns the chain of Hobby Lobby stores and which is opening the museum, which will house its collection of bible-related artifacts (including Elvis’s bible), from their 2014 challenge to the Affordable Care Act. No? Then try here. Maybe you heard about accusations of their illegal trade in antiquities? If, not, here’s an overview or try here too.]

Each time an ad like this appears, a discussion takes place concerning the limits of our profession — why institutions that strike some (or many?) of us as non-academic are able to advertise for positions through our field’s jobs site. But then the discussion dies down and, a little while later, another such ad seems to pop up.

Whether scholars trained in our field opt to seek such employment is not the issue, of course (for scholars trained in our field can surely apply for a wide variety of careers); instead, the question is whether our professional societies, which manage our employment site (password protected — for members only), doing so with the revenue gained from our membership dues, ought to include in their mission facilitating such work.

So, as some of us have asked before: what are the criteria for membership? (Question: can a church book interview space at our national meeting’s employment center?) Defined too narrowly, we end up with a specialized field so small that its members have few with whom to talk. But defined so broadly that a church searching for a new pastor looks to our jobs site as a relevant resource…? Well, that strikes me as undermining many of the hard-won gains that made the academic study of religion possible in the first place.

So, instead of waiting for the next ad that strikes some (or many?) of us as inappropriate, it would be nice if we could not only sustain this conversation but do so in a manner that our own societies’ leaders saw as consequential.