In this series I am discussing the dangers of blogging as a student if you are hoping to (1) become a doctoral student and/or (2) find employment in academia. Now, if you are a M.Div student who wants to be a pastor there are risks and rewards to blogging, but I’m not addressing that matter directly. Nor do I aim to make broad claims about all students in all fields. I have a very precise audience in mind. I write for those who want to teach someday or be researchers in the fields of biblical, religious, or theological studies. I presume that if there is someone out there who dreams of being an administrator at a seminary or divinity school you might find some value in this discussion as well.
If you are new to this series you may want to read my Introduction and my #1 reason: ruining your public reputation. This second reason to avoid blogging is a subcategory of #1. While having one’s public reputation semi-ruined because people think you a jerk on your blog is a bad thing when the rubber hits the road the people you want to avoid offending the most are people who control your future. Those are the people on the admissions committee of the program to which you’ve applied. Those are the faculty who supervise doctoral students. Those are the deans who read over the dozens of job applications that come across their desk. If someone going by the name “Sneaky Jimmy” spends all his time trolling blogs you may not want to offend that person because you want to be nice. If you do offend them, well, they go by the name “Sneaky Jimmy” and they troll blogs. * On the other hand, if you apply to do your doctoral work at a prestigious research university you don’t want to have survived the initial purging of applications only to have someone Google your name, see that one time you said something you no longer believe, but forgot you wrote, and decide your too big a “risk” to admit to their program. In other words my point is this: you’ve done too much hard work to be derailed by something as small as someone misunderstanding what you wrote on your blog in 2010! If your application is going to be rejected let it be on merit, not misunderstanding, not on something you blogged.
Earlier this year I discussed this topic a couple times on this blog. While I did write on “The Pros of Blogging as a Student” I also wrote on “The Cons of Blogging as a Student” and the second post received more opinionated interaction. Someone may read this post and think that I am exaggerating matters, but that isn’t true. My later post titled “A Student? A Pre-Tenure Educator? Don’t Blog.” is something you ought to read, especially the comments and the blog post written by Robert Holmstedt to which I linked. There are examples of people whose blogs have made their life as a student far harder than it ought to have been.
There is no way I can reproduce all that was discussed there, so I chose to point the interested reader in that direction for now. In my next post I will address something that is a great temptation for students who have biblio- or theo- blogs: the temptation to blog about subjects not related to your field of study.
* I don’t know of anyone who actually goes by the name “Sneaky Jimmy” while trolling blogs. It’s a hypothetical example.
I can sympathize with the concern that social media and blogging could derail a profession. However, at face value, this fear seams more reasonable in the areas of theological and seminary studies and careers. I think it points to a strange dynamic that is almost exclusive to religion and religious studies; that is, a tendency to ignore rational evidence and judge others’ ideas based on how well they mesh with your own. As a society we need to get away from this sort of thinking and funding sources, rather relying on evidence to guide rational thought and acceptance of others. In other words, as new evidence is found by an individual it should be expected that his thoughts would change. If a funder disagrees, she should consider the reasoning of evidence and perhaps even apply the new point of view. Instead, we are intellectually held hostage by dogma, irrational thinking, lack of sound scientific process, and childish vying. Does this indicate that theological and biblical studies are pseudoscience, based more on faith than evidence?
Appreciate all the warnings and look forward to the other reasons why I (and other seminary students) shouldn’t blog. My blogs often do convey what I believe and those beliefs often change over time, which leads me to forgetting about it and being surprised when someone accuses me of that belief down the road (not that that has happened; only speaking hypothetically).
What I found interesting after my first day at George Fox (Portland), though, was the implementation of blogs in the curriculum. During my undergraduate studies at the University of Oregon, my religious studies professor was one of the only professors to promote a classroom blog, wherein thoughts and ideas could be shared and critiqued. It enhanced our actual classroom discussions because everyone had already spent some time thinking about the various subjects with other people, despite it not actually being face to face. I’m hoping the blog for my Old Testament class will have a similar, positive effect.
I haven’t read your post(s?) about the positive aspects of blogging while being a student, but I must say that I’m excited to blog about the things I learn at George Fox. My particular audience (primarily former members of my old church and friends at college) is one that doesn’t get the opportunity to study much of the Bible – at least, not at the caliber that seminarians do. So from time to time, understanding one another is difficult simply because there is a different vernacular within academia that is difficult to learn (I’m still trying). What it’s caused me to do, however, is take the time in explaining the things I think non-academically-minded people either wouldn’t know or wouldn’t understand. It’s been a productive exercise in patience, but ultimately I find it to be training myself to see things through the perspectives of others.
