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SLAC Associate

It is very difficult to generalize here, because religiously-affiliated schools vary widely in how rigorously they adhere to their religious mission. I know quite a bit about Catholic and Protestant colleges; I know very little about other religious institutions. So I'll only be talking about Catholic and Protestant schools here.

There are some religiously-affiliated colleges (both Catholic and Protestant) that generally only hire members of their own faith communities, where you will just not get the job if you're not a practicing Catholic or a conservative evangelical or whatever. (I was once encouraged by an acquaintance at such an institution to apply for an open position in their department. I told my friend that I thought they only hired coreligionists, and that I belonged to a different church. His reply, "Oh, yeah, you're right. Never mind, don't apply, we won't hire you. I thought you were X.")

But there are others schools (both Catholic and Protestant) where being seen as *too* devout or doctrinaire will be a strike against your candidacy. These institutions are generally looking for a certain degree of ideological diversity in the faculty, and being pegged as a theological conservative will typically be seen as not fitting into the culture of the college. These institutions still want faculty to have some nebulous degree of respect and awareness of the religious mission, but that's about all.

If you don't know anything about the institution, from the outside it can be very difficult to know whether they fall into the first camp or the second. If the college asks faculty to submit or sign a statement of faith or adhere to some religious code of conduct they're almost certainly in the first camp; and generally colleges with more national prestige and recognition are in the second camp, but beyond that it's often hard to judge.

Sometimes the job ad will have hints: from a couple active PhilJobs posts right now, "open to members of all faith traditions" probably points to camp 2, while "enthusiastic commitment to the college's mission" might mean camp 1. In Catholic circles, Jesuit institutions are usually closer to category 2 while Dominicans are closer to camp 1; in Protestant circles, Baptist/Reformed/Evangelical schools are probably camp 1 and Lutheran/Methodist/Episcopalian institutions are more likely camp 2.

But all those are just rough guidelines; asking someone who knows about the institution is generally your only sure way to learn. (There are also some institutions that straddle the divide, where some individual departments are more theologically narrow than the college as a whole, or where there's some special university-wide endowment that can only be used to hire practicing Lutherans, or whatever, that might complicate matters. But the basic dichotomy usually fits.)

Schools in the first camp will likely ask at least one theologically loaded question during interviews. (I had an APA interview with one such college where half the interview was about my understanding of one specific Christian doctrine that had nothing to do with my teaching or research; I think that's somewhat rare, but it happens.) They'll want to know if you are willing to sign on to their college's statement of faith. They'll ask about how your classroom pedagogy will be shaped by the college's religious mission.

Colleges in the second will generally only ask some nebulous "mission" question about how you appreciate or contribute to the mission of the college. It's possible to fail the mission question by expressing a complete lack of awareness about the college's mission, but at many category 2 schools you could also fail by citing the catechism chapter and verse in a way that marks you as overly doctrinaire.

TL;DR: It's super complicated with no easy generalizable answer. As with every other application, the more you know about the place you're applying to, the better prepared you will be.

big dawg

OP Here: I gotta be honest. Your responses haven't done much to assuage my concerns, so let me be a bit more specific.

I have an interview at a very small catholic liberal arts institution (< 2,000)

They did not ask me to fill out a statement of my faith or anything like that.

This particular institution does not seem to be concerned I am not Catholic. I realize they may come up during the interview but it seems more likely than not that they're interested in how I go about mission integration.

I appreciate the feedback but my experience so far based on applying and then getting an interview don't seem to align with your own.

SLAC Associate

Re: big dawg at 11:54:

What you say leads me to suspect that this is what I called a category 2 school, given they don't seem concerned that you're not catholic and there's no statement of faith involved or the like.

The hiring institution will want to be sure that you're not overly hostile toward religious people, as many of your students and many of the college's donor base will likely be Catholic. Being able to speak to how you fairly and respectfully teach topics like the problem of evil, the Euthyphro problem, religious disagreement, etc. will likely be valuable.

Read over the mission page on their website, be prepared to say something about the value of "lifelong learning" or "education of the whole person" or "spiritual community" or whatever their preferred buzzwords seem to be.

