Graduate Programs Strong in Philosophy of Religion
February 23, 2009 — 9:31

Author: Keith DeRose  Category: General  Comments: 18

The new Philosophical Gourmet Report rankings of graduate philosophy programs are out, including the rankings for the best programs in philosophy of religion, which are here.
For any prospective philosophers of religion looking for good graduate programs, or for potential advisors of such prospective philosophers of religion, who might be reading this, I have a suggestion of a program for philosophy of religion to consider that (again) didn’t make this list: Rutgers. (Others may have other suggestions, and might leave them in the comments.) Many of the programs that are listed seem to be on the list primarily due to the presence of one philosopher who works in the area. Well, Dean Zimmerman, at Rutgers, is a absolutely top-notch philosopher, and he is really into philosophy of religion, and it seems to me he would be an excellent guide and advisor in the area. I imagine Rutgers didn’t make the list because Dean is best known for his work in metaphysics, where most of his best papers have been. And it looks like he will continue to be a committed metaphysician (metaphysicist?). But while he hasn’t done as much work in philosophy of religion as in metaphysics, he’s done some fine work there, too, and he seems to be very much into philosophy of religion (as well as metaphysics) now, and he knows the area very well. Plus, in going to Rutgers, you will be going to one of the very best overall philosophy programs in the English-speaking world. (See the overall rankings here.) Of course, that also means Rutgers is probably a very difficult program to get into (and Rutgers reports here that they admit only 2-3% of applicants), so I guess this is primarily a suggestion for extremely well-qualified prospective philosophers of religion.
Another hot tip: With Marilyn and Robert Adams going to the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, that program is suddenly an excellent choice for philosophy of religion, too. (This change was just announced, and so isn’t reflected in even the new PGR.) And Chapel Hill is also a very strong overall program (see again the overall rankings).
Prospective philosophers of religion should probably inquire into job prospects in philosophy for candidates with that area of specialization before committing to that path. Last I heard, it was supposed to be a bad AOS for getting an initial job when one goes on the job market. But I don’t know how accurate that impression of mine is. (I believe that issue has been discussed here on this blog?) I do believe (but, again, am not sure) that philosophy of religion is often a very helpful AOC (area of competence) to have: Many programs would like to offer courses in the area, and so would welcome someone who could teach it, but don’t want to use up one of their slots on someone who does it as their main thing.

  • You could probably add NYU for the same reason: i.e. Ted Sider (Ron Sider’s son). He’s a spectacular philosopher and has probably spent a lot of time with philosophy of religion too. Again, those with a greater interest might know better.

    February 23, 2009 — 12:28
  • Robert Gressis

    Two things: (1) The Adamses seem to be move around quite frequently. I don’t know why this is, but it would make me think twice about choosing UNC, Chapel Hill if I were a prospective grad student interested in phil religion. (2) Having a phil religion AOC certainly helped me. I think that’s something more grad students should think about acquiring.

    February 23, 2009 — 12:31
  • Dean Zimmerman

    Thanks for the props, Matthew.
    Indeed, there is quite a lot of philosophy of religion action in and around Rutgers. I hope no one minds if I make a little advertisement here, describing the extent of what goes on. Every few years, I offer a graduate seminar in philosophy of religion, and am generally available for independent studies. I have an ongoing reading group on the subject, with about 12 grad students involved, usually around 7 attending at any one time. We meet either weekly or bi-weekly (though sometimes we do metaphysics, too, now that Ted Sider and John Hawthorne are gone and there aren’t as many metaphysics seminars as there were; but officially, it’s a philosophy of religion group). Last week we read a paper on theism and modal realism by one of our grad students, Matt Benton. I’m partnering with Mike Rea, at the Center for Philosophy of Religion at Notre Dame, to start an annual philosophical theology workshop. He’s organized the first one at Notre Dame (it’s really his baby; I’m hitching my wagon to his star); it’s on the Trinity; and I’m bringing 6 or 7 Rutgers grad students to it (and Rutgers provides the money for me to pay for their travel). The next one will convene here at Rutgers in 2010. Also in 2010, I’ll be co-hosting a philosophy of religion summer seminar for younger scholars with Michael Rota at the University of St. Thomas (tentatively confirmed seminar-leaders include Alvin Plantinga, Peter van Inwagen, Roger White, Evan Fales, Alex Pruss). Last year, Dan Garber and I organized a conference at Princeton on religious belief and the epistemology of disagreement; I developed good working relationships with people in the Princeton religious studies department and at Princeton seminary. The seminary is hosting a “philosophy and revelation” conference this spring that I’ll be attending, and at which two of our graduate students are speaking. I’ve also signed a contract with Princeton U. P. to write a book on philosophy of religion; so it will take up a major chunk of my research time over the next years.
    Thanks for your attention! Paid for by the committee to promote philosophy of religion at Rutgers.

