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This is my first post here and I'm looking for advice on the outlook of the field I guess. My undergrad background is in Anthropology, but my research is in anthropology of religion and can easily fit into a religious studies department.

Right now I am in a dilemma weighing what path to take. I was offered admission to a Religious Studies program in the U.S. at a top university, and I was also offered admission to a small university's Anthropology PhD program. It's not very highly ranked at all, but the department is a pretty good fit...but so is the Religious Studies department.

I have visits coming up to both these schools and right now I think the deciding factor is the future job market. Religion vs. Anthropology. I've heard mixed things from various people in both fields, but there is some bias I think. Anthropologists tell me that anthropology is more versatile, while people in RS tell me that it's more marketable. I'm also trying to weigh if prestige matters on the job market as well. Would it look better to go to Excellent University for RS or Fairly Good University for Anthropology? The smaller university is in no way a bad one, and I am excited about the prospect of going to both.

These are of course things I will be discussing with my past mentors and grad students at both places, but could I enlist kind internet strangers for any new perspectives?

  • Well what do you want to do for a career? – Azor Ahai -him- Feb 28 '20 at 21:36
  • I'd ultimate like to become a professor. I know that probably sounds idealistic given the job market. But I'd like to continue to research and teach – pomegranateseed15 Feb 28 '20 at 23:03
  • As you say, the job market (in both) is very difficult -- pursuing a faculty path is somewhat akin to a college football player trying to join the NFL. So, I would seriously think about which one offers you the best "backup plan" and marketable skills. – cag51 Feb 29 '20 at 5:33
  • @cag51 do you have any advice/an opinion on which field that might be? I'm trying to think it through right now as I consider offers – pomegranateseed15 Feb 29 '20 at 12:46
  • Unfortunately, I do not; my background is sufficiently different that I would just be guessing. – cag51 Feb 29 '20 at 15:25
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Think of anthropology as more scientific and religious studies as more historical. Or Hard science v humanities, if you find that distinction meaningful. The processes of each are a bit different.

I'll just guess that there are more opportunities in anthropology and if you are on the cusp of the two fields there are probably more things open to you with a credential in anthropology than if it were more religious studies based.

Being associated with a broader field is an advantage in that it gives you flexibility to choose, even if you choose a narrow part of it. Being associated with a narrow field is probably a disadvantage.

Graduating from a "top" institution is a benefit for your first job, most likely. Graduating with great recommendations from recognized experts in whatever field is a bigger initial advantage.

I suspect that you know that some "religious" studies folk are more interested in preconceived notions of how things work and more interested in proselytizing than in learning. Avoid those sorts of things and you should be fine.

Obviously this is not a real answer. That can only come from you. But discussions with people you know is a good way to explore it.

  • Which one are you suggesting is a "hard" science? – Azor Ahai -him- Feb 28 '20 at 21:36
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    @AzorAhai, I think of anthropology as a hard science. Margaret Mead was a scientist. – Buffy Feb 28 '20 at 21:42
  • @AzorAhai, maybe "humanities" is a better term here than social science. – Buffy Feb 28 '20 at 21:53
  • @AzorAhai, Anthro is a "mixed methods" social science that uses some quantitative methods and survey techniques, as well as linguistics; at the same time it includes cultural anthropology, which is more like the humanities because it relies on qualitative methods more than quantitative ones. Religion is in the humanities and it relies largely on qualitative methods, similar to History, but it has an interpretative side to it that is closer to literature studies. Hope that helps. – Philly Feb 29 '20 at 3:22
  • @Buffy I mean "soft" scientists are scientists too. I don't think the distinction is of much use but I guess I wouldn't have considered it a "hard" science. Not an important argument, tho – Azor Ahai -him- Feb 29 '20 at 3:55

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