That's probably the most you'll have to worry about with respect to the Catholic part of the interview.

Sam Duncan

My experience matches SLAC Associate's. I've had I think four or so interviews at Catholic schools and they were all over the map but they roughly fell into the divide he sketches. A couple didn't seem to care about my own religious leanings at all, though I think it was a plus that I'd done work in philosophy of religion. One pretty much let me know in the interview that they pictured their ethics classes as rehashing the catechism and tried to figure out if I'd do that while another tried to suss out in more subtle but probing ways what my religious leanings were (a moderately liberal Presbyterian but I didn't tell them that). I think SLAC Associate is right that it's hard to tell where a school falls on this divide and that the only sure way to know is to ask someone associated with the place in some fashion. The one school that asked me nearly point blank if I'd teach ethics in good Catholic fashion gave an impression that they were what SLAC Associate describes as a category 1 school going in, though I thought they might not be since they were a somewhat prestigious school, so I wasn't too shocked. I got much more of a type 2 impression from the other school though so I was really surprised by the extent to which they tried to feel out my religious convictions. There wasn't a statement of faith there or really or too many warning signs. If memory serves there was some language about the school's Catholic mission or something like that in the ad but it seemed vague and pro forma and there was also language about openness to other faiths in the school's mission statement which they linked to in the ad. Also, to add to what SLAC associate said most any school run by a mainline Protestant denomination will fall into type 2. I'd add Presbyterians and Congregationalists to his/her list. *But* there are super conservative splinter denominations for pretty much all those denominations. Schools run by those groups will almost without fail fall very much into type 1.


I think the type 1 / type 2 distinction is largely helpful, but unavoidably there are individual actors in both environments. i.e. type 1 agents at type 2 institutions and vice versa (people who wish their school was more doctrinal or people who wish it was less). These agents operate within a larger administration framework that pushes the other way.

I did graduate work at two jesuit institutions and I'd say they were both largely type 2 to such an extent that announcing deeply religious faith would probably be bad for the chances of getting hired there. Conversely, I went to a very type 1 undergrad where some of the philosophy faculty wished it were a bit more type 2.

Shay Logan

I grew up in a small town that literally did not have a Catholic Church. Horror story: was interviewing at my alma mater, Gonzaga University. My entire catholic experience was via Gonzaga. It was this, through and through, a Jesuit experience. I had no non-Jesuit understanding of Catholicism of any form.

I thought I was prepared for the interview. It quickly became abundantly clear I was not. But the final question of the interview struck me as genuinely ridiculous to the point of hilarity: what do you think is different about teaching at a Jesuit university rather than a mere (and I do recall the word “mere” being used) Catholic university.

For my answer I fumbled, mumbled, and failed.

Assoc Prof

Good points in the discussion here. If it's a type 1 school (strictly religious), than there's not much an outsider candidate can do. If you are a devout member of that religious orientation, you probably already know about the school and its outlook, and if you're not, you are not that strong of a candidate.

However, for type 2 schools, a reasonable amount of preparation can help with the mission-type questions. Some type 2 schools see their mission as relating to a Western-culture-oriented liberal arts education. So, discussing how classic texts (Christian and non-Christian) play a role in your classes could help. Other type 2 schools see their mission as relating to generally progressive ethical values also affirmed by the religion, so for that, talking about how issues like concern for the poor, immigrants, and the environment play a role in your research and teaching could help.

Most Protestant denominations and Catholic religious orders (Jesuit and so on) have a set of classic sayings or slogans that are fairly broad in meaning. These schools may also have a "mission" or "ministry" page on the website explaining these slogans in simple terms for the general public. So, it may be possible to make a connection there as well.

I imagine that some type 2 schools value a diversity of religious views, even outside the school's denomination. So if a candidate is a member of another faith, or has religious themes in their research or life experience, that could be helpful too.

Assoc Prof

In regard to Catholic colleges, the conservative (and polemical) Cardinal Newman Society lists schools that they consider adequately traditional (https://newmansociety.org/college/ ), so their list would overlap to a fair degree with type 1 Catholic schools. Catholic seminaries training priests will also be type 1. Most other Catholic institutions, in my experience, trend toward a type 2 culture.