    February 23, 2009 — 13:59
  • Keith DeRose

    Ted, too, is a terrific philosopher, of course, but I wouldn’t say he’s into phil. rel. to nearly the extent Dean is. Ted has some interest, and I very much liked his “Hell and Vagueness” paper, but that’s the only paper I know of, and he doesn’t seem to ever teach phil. rel. courses (see the list of his courses here: ). Dean’s written several things in phil. rel. and teaches in the area often. Often what areas people list as theirs are a good indicator of what areas they are into enough to try to “keep up” with. On their respective depts’ faculty lists ( and ), both list two areas, metaphysics first, and then something else. For Dean, phil. rel. is the something else; for Ted, it’s phil. lang. In both cases, I think that’s a pretty accurate presentation of main areas.
    I wouldn’t say the Adamses move around particularly frequently. It’s been only 5-6 years at Oxford, but before that they were, what?, something like 11 years at Yale, and before that a *very* long time at UCLA. If one were to mark (asterisk) programs that are listed on the strength of faculty who move around quite frequently, there’d certainly be better candidates for that asterisk than UNC. It is worth pointing out, though, that, since they tend to move together, they don’t provide the added stability that’s usually provided by having more than one person working in an area. (Still, as I said, several of the listed programs seem to be listed because of only a single person, and so are equally precarious.) Also, there’s a question of when they might retire.
    Some general remarks about such issues of retirement. As things often work out, it isn’t always essential that a faculty person be at the program you enter for all of the 5-6 years you’re there. Often, those who retire continue to advise their students after retirement, and write letters for them. What’s often important is that they’re there for your first few 3-4 years. But those with different experiences in the matter might have other ideas.

    February 23, 2009 — 14:01
  • Keith DeRose

    I didn’t see Dean’s comment til I had posted my own. That of course gives much better evidence than I was able to give about the extent of Dean’s involvement in phil. rel.

    February 23, 2009 — 14:05
  • Matthew Mullins

    Props to Keith for the post!
    Keith writes:
    Prospective philosophers of religion should probably inquire into job prospects in philosophy for candidates with that area of specialization before committing to that path. Last I heard, it was supposed to be a bad AOS for getting an initial job when one goes on the job market.
    I got similar advice when I first started grad school (Thanks Senor) and I’ve had the same advice hammered home since then (Thanks Kvanvig etal). The advice I had was to work in an area such as epistemology or metaphysics, which would help prepare me to do work in philosophy of religion down the road. The overall strength of the program one works at wasn’t often mentioned with this particular advice. The general advise one gets when applying to graduate schools is that, by and large people ought to pursue getting into the best programs possible. The general bit of advice seems generally correct. However, I have a couple worries here for people interested in working in philosophy of religion.
    1. It often seems that the higher the PGR ranking of the program, the less hospitable the place will be to philosophy of religion.
    2. While schools like SLU, Purdue, and Baylor aren’t highly ranked overall, they seem to do a fairly good job of placing their philosophy of religion students when they finish.
    So, I suspect the advice as to what one should study may be partially determined by where one lands as a graduate student. I suspect that the job market for top programs like Rutgers may be somewhat distinct from the market for Baylor students.

