Humanities PhDs and the Academic Job Market: A New Podcast Series

Erica Bennett and Jacob Barrett, podcast series hosts

Over the summer Erica Bennett, now in her final year of our M.A., worked with a recent M.A. alum, Jacob Barrett (now in the first year of his Ph.D. at UNC Chapel Hill), on a four part podcast series, devoted to the academic job market and the variety of careers for which Humanities Ph.D.s are suited — if, that is, Ph.D. students and the faculty who train them see careers outside academia as relevant sites where their research skills can be applied. With his own doctoral degree now starting, and the challenges of the Humanities job market in academia all too obvious to him, these conversations on just what a Ph.D. prepares students for, the applicability of the degree in a variety of settings, as well as faculty’s and Departments’ need to see their work as preparing students for more than just possible employment as a professor, are pretty relevant for Jacob, as they are for anyone in his position.

So, based on the reception to a tweet this past summer by Bradley Sommer (about being newly on the job market), himself a recent History Ph.D. graduate, this new podcast series involved Erica speaking first with Bradley about his ongoing job search and then checking in with Pamela Gilbert (an English Professor at the University of Florida), in the second episode, on some of the wider factors that impact a faculty member’s ability to assist students to think about (and find) careers outside of academia. In episode three we meet Jared Powell, an REL alum who double majored in English, then earned an MA in English at the University of Alabama, and who recently left his Ph.D. in English at UNC — a decision involving concerns about the current academic labor market. The series then wraps up with Erica and Jacob hearing from Shannon Trosper Schorey, a recent doctoral graduate in Religious Studies, also from UNC, who has established a career for herself in the tech sector at Red Hat — Shannon is a strong advocate for Humanities graduate programs rethinking how they train their students and the future work they’ll be doing.

We hope the series is helpful to students and faculty alike —
all four parts are now posted on SoundCloud and
on the REL website.

While the Wind’s on our Backs

Department Newsletter Cover

Yesterday I sent out our annual Department newsletter — it’s much smaller than it was 19 years ago, when we first started it. But back then the Department didn’t have a podcast or a Vimeo account where student-created content was regularly posted, let alone an Instagram account, so the newsletter was the main place where we could get some news out annually and represent the good work being done in the Department. So now, with frequent Facebook and Twitter updates, the newsletter plays a rather different role.

Among the various functions of yesterday’s update — such as announcing our incoming M.A. cohort and the interesting work being done by all of our faculty — was the chance to alert just our alums and current students as to an upcoming change in the Department. For in the late Spring of the 2021 semester, at my annual year-end meeting with the Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences (where the past year’s work in the Department is discussed, along with briefing him on future plans), I told the Dean that, at the conclusion of my current term as Department Chair (in August of 2023), I wouldn’t stand for another 5 year term. I figured that two years notice was fair, what with the last year being taken up with the process to search for a successor; and so, at that August’s annual Fall faculty retreat, where we get ready for a new school year, I let the faculty and staff in on the news, thereby giving us as a group a year to talk about where the Department has been and where it might be going and, in the midst of all that, to mull over who the faculty would like to recommend to the Dean as their next Chair. Continue reading

Looking Back on the Past Two Years

With the 2022 Interim session in full swing and the Summer semester’s start less than a couple weeks away, with the year-end report written and submitted by the Chair and the year-end meeting with the Dean now completed, the realization that Spring 2022 has come to an end is really only now just settling in for everyone. Students have graduated, summer jobs or summer travel is already underway, and campus is pretty quiet once again (and, yes, already hot). So now’s a good time to reflect, a bit, on where we’ve been over the past two and a half years. Continue reading

Advocating on Behalf of the Humanities

NHA logo

Judah Siekkinen is a graduating MA student in REL, who earned his BA from Youngstown State University (in Religious Studies & Geography).

On March 15, 2022, I had the privilege to advocate for federal funding for the Humanities on behalf of the state of Alabama. The event was organized by the National Humanities Alliance (NHA). The NHA works to fund various Humanities organizations, most notably the National Endowment of the Humanities (NEH). I advocated alongside a colleague from Samford University who just happened to work in their religion department. Continue reading

New Appointment in REL

Oleg Kyselov

The Department of Religious Studies has announced that Dr. Oleg Kyselov has been hired as a full-time Instructor for the 2022-23 academic year.