PhD Candidate

I currently attend a Catholic University and have sat in on the campus talks given by job candidates. I also attended a type 1 school listed above in undergrad.

My advice: you don't need to know everything about Thomas Aquinas and Catholic Sacraments. You should however learn something about the order/tradition the school is affiliated with.

Is it a Jesuit school? Then be ready to talk about the Cura Personalis and the value of Jesuit education. Is it Benedictine? Be ready to say something about Lectio Divina, and the benedictine motto "ora et labora."

I know a Theology professor at a Benedictine school who got their job, not because they were the most brilliant theologian or came from a competitive school, but because they could talk about the value of the Benedictine way of life and their mission and others didn't.

Likewise, I saw a job candidate at my current institution asked by a non-Catholic faculty member to say something about what the value of Jesuit Education and how it has informed, or could inform, their pedagogy. Let's say they flubbed this question and were not hired.

Glad I prepped

Just to add to this helpful discussion:

I'm at a small <3,000 Catholic college that is 'teaching focused'. It is more a type 2--there is no faith requirement (quite the opposite) but a large percentage of the students and staff are practicing Catholics. Here are three questions I was asked that connected to this.

Be prepared to talk about the specific mission of the university. This will mean be able to speak intelligently to how you will help students become moral beings, passionate about justice, spiritually whole, etc. I got a mission question on my first round interview and I was glad I prepared by actually looking and thinking about their mission. It was not a religious issue, but an 'educating the whole person' issue. In other words, be prepared to talk about what is formative in education even if your AOS is logic or epistemology. Also at a small Catholic School like OP describes, you'll be expected to do a lot of general core service classes, including potentially liberal arts seminars or freshman classes. It's good to look to see what the college offerings look like because if they offer that, you should expect a question about how you would approach it. The Dean sprung this on me for my on-campus and I was so glad I had looked that up enough to cobble together a potential theme and simple narrative.

Be prepared to talk about the Catholic Intellectual tradition. If you do history of philosophy, this will come easy. If not, I'd encourage you to look into it and think about real ways you could address it any course that you teach. Their intro courses might require it (even if that means just minimally teaching Plato or Aristotle and Aquinas' Five Ways). I didn't find this question to be testing much more than my understanding that I was interviewing for a Catholic University, and that I was prepared to hold true to that (and not brush it off), and that I understood that philosophy is usually required in the core in Catholic Universities for that reason, and that I should expect to treat philosophical issues of importance to Catholics (i.e. the existence of evil, God, Truth, the good life, justice, and ethics) as pertinent, interesting, and philosophically significant.

I was also asked about why I wanted to be a member of that community. This might not apply to Jesuit schools, but it will be important for the smaller Catholic orders, I assume. Being a member here was not asking about my faith but rather explaining how I anticipated actually become a member of the college community.

fallen Catholic

Hi OP! I worked at a small Catholic liberal arts college for a few years, and was also on a search committee while there.

Some of the very conservative places might be hard to get into unless you're an actual and devout Catholic. Assuming it is a more open place, here's my two cents...

1. Be prepared to talk about the mission. You should read the mission and memorize it. You will be asked about the mission. A lot.

2. Along the same lines, be prepared to talk about how the mission fits with your teaching, research, and service. The service one can be interesting, because community service sometimes 'counts'.

3. You might want to think about ways in which the objective of Catholic education is different from that of other varieties of education, particularly in the public system. Generally, it has something to do with virtue; there's the idea that education should also help students practice both the standard Aristotelian virtues and the theological virtues. In the public system, in contrast, we don't spend a ton of time trying to make our students into good people.

4. Generally, they will be trying to ensure that you will be a respectful member of a primarily Catholic community, along with its mission and values, even if you are not a practicing Catholic.

FWIW, the search committee I was on ended up hiring a non-Catholic who nonetheless was committed to the mission and values of the university. They also hired me - and I'm the worst possible person in the eyes of Catholics - a fallen Catholic.

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