All of this to say, you’re exactly right that those who don’t blog often (or at all) might not understand what’s being said in the discussion. Continually emphasizing to readers that blogs are places for discussion and dialogue (in a non-audible way) is key to maintaining a positive and constructive online reputation. Again, I look forward to the other reasons why I shouldn’t blog 😉
Maybe you can explain why you understand the field of biblical studies to be a more restrictive guild that others? I’m a bit confused by some of your assertions. If someone applied to Stanford University’s biology department, and it was seen on their blog that the applicant believed that Atlas literally held the world on his shoulders, I imagine this might cause some problems. Do you think these fields shouldn’t have any taboos?
As far as biblical studies being a “science,” well, I don’t know many people who assert that anymore. There may be scientific practices like carbon dating an ancient scroll or codex that contribute to the findings of scholars in these fields, but biblical studies isn’t considered a “science” in the most restrictive language.
Indeed, there are many good reasons to blog. Pedagogically speaking, for people not aiming to join research departments, but rather those who may be pastors, I think blogging is great. Really, it boils down to the politics of hiring. Some Churches may snoop a blog and make a decision about a candidate based on what they find in that blog. Everyone must decide for themselves whether that is a risk worth taking.
Personally, I’d rather be open about my views now then get hired somewhere only to live in fear that I’d be “found out.” Of course, I say that without the responsibility of a mortgage or children to feed!
First, thank you for the blog and for taking all the risks associated with this activity. I agree with you that biblical studies should not be considered a science. In response to your thoughts on restrictiveness in biblical studies and other fields, it does appear that biblical studies is much more restrictive. However, this is likely due to the nature of the field. I think the confusion in my first comment comes in that one really can’t compare biblical studies with any scientific field because biblical studies is uniquely faith based. Please realize, I’m not assigning more value to one or the other, but pointing out that I probably made an unfair comparison. The very nature of basing academic work on faith does lead to more restrictiveness. For example, the biologist that thought Atlas literally held up the world would have to answer for his lack of scientific knowledge and skill. A biblical studies professor that disagrees with the majority view of hell has to answer for a difference of faith that is based on an interpretation of a text that can only be accepted in faith. I would argue that differences of opinion on how to correctly interpret scientific research is usually less charged than disagreement surrounding a faith based text. This inevitably leads to more restriction in the field. Also, biblical studies is obviously not immune to the denominational splits in Christianity. Science is based on observable evidence and therefore does not lead to the kind of splits, dogma, and restrictive environment as that of biblical studies.
I’m not sure I understand the claim that “biblical studies is uniquely faith based.” There are atheists and agnostics in the field. There are Christians who approach the Bible with a scholarly, critical lens who do their best to balance their faith and their role as a historian. Theologians are more apt to be faith based. It seems to me that you may be limiting your critique to biblical studies in conservative institutions, or institutions that represent denominational interest, but not all institutions share those values and not all scholars have to sign a Statement of Faith.
I completely agree Brian. However, a vetted version of my overall assertion still stands. Note, this is modified to fit your critics. The faith based portions within biblical studies leads to a more restrictive environment than scientific fields of study. I think it’s plausible that members of the biblical studies community are more likely to be derailed by a blog post than say a member of the physics community. This assertion can be further clarified through two key points. First, biblical studies contains a more restrictive environment than scientific fields in the sense described in your post. Secondly, this level or restriction is largely due to the faith tendencies associated with biblical studies, especially the more conservative institutions.
I think (and correct me if I am misunderstanding you) that there is something to the insight that a conservative-liberal divide in biblical studies based on one’s personal faith (or lack thereof) does complicate the field in ways that are unlike other fields of study. It is possible that one’s faith (or lackt hereof) may cause suspicion if they apply to a science or philosophy program, but less so a business program or a agricultural program. So, in that sense, yes, one’s religious views can become the focus of a potential supervisor or employer so that your actual work becomes a secondary matter.
Brian, couldn’t this one be turned around?
Isn’t the goal of an academic to push the bounds of knowledge, think new thoughts, discover new things?
If so, most new ideas are rejected at first, which means an academic must be able to pose and defend their thoughts. By blogging aren’t you showing (potentially offended advisors) that you indeed have thoughts and that you engage others (the exact qualities needed)?
Blogging isn’t only the original post, but also the comments that follow. If you show by your blog that you can convince others and equally, that you can be convinced – it seems to me that offended or not, an advisor (sh|c)ould be impressed by an active blogger.
I think so and there may be people who appreciate seeing a student blog. As I noted in my Introduction post I am “playing the bad guy” here. Obviously, personally, I see a lot of value in blogging. That said, even if we propose that it “ought” to be see as a good thing the reality of our world is that it isn’t always seen as a good thing. That is the point I’m making with this series: blog if you want, but do know that it could cost you because there are those who don’t like the idea of students blogging.
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