Wednesday, September 08, 2010

So You Want to Go to Grad School: Choosing Schools (2)

Last time I discussed choosing schools on the theological end of the spectrum. But the list would be different if we were talking about continental philosophy of religion, as opposed to philosophical theology. In that case, you'd want to work within a philosophy department so that your disciplinary formation was in the philosophical canon, and so that you'd emerge able to teach PHIL 101 rather than THEO 101. However, I should note a caution here: if you're interested in something like "continental philosophy of religion," that will have already put you outside of the pale of the dominant sensibility in North American philosophy ("analytic" philosophy). So that often means that programs which are hospitable to continental philosophy of religion are generally not going to be high-ranked programs according to the received criteria (i.e., The Leiter Report). Now, that's not a huge issue if you're hoping to teach at a smaller institution. But it does pose a bit of a challenge if you had aspirations of doing continental philosophy of religion in, say, Yale's philosophy department. That ain't gonna happen. But that's also not the end of the world.

If you're interested in pursuing continental philosophy of religion, I would advise you to consider two things: (1) Don't specialize in philosophy of religion. My colleagues in analytic philosophy of religion counsel the same thing. In the guild's parlance, you'd want philosophy of religion to be an AOC (area of competence) not an AOS (area of specialization). Even if it's your real passion, you need to prove your mettle and master some other subdiscipline like French phenomenology or ethics or hermeneutics. (2) Do your doctoral work in a "pluralist" program that also emphasizes the history of philosophy. That is, don't go to a program that has a continental axe to grind, constantly railing against analytic philosophy. This will only further sequester you from the mainstream in your discipline. Instead, look for programs that are hospitable to continental voices but also offer you an opportunity to receive training in the core of analytic philosophy (metaphysics, epistemology, ethics) and a solid foundation in the history of philosophy. And ideally it would also be a place that would give you training in pragmatism. I think the most exciting future of the discipline involves new, emerging conversations happening across old boundaries and divisions, between continental and analytic schools of thought. I think it's especially important for Christian philosophers to be building such bridges, and that requires a generous, well-rounded program. (I discuss some more issues of formation in my article, "Continental Philosophy of Religion: Prescriptions for a Healthy Subdiscipline."

With those concerns in mind, let me mention a few philosophy departments I'd recommend for consideration:
  • Notre Dame: While this is a bastion of analytic philosophy of religion, it's also a place where you can receive solid training in continental sources along with excellent foundations in the history of philosophy, especially medieval thought. ND is also home to the Center for Philosophy of Religion under the energetic new leadership of Mike Rea.
  • Fordham University: Longtime home to Merold Westphal, one of the doyens of continental philosophy of religion, Fordham is another one of those "pluralist" departments I spoke of.
  • University of Chicago Committee on Social Thought: A fascinating program that could get you a job in a philosophy department (which would be harder to do with a degree from the div school). Plus, it's Chicago: one of the great American cities.
  • Syracuse University: Syracuse's Philosophy Department was home to William Alston, a giant in analytic philosophy of religion, but it has also historically been home to some folks working on Kant, Heidegger, French thought, and feminism. John Caputo has had a cross-appointment in Religion and Philosophy, though he will be retiring at the end of this year, so folks should watch for who will be appointed to replace him. But Syracuse is worth a look. But do note that I'm suggesting that if you want to do philosophy of religion, then you should consider the Syracuse Philosophy Department and lean out into resources in the Religion department as you're able.
  • Southern Illinois University Carbondale: Here's a little sleeper that I recommend to students if you're open to a "marginal" program--which is fine if your goal is to teach at a smaller college. I think this is a very interesting department, with excellent resources in pragmatism and phenomenology (including Anthony Steinbock, who I think is one of the most interesting scholars in English-speaking phenomenology).
  • Philosophy Program, Baylor University: While this program is analytic at its heart, it's also a generous, pluralist place that can make room for philosophy of religion "with a continental twist" (I know a student who just completed a dissertation on Jean-Luc Marion). You will also find a pretty stellar cadre of scholars who are intentionally Christian. There are also solid resources in the Religion department at Baylor. This is a great place to consider especially if you feel your vocation is to a smaller, Christian liberal arts college.
I'm no doubt forgetting some, but there's a little sample to get you started.

Let me close with two other considerations about where to study:

First, British programs: obviously there are some very interesting places to study philosophical theology/continental philosophy of religion in the UK (Nottingham, Cambridge, University of Manchester, etc.). Just two concerns to keep in mind: (1) These programs are incredibly expensive and often don't have the funding support of North American programs [I'll talk about money in the next post]; (2) the nature of British postgraduate education encourages narrow and deep research, but doesn't always provide broad, disciplinary familiarity with the canon. So while UK PhDs can teach incredible upper-level seminars in their speciality, they're not always equipped to teach 101. They also don't tend to provide as many opportunities to teach while in graduate school, and thus UK doctoral students aren't developing a classroom repertoire. I think that becomes a handicap when interviewing at American colleges and universities.

Second, remember Canadian universities: you might consider some of the excellent resources north of the border, particularly at the University of Toronto (and the sprawling Toronto School of Theology), as well as McGill University in Montreal (for either continental philosophy or theology), McMaster University (continental philosophy), or the University of Guelph (for continental philosophy).

Next time: A Supplement on Choosing Schools in Philosophical Theology, then Money.