A senior researcher at the H. S. Skovoroda Institute of Philosophy in Ukraine, Dr. Kyselov first joined REL in October 2021 as a visiting Fulbright Scholar — having been awarded this prestigious appointment for a 9 month visit. Now, instead of returning to Ukraine in July, he will be working in REL for the coming school year, in such courses as REL 105 Honors Introduction to the Study of Religion and our monthly upper-level evening class, REL Goes to the Movies. Continue reading

It’s Honors Day Once Again

Four REL students at the 2021 homecoming tent

With just a few weeks of the semester left to complete we arrive at yet another Honors Day on campus — an opportunity to recognize accomplishments from the past school year, of students, faculty, and even alums. And, in lieu of an in-person event this year, REL has created another video to celebrate some achievements in the Department.

At 10 a.m. this morning we hope that you can cheer on Jackson Foster, the student selected to receive REL’s annual Outstanding Student in the Study of Religion award, presented this year by Prof. Newton, our Undergraduate Director.

Thanks to all those who helped to create this year’s video and especially
to Prof. Newton who produced, directed, and edited it.

Honors Week 2022

Presidents Hall with honors day banners on the balconies

It’s hard to believe that it’s early April already and another Honors Week has arrived. If you’ve been around the building you know that the banners are all up along the second floor (and also on part of the third, where REL now has 4, and soon 5, faculty offices). They date back 21 years, listing all of the names of all of our Silverstein Scholars, including the students awarded it this year: Hannah Alexander, Tyler Blair, Scarlett Ford, Jackson Foster, Stephen Heaton, Blake Jordan, Rebekah Pearson, Caden Philley, Katherine Prince, and Leah Varnell. This award is given to our highest achieving REL majors and Judaic Studies minors; looking back, we’re so very pleased to see how many students have benefited over the past two decades from the financial assistance provided by this kind gift to the Department. This year’s recipients can see Prof. Newton beginning Friday to pick up their letters and to learn what they will receive as part of this honor. Continue reading

REL Spirit Week

Photo of Prof. Loewen and Jacobs tweeting from the REL Lounge.

Yes indeed, this coming week (Oct. 11-15) is our first REL Spirit Week, with lots going on — and we hope you’ll join us for all of it.

Monday: students can tag @StudyReligion on their Instagram stories about what they’re doing (class prep? getting a coffee at the student center? in class? hanging out on the balcony or meeting a prof?) and we’ll re-post them to REL’s Instagram story (this will happen throughout the week). We’ll also have a #loungetweets session on Twitter (something we’ve not done in a while and which needs to be revived) — tune in to see what’s going on.

Tuesday: From 10-noon we’ll be having another button event along the Crimson Promenade, adjacent to Presidents Hall — and yes, we have new buttons to give away! Join our tent, hand out some buttons to random passersby, and meet other REL majors and minors, MA students, and faculty. Also, Prof. Griffin’s REL 310’s monthly movie night is from 6-9 pm and their movies are once again open to majors, minors, and MA students (it’s moved to the much larger ten Hoor 30). The movie: What We Do in the Shadows (2014).

Wednesday: Lots happening today — from 10-2 pm it’s the Majors Fair in the student center’s ballroom (talk to Prof. Newton about helping out at our table) and, later that night, it’s our first Fall movie on the balcony, at 7 pm (or once it’s dark enough) with Karate Kid (1984) being shown by Profs. Newton and Griffin. (A classic, no?) We’ll have folding chairs, so dress for the weather and BYO Popcorn. We’ll also have the regular balcony break from 10-noon, with a Guess Who game custom designed for the occasion.

Thursday: MA students will be visiting all of our lower-level classes, talking about Spring REL classes, distributing some info about them, and maybe bringing a few of the leftover buttons with them.

Friday: We close out the week with a final #loungetweets session (and more re-posted Instagram stories from throughout the week). Stop by the lounge to see who’s tweeting or write them back,

Photo of a past REL button event

Computational Thinking in the Humanities

Woman in 1955 working at an early, large computer

As previously announced, REL has established its own digital lab (RELdl), directed by Prof. Jeri Wieringa. The lab is an outgrowth of REL’s long investment in integrating computing skills into the life of the Department and its degree programs; among our goals is to see the lab inject energy and expertise into a variety of collaborative research projects and curricular initiatives. Continue reading

Tip of the Iceberg

Graph showing the increasing frequency of the phrase "religious expression" since 1800The common English phrasing “religious expression” carries with it a set of assumptions about what scholars of religion study as well as how and why they study it, though the term is today so widespread that I doubt many think much about what it entails. Continue reading