    February 23, 2009 — 14:41
  • Dean Zimmerman

    Oops, I thought Matthew Mullins posted the first comment in this thread. Thanks, Keith, for the kind remarks.
    One other point: Matthew floated the suggestion that the degree to which a program is hospitable to philosophy of religion might vary inversely with how high it is in the PGR. I can understand how one might get this impression; but I think things are not so bad.
    There might be fewer top 20 (or top 25) programs with faculty deeply interested in phil. of rel. than there were in the 80s. Though I’m not so sure about that, as I look at the PGR: Rutgers has me (yay!), Yale has shot up, and now there’s Chapel Hill, Notre Dame, UT-Austin, and Cornell all in the top 20. Indiana and Madison are in there too tied for 23. These would all be places with at least one faculty member who publishes a considerable amount in philosophy of religion. So that’s not so bad! More choices in the top 20 or 25, I think, than a couple of years ago. (And tied for 26 there’s also Boulder and UMass-Amherst.)
    (Aside: I agree with the advice others are giving grad students — specialize in some one of the main areas of philosophy, not philosophy of religion; and not primarily for job-related reasons, or to avoid persecution, but out of principle. Philosophy of religion is a grab bag discipline — problems involving religion that arise in epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, political philosophy, …; so you’re only ready to contribute once you’re an expert in one of these subjects.)
    Matthew might have meant, by “hospitable”, the degree to which a deep interest in philosophy of religion is tolerated by the faculty, as opposed to being regarded as a bizarre fixation or a disreputable mental quirk. We’ve probably most of us heard stories about grad students with religious convictions (especially Christian convictions) who have felt they were disrespected by profs and fellow students. But my impression is that this is not so common nowadays (of course, all it takes is one faculty member on a Richard-Dawkins-like crusade to make a department uninhabitable; especially if the rest of the faculty are indifferent or insensitive to the climate for religious students).
    I’m happy to report that each of the top three schools on the PGR has had numerous un-closeted Christian grad students during recent years, and I’ve never heard any of them complain that their department was a hostile environment for religious people. And, knowing most of the faculty at these places pretty well, I can understand why; they constitute a pretty tolerant, broad-minded bunch, all things considered. Nobody’s on an anti-Christian crusade, so far as I’ve heard. Of course, Christians in the academy had better have thick skin…but, all things considered, we’re very lucky, those of us in philosophy. When I think what it would be like to be in English or Anthropology… Shudder.

    February 23, 2009 — 16:40
  • Bradley

    I’ll add my voice to the chorus in support of Dean. He’s a top-notch philosopher, and an even better person.
    Also, I would think that one’s interest(s) within philosophy of religion might be important; given that Dean works mostly in metaphysics, most of the phil religion he does will be somehow related to metaphysics. So, for one who’s interested in God and time, say, Rutgers would be a fantastic choice. For one who’s interested in Aquinas’ philosophy of religion or the sensus divinitatus, perhaps not…

    February 23, 2009 — 17:31
  • Robert Gressis

    Hmm, I thought the Adamses had been at Oxford for only 2-3 years. I didn’t realize it was 5-6.

    February 23, 2009 — 19:36
  • Mark Murphy

    Bradley has an important point, so let me take it in my own parochial direction. Philosophy of religion is often thought of as an M&E phenomenon. (I don’t know whether this is just an accident, but the quite large group of PGR evaluators of philosophy of religion departments is, without any doubt, an M&E bunch.) But there is no reason to think of philosophy of religion as being more centered on M&E topics than on value theory generally — metaethics, normative ethics, political philosophy, philosophy of law.

    February 23, 2009 — 21:03
  • overseas

    re the Adamses: they move together, obviously, which makes it less easy to arrange moves and so more likely that they stay where they are, at any given time. Plus: they had to leave Oxford this year or next due to British mandatory retirement laws.

    February 24, 2009 — 3:02
  • overseas

    just a word on what’s left at Oxford in phil of religion when the Adamses depart:
    Brian Leftow
    John Hawthorne- has published a fair bit in the field and is directing at least one dissertation in religious epistemology.
    Richard Sorabji and Derek Parfit have interests in the subject. Roger Trigg and Tim Mawson have published a fair amount in it; Tim Bayne teaches it, as do Ralph Walker and AW Moore. Stephen Mulhall is available on the Wittgensteinian/ Continental side. Richard Swinburne is still an active part of the scene, though he no longer directs dissertations.

