What to do with all these
The Chronicle of Higher Ed relays a speech given by Michael F. Bérubé to the Council of Graduate School, called "The Future of Graduate Education in the Humanities." He offers up, in the words of the article’s title, a "sobering critique" of the state of the humanities, in terms of financial assistance for graduate school and job prospects.
Last I checked, theology was included in the humanities. And I suspect the ongoing and future prospects of teaching theology in a tenure track position in the academy are at the most dire end of the completely dire spectrum. Now, if you want to teach religious studies, say, Asian or African religion or Islam, there are positions opening all over the place, it seems. But theology–in particular, perhaps, systematic theology–seems to a dying breed.
In his speech, Bérubé suggests that programs in the humanities may need to start intentionally preparing their doctoral students for careers outside of the academy. He suggests this might even require revisiting the sacrosanct dissertation.
I'm not sure about the dissertation part (it seems a crucial exercise for learning how to think and argue creatively), but I think he's right on about the former.
In the case of theological education, it seems rather simple. Perhaps theological programs can start to intentionally prepare students for careers outside the academy, beginning with ministry in the "church," (broadly conceived). I've argued before that churches need more ministers who are deeply theologically trained–not so they can re-state the old theological positions so much as think creatively and contextually and help their congregations to do "local theology" together as they collectively respond to the impulses of the gospel in their lives. Disclaimer: Obviously not everyone is "cut out" for church ministry, and churches certainly don't need ministers who are there because they couldn't achieve their real dreams.
Furthermore, you don't need a Ph.D. to be a theologian, or to theologize well. So, it goes back to a question of time, resources, energy, investment, capacities and gifts, etc. But the discussion of the predicament of the humanities caused me to reflect on the notion that the discipline of theology already has a ready-made alternative to teaching and researching in the academy: thinking and talking about God with the people of God while living as the people of God. It's an old partnership, really: thinking and doing, reflecting and action, theo-logy and theo-praxis.
The entire post can be read here.