From a Christian perspective, why should anyone pursue a doctorate in the humanities? We shared this “Dear Mentor” question and Carmen Acevedo Butcher’s response from this post at the Emerging Scholars’ Network (ESN) website.
In two recent columns in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Thomas H. Benton (the pen name of William Pannapacker, associate professor of English at Hope College) warned students against getting a PhD in the humanities. Just in case anyone missed his point, Benton’s first column was entitled Graduate School in the Humanities: Just Don’t Go and his follow-up column, Just Don’t Go, Part 2. We recommend reading both articles, but here was a key passage from the first: As things stand, I can only identify a few circumstances under which one might reasonably consider going to graduate school in the humanities: You are independently wealthy, and you have no need to earn a living for yourself or provide for anyone else. You come from that small class of well-connected people in academe who will be able to find a place for you somewhere. You can rely on a partner to provide all of the income and benefits needed by your household. You are earning a credential for a position that you already hold — such as a high-school teacher — and your employer is paying for it. Those are the only people who can safely undertake doctoral education in the humanities. Everyone else who does so is taking an enormous personal risk, the full consequences of which they cannot assess because they do not understand how the academic-labor system works and will not listen to people who try to tell them. We weren’t satisfied with Benton’s advice, because we felt he left out important reasons why one should attempt a PhD in the Humanities. Rather than write a response ourselves, we contacted several Christian faculty in the humanities and asked them how they would respond to the question: “From a Christian perspective, why should anyone pursue a doctorate in the humanities?” Below, Carmen Acevedo Butcher of Shorter College offers her response to the question. Brett Foster of Wheaton offers his answer here, and responses from seven other Christian faculty and postdocs can be read here.