    February 24, 2009 — 5:32
  • Keith DeRose

    re overseas’s first comment, on the Adamses: I was tempted to make the first point, about couples being more stable b/c it’s harder for them to find matching appointments myself. But then Marilyn & Bob would probably not have much trouble finding even matching jobs when they wanted them. The point is generally correct, and, I guess, even correct in application to the Adamses: they would each have an even easier time finding good jobs were they not tied to one another. Still, even tied together, I doubt finding good jobs would be much of a problem for them.
    Speaking of Bob, in connection with some of the comments above, it’s worth pointing out another area where those with secondary interest in phil. rel. can, and often do, specialize: history of philosophy. And Bob has a long & distinguished record of placing his history of early modern students in great, and often top, jobs. (He also has had plenty of good & very successful students in other areas). He was doing that here at Yale even when Yale philosophy was quite far down in the overall rankings.
    re overseas’s second comment on Oxford: Right: One should be careful about assuming Oxford is now not as good at phil. rel. as the ranking makes them out to be. In support of overseas’s point, note that on the faculty lists used by the PGR evaluators [ ], though the Adamses were, of course, both listed for Oxford, they were both in special categories at the bottom of the lists: Bob under “part time” faculty, and Marilyn at the very bottom under “cognate faculty and philosophers in other units.” And I think evaluators tend to discount, at least to some significant extent, those who are listed in those categories as opposed to those listed as having regular philosophy dept. appointments. (I don’t know what kind of arrangements the Adamses have at Chapel Hill, nor how they will be listed in future PGR surveys.) Whether Oxford would fall one group if the surveys were done again with the Adamses names removed is impossible to tell. What we know is consistent with them being very solidly in Group 2, with some room to drop a bit in mean score before falling to the next group. (Here it would be helpful if the PGR reported the actual mean scores, and not just means rounded to the nearest .5.) And as overseas points out, there’s plenty of strength remaining there. Picking up on my comment earlier in this thread, Hawthorne seems to me to fall squarely between Sider & Zimmerman: more into phil. rel. than Ted, but less than Dean. (I hope everyone realizes I’m not ranking these guys as philosophers! They’re all super. I’m just talking about the degree to which they are in the area of philosophy we happen to be talking about.) And the philosophers overseas lists after Hawthorne, but before Swinburne (who shouldn’t count much in this context since he doesn’t direct dissertations) are certainly a very interesting collection of philosophers with varying degrees of connection with the area. And anchoring this team, at least in this area, is Brian Leftow. Leftow is a Major Dude in phil. rel. So, wherever exactly one thinks Oxford should be ranked here, it is certainly set to remain one of the best places to go for the area, imho.

    February 24, 2009 — 9:36
  • David Alexander

    The PGR does not (nor should it) consider another factor when deciding on a graduate program–the graduate student community. While something like the PGR cant possibly take such a thing into consideration prospective grad students probably should (when possible). So, while Rutgers may have only one excellent philosopher who specializes in phil of religion the fact that there is a reading group with at least 7 grad students in attendance suggests that a grad student would have plenty of other grad students to talk with about phil of rel.
    Now for some bias. Baylor’s department figured a bit lower on this years PGR in the phil of rel specialty ranking than I thought it would (though admittedly I have not looked at the other programs too closely). Nevertheless, a grad student considering a focus in phil of rel would find a tremendous grad student community at Baylor. Just about every grad student is interested in phil of rel to some significant degree. This is not to say that one would not find a similar environment at some of the other higher ranked programs. But since a number of the higher ranked programs seem to have only one very good philosopher of rel it does not seem unreasonable not to expect such an environment.
    Obviously, job placement considerations and whatnot should also be brought to bear on this and since Baylor is outside of the top 50 the grad community may not be worth much but it’s something to consider especially for those interested in phil of rel.

    February 24, 2009 — 18:28
  • N

    For those with less mainstream interests, Oxford also has Bill Mander and Stephan Torre teaching philosophy of religion. Mike Inwood, Joseph Shaw, and Cecilia Trifogli all work on Aquinas (the latter two on Ockham and Scotus, too). Pamela Sue Anderson works in Continental and feminist philosophy of religion.

    February 24, 2009 — 19:13
  • Keith DeRose

    David is certainly right that it’s important to have fellow graduate students to talk to about one’s interests.
    On Baylor’s placement: The * by Baylor, and also by Claremont Graduate School, Fordham, and University of New England (Australia), means that these programs were “inserted by Board.” That means these programs, because they were thought unlikely to come out in the top 50 overall, were not included in the surveys, but the members of the PGR Advisory Board who work in the area (in this case in phil. rel.) thought that these programs should be included among those listed in this specialty area. I *believe* programs inserted into specialty rankings by the Board are almost always put into the lowest group for that area: only very reluctantly are programs put in higher groups without being placed there by the results of the surveys.

    February 24, 2009 — 19:19
  • c

    This is in reference to Keith’s comment about retirement: there are other concerns about going to a grad program with only one faculty member in a particular field, for example if your advisor dies. May sound morbid, but it happens. Is it appropriate to name names in this context? It happened when I was a grad student, in a field even smaller than phil of religion (Indian philosophy), to the nicest guy and one of the greatest scholars I’ve known, suddenly and when he was still mid-career. When you’re in a small field and about to start working on a diss, what do you do in a situation like that?

    February 26, 2009 — 14:21
  • I’ll put a plug in for the Purdue program. I went there in part because of my interest in philosophy of religion. I claim phil of religion as a second AOS, but my dissertation was entirely within the realm of epistemology. Overall, the faculty were very supportive and the grad students are a very collegial bunch. The quality of the grad students varies a bit more than the top programs (I’m guessing), but there are plenty of very sharp grad students interested in phil of religion.

    March 6, 2009 